Selective outrage: United Airlines and United States

Americans are outraged over the United Airlines mistreatment of David Anh Duy Dao, a Louisville, Kentucky doctor originally from Vietnam. Last Sunday, Dao was violently removed from United Airlines flight 3411 going from Chicago to Louisville by aviation police after he refused to get off the plane which was overbooked. The police pulled him over nearby seats during which his face was smashed into an armrest and then he was dragged out of the plane bleeding. He later ran back into the plane and begged to be allowed to fly to his home in Louisville.

The actions of the United Airlines and the Chicago Aviation Police were quickly condemned by many. Passengers on the plane were horrified and so were millions who saw the footage of the event. As the incident became publicized, people in the U.S., China, Vietnam and other countries reacted strongly and demanded that the airlines and the authorities rectify the mistreatment of Dao. The CEO of United Airlines responded with a very insufficient statement in an effort to appease the public and to recover from the financial hit resulting from the incident, while White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said that it was “troubling” but that the federal government would not be involved in an investigation.

The bloody removal of David Dao from the plane was certainly an atrocious event that deserves condemnation and requires rectification. Nevertheless, this demonstrates a level of selective outrage among the American public.

Dao, as a doctor who lived in the U.S. (albeit having been accused of exploiting his patients and prescribing medication illegally in the past), as a reactionary expatriate who fled Vietnam in 1974 as it was being liberated by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, and as a wealthy individual who earned significant sums of money from poker tournaments in the past, is a person who Americans can easily sympathize with. He is, in essence, an American. The sight of a 69-year-old man being violently pulled out of an airplane seat and bloodied in the process upset many Americans as it upset millions throughout the world.

When violence was being waged on a much greater scale in the 1970s against the country that Dao fled from by the United States military, one has to ask where such outrage was. Why were Americans not horrified at the images of the war they saw on their television screens? Why was there a so-called ‘silent majority‘ that backed the United States government as millions of people in Indochina were killed or forced out of their homes because of intense bombardment of their cities and farmlands by the U.S.? We can ask the same question for the more recent wars, such as the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the very recent U.S. airstrikes in Syria, which killed dozens of civilians and Syrian soldiers. Why is it that the American public is horrified (rightly so) by the injuring of an old man by the police but not so much by the systematic destruction of countries by the military?

Even after being outraged by this incident, Americans will more than likely continue to support the much larger violence being carried out by the U.S. and its allies in other countries. This is selective outrage resulting from sympathy for those that Americans see as ‘model citizens’ and a lack of such sympathy for those who are deemed ‘backwards’ or ‘undemocratic’.

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