The Brazen Word

What I expected from Nicholas Kristof’s talk on global education he expressed quite plainly-graphic stories depicting disturbing personal accounts from troubled regions all over the globe. The most striking narrative from the discussion depicted Kristof’s encounter with two teenage sex slaves, a story that would only increase my respect for a journalist who, above all else, proved to be wholly human through his personal accounts.

Kristof depicted a trip to Cambodia in which he met with Srey Neth and Srey Mom, both young teenagers belonging to a brothel which sold young women as sexual objects. Kristof expressed concern over his plans to write a column about the two, worried that his writing would serve only to exploit them. He wanted to, in a real and personal way, help them.

“I knew that they were both most likely going to stay there and die from AIDS…A little while after visiting with them, I contacted someone at The Times and asked them if there was any policy on sex trafficking,” Kristof explained. After learning that purchasing the two girls would not be breaking company rules, Kristof violated all journalistic standards by buying these two desperate women that seemed bound to die from AIDS.
This incident is the quintessential example of balancing personal conflict with public policy in creating political policy.

Kristof admitted that his decision to buy Srey Neth and Srey Mom essentially contributed to the larger problem of global sex trafficking.

“Effectively that just jacks up the price and you’re going to lead to more profits for traffickers and they’re going to kidnap more girls because the price has risen, so I wouldn’t want to argue that the solution is to have more journalists go and buy girls from brothels,” Kristof explained.

But that was not Kristof’s concern.

“I did think that it was going to at least solve the problem for these two individuals,” Kristof said.

This concern with the individual is what characterizes Kristof-a journalist consumed in the personal conflicts that should drive political policy.

While contributing a drip to the bucket of the global problem of sex trafficking, Kristof saved the lives of these two young women by providing them healthcare and removing them from their poisonous setting.

The conflict of helping the person and aiding the problem is a very real crisis in American foreign policy today. As Kristof demonstrated through various accounts of his global research, nations and cultures are impossible to understand without personal experience, on the ground, in the villages where human life is independent from any legal reform or government turnover.

Kristof’s concern should be our concern. Often blinded in the midst of our own nationalism, the citizens of the United States often undermine foreign nationalism. We think of it as unnatural or artificial in comparison to our own. We undermine the people across the waters, the ones that wave different flags other than our own, the ones with very serious personal conflict foreign to our own. Whether it be the genocide in Darfur or the war in Iraq, foreign crises are intrinsically too complex, too different for us to understand. In a nation blessed (or cursed) with the most important language in international affairs, Americans are, from birth, bred to be intellectually homogenous people.

We are localized and, strangely, impersonal.

Such a mind is not fit to speak critically of foreign policy. Such a mind would be unable to encompass the empathy needed to purchase two poor young sex slaves from Cambodia.