Dear Bono: Get Your Facts Straight
Long time listener, first time caller, as they say on talk-back radio. I’ve been a big fan since I first heard the opening chords of "Pride" as a twelve-year-old living in communist Poland. I own your full discography and all your concert DVDs. Needless to say, I’m a fan of U2 on Facebook. Which brings me to the topic at hand.
I always knew but never particularly cared that our politics were different. Such is the beauty of free society and such is the prerogative of entertainers to use their fame as a soapbox for their pet causes, even if sometimes rhetoric outpaces the reality (mind you, I don’t blame you; if I had to pay taxes at the Irish rates I too would shift my financial affairs to a more lenient jurisdiction). I can appreciate your music without agreeing with all of your activism. That’s how it should be. And I appreciate the fact that despite your own strongly held views, you don’t engage in nasty personal attacks against those who hold different opinions.
But activism is one thing and factual accuracy is another.
The other day, your Facebook page posted the following status update:
"Pride" In Mexico. "I want you to send a message of love to the good and the great people of the United States of America." …
That intrigued me, so I clicked on the link to your website to read more. It contained your full quote from the concert at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, spoken before the band played "Pride" (yes, that song again):
I want you to send a message of love along the border to the good and the great people of the United States of America. ... I want you to send a message to people of conscience.
Ask them to answer the question. Why is it that all we hear on the news is how drugs are smuggled through Mexico to the United States?
And we don't hear about all the automatic weapons that are being smuggled into Mexico from the United States. Nine thousand registered arms dealers on the other side of the border. Nine thousand.
Most of the murders committed here are from weapons sold in the United States of America.
We sing this for the innocents who have lost their lives in the violence here.…
The drug-fueled violence and lawlessness in Mexico are truly horrible. But that old canard that drugs don’t kill Mexicans, American guns kill Mexicans, was a bit too much for me. Particularly when you say it to tens of thousands of Mexican fans who are likely to treat everything that comes out of your mouth as gospel truth. I made that point in a comment underneath your Facebook post. As of the next day, your post was "liked” by almost 12,000 people, and more than 550 fans commented. To my surprise, I found that even amidst this huge love-fest, six strangers agreed with my sentiment. Doesn’t seem like much, but it’s not about numbers; it’s about the truth.
And unfortunately your numbers, Bono, are wrong.
I can’t exactly blame you. You have probably heard the "statistic" that 90 percent of guns used to commit crimes in Mexico come from the United States from Hillary Clinton herself. Or Senator Dianne Feinstein. Or maybe even from William Hoover, assistant director for field operations at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. After all, if anyone knows, the ATF should, right?
The problem is, as with many other factoids which gain a life of their own and enter the general circulation through media and internet, this is simply not true.
In 2007 and 2008, Mexican law enforcement authorities recovered 29,000 firearms.
Of these, 18,000 have been successfully traced by Mexican authorities. The other 11,000 have been sent to the United States -- to the ATF, to be more precise -- to assist in tracing their origin.
Of these 11,000, the ATF wasn’t able to trace about 5,000. Of the almost 6,000 that were traced, about 90 percent, of 5,114 firearms, were confirmed as having American origins.
That’s 5,114 guns out of 29,000 recovered -- or 17.6 percent. Not 90 percent, and not anywhere close to justifying your statement that "most of the murders committed here are from weapons sold in the United States of America."
The Fox News report, which quotes an ATF spokesman and field agents as well as the Mexican Attorney General’s Office to provide the figures above, implies that the 18,000 firearms that Mexican authorities successfully trace using their own resources do not come from the United States. I don’t know whether that is indeed the case. It’s possible to me that a certain, unknown, percentage of them are American. But unless someone can provide me precise figures, all I know for sure is that less than 20 percent of guns used by Mexican drug syndicates come from across the northern border.
Even that fact is essentially meaningless. The Mexican Army buys American equipment, including guns. Tens of thousands of Mexican soldiers desert each year, many taking their weapons with them. Even putting that aside, it is far easier for narco-traffickers to bribe an officer in charge of an armory, than it is to buy and smuggle guns from the United States. And it is even easier to buy them from countless eager dealers from China, the former Soviet Union, Africa, and Central America.
In any case, you mentioned "automatic weapons" being smuggled from America. Automatic weapons and many semi-automatic weapons are banned in the United States. If they pop up in Mexico, you can be certain they haven’t been bought at any of the "nine thousand registered arms dealers on the other side of the border."
As I commented on Facebook, for God’s sake, let’s not blame America for every ill in the world. Reducing NAFTA, as you do, to a neat juxtaposition of American guns moving one way to kill innocent Mexicans and drugs moving from and through Mexico the other way is morally lazy. I’m not pointing this out in order to blame Mexicans; after all they’re only responding to the demand up north -- market forces at work, even if you wish they worked for the whole of the Mexican economy and not just its illegal sector. Yes, guns kill people, but what ultimately fuels violence is the seemingly insatiable appetite for coke and other illicit substances in the United States. Guns are an easier target for moral outrage than millions of individuals with rolled-up dollar bills up their nostrils, many of whom happen to be your friends from the entertainment industry.
Let me close this letter by saying that I continue to respect your right to preach your causes. In many instances we actually agree. Your pro-Solidarity anthem "New Year’s Day" was one more distant light of hope, showing us, amidst the dark days and night of the communist oppression of the early 80s, that our fight is not forgotten. Your commitment to the cause of the democracy movement in Myanmar (Burma) against the bizarre military regime which is guided by astrology and seeks to acquire nuclear weapons is commendable. And your show of support during your 360 tour for Iranian students fighting the theocratic regime was touching and appropriate.
Other times we will disagree. But let’s disagree over principles, not facts. Like the guns thing. Or your implication when I saw you live during the Vertigo tour in Brisbane in 2006, that Australia’s very own Guantanamo resident David Hicks was some sort of a political prisoner. Some cheered, most booed, because they knew that Hicks was a self-confessed virulent anti-Semite who trained with two radical Islamic fighting groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban, and when he was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 he was not some innocent backpacker who had lost his way and accidentally stumbled in the middle of a war.
Anyway, I’d better be going now. By the way, can’t wait for the new album.
Yours in pride in the name of love,
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