U.S. President Obama and Vice President Biden attended the memorial service for the mine disaster in West Virginia on April 25. In the service, President Obama read out all the names of the victims. They are no longer ice-cold work numbers. They are parents’ beloved sons; they are wives’ dear husbands; they are sons and daughters loving fathers.
Some people might say Obama, a skilled public speaker, is good at stirring up his audience’s emotions. “How can we fail them? How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them?” Obama said. “How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work…?” Those words are infectious enough to touch hearts oceans away, let alone the people of West Virginia who attended the memorial.
What is more important is not the flowery language but that it shows respect for human life.
We could not know whether these 29 miners and their families had voted for Obama or not. Obama lost the electoral vote in Virginia, both in the 2008 Democratic primary and the 2009 presidential election. But after the disaster, Obama expressed in an interview, “I refuse to accept any number of miner deaths as simply a cost of doing business.” Meanwhile he added that the government needs to step up enforcement and change mining safety laws. “That’s the responsibility of mine operators. That’s the responsibility of government.” All these words indicated the government’s respect for working class citizens.
Obama was not the first one to read out the names of the victims of a disaster. It took 2 hours and 28 minutes to read out all the victims’ names at the memorial anniversary of 9/11. Perhaps most of us have no idea who they are, but those names touch the hearts of the victims’ families, and they bear the significance of those people’s lives. Since then, reading out the victims’ names has become customary at memorials for 9/11.
Victims are the people being honored in memorials. Their names ought to be read out, so that the public understands that memorials are not political shows but homage to human losses. Since we are moved by the memorial held in West Virginia, we should easily understand the reason for the practice to become a human tradition.
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