Disclaimer: I don't own the speech, nor do I own the characters. Nothing is mine. Thanks for reading. Reviews are love. -Taryn(:
When A Government Gives You Voice
I'm a tired woman, without family. The ghost of District 12, living out my days with an old drunken man and geese. Alone, I walk around the rebuilding district. I watch as my home grows and heals and learns, as I dwindle uselessly where I am, in constant grief. For the mistakes I made I am angry. For the injustice of others I am inconsolable. For the loss of my sister and so many others, I am knocked breathless with pain. But still, I live, in some blur of life. Waiting, I suppose.
Waiting for such a very long time.
For what? Someone? Maybe. I'd always thought Peeta would come back to me, but he hasn't. I've long passed my twentieth birthday and I have not seen his face since.. the war. I have not seen Gale since my eighteenth birthday, where he invited his wife along with him, and I was forced to sit before them, at the table with tea and a dull gleam in the back of my eyes. Because whenever I looked at Gale I thought of Prim. And when I think of Prim I want to fall to the floor, sobbing.
After they left, Haymitch came over, equally broken, to pick up the pieces. Literally hauling me to my bed a floor overhead. I don't remember much after that, only that I took a liking to alcohol. It helps. Haymitch's technique of forgetting is a valid one, if not temporary, with lots of side effects.
Still, I wait. For what? Something? Perhaps. I'd always thought I would never become my mother. Yet, it seems I have. I am just as deaf and blind as she had been, though I have ears to listen with and eyes to see with and a mouth to speak with, I have no sense. Prim took a piece of me with her, and that was the only piece that kept me standing, because the Games and the war had torn away all the rest. I had depended on that piece, but it was burned away, just as the skin along my shoulder and collarbones and arms were.
The day I stop waiting is a cold December afternoon. I am only half sober when Haymitch comes trampling up my stairs. He's excited, or as enthused as Haymitch gets, and he is telling me something about Peeta. At first his words are not stringed together correctly, so I think that he is saying Peeta is here. And my heart leaps into my throat. Because what am I going to say? Is he hoping for love? Do I love him? I don't feel anything, so how can I know?
Except, that's not what Haymitch is telling me. Somehow, this afflicts the briefest amount of disappointment in me. That emotion quickly fading behind a flair of pain that Haymitch causes by dragging me by the wrist down the stairs, into the living-room, where a television is on, Greasy Sae sitting in front of it.
Haymitch takes a place next to the woman who has determined herself my caretaker. I try to retreat, because whatever Haymitch wants, he's drunk. This is stupid. I hate televisions. They remind me too much of.. then I glimpse what Haymitch was mumbling about this whole time.
Peeta. Strong, burly, healthy Peeta stands within a line of people. People I know. Johanna is there. Gale, too. Delly and a soldier with the uniform of those from District 13. Most of them are smiling, except Johanna, who leans around on her toes uncertainly, then leans heavily into Peeta's arm. A stab of unimaginable jealous hits me at the sight of her small hand slipping into his and clutching the fingers there. This is where he's been.
Instantly I don't want to watch more. Already that seems too much for my simple and pained mind, but I pause in my fleeing, at the sight of Peeta dropping Johanna's hand. He walks easily toward the podium of the stage. For a moment I take in the background of this scene. An enormous crowd. The new flag and seal of the nation plastered everywhere. Even on Peeta's suit there is a pin of the new governments seal. The new President and his wife step aside when Peeta accepts the man's summon.
I feel myself sinking into the coach beside Haymitch as Peeta waves at the cameras and citizens, a smile stretched across his aged face. He's older, in many ways, in the way his smile crinkles skin around his dramatic blue eyes. In the way his nose looks, as though it's been broken once or twice before this day. The large unnatural V between his eyebrows as he begins to speak; a speech, I realize.
"What is this?" I ask.
"It's the day before the new millennium, Katniss," Greasy Sae informs me softly. "They called many times to invite you, but you never wanted to hear the messages I had written for you. The President wanted a remembrance for the Rebellion and the past, as well as a hopeful outlook to the future."
Then it's a good thing I didn't go, I think. I would butcher the whole thing. I would tell them horrors about the war that many people might grow physically sick at. I would tell them there is no hope. That this is a hateful world where nothing is safe or good, not truly. I had thought Peeta good, and he is not, not really. I had thought Snow evil, but even he had shown intelligence, some.. sympathy, if you will, for the nation when concerning President Coin's rise in power. He didn't want the nation to fall prey to her. He gave Panem that kindness, at least. So really, I find that I do not care much for recollections and outlooks, except.. again, I am stunted at how beautiful Peeta speaks. How easily he does.
And only Peeta could make this event worth while. Only the stupid, crazy boy with the bread could step up to that microphone and gather people to his attention without effort. Make the words flow so sweetly, sound so right, that even I roused myself from my bed, at Haymitch's insistence, and I continue to watch the television program.
Peeta speaks; "Mr. President, Mrs. President, members of government, Ambassador Heavensbee, Excellencies, friends: Four years ago, a young boy from the small, dismal District of Twelve, woke up, not far from our beloved New Capitol, in a place of eternal infamy called District Thirteen. He was finally free, but there was no joy in his heart. He thought there never would be again.
Liberated a day earlier by District Thirteen soldiers, he remembers their rage at what they saw. And even if he lives to be a very old man, he will always be grateful to them for that rage, and also for their compassion. Though he did not understand their ambitions, their eyes told him what he needed to know – that they, too, would remember, and bear witness.
And now, I stand before you, Mr. President – a general, once, of the army that freed me, and tens of thousands of others – and I am filled with a profound and abiding gratitude to the people of District Thirteen, as well as those rebels within other districts.
Gratitude is a word that I cherish. Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human-being. And I am grateful to you, Katniss – or Miss Everdeen – for what you did, and for what you have sacrificed to the world, for the children in the world, for the homeless, for the victims of injustice, the victims of destiny and society. And I thank all of you for being here, and mean it sincerely, when I say I wished the Mockingjay was here with us today, as well.
We are on the threshold of a new century, a new millennium. What will the legacy of this vanishing century be? How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it will be judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysical terms. These failures have cast a dark shadow over humanity: the Dark Days, the Rebellion, countless civil wars, the senseless chain of assassinations – of the last remaining victors, the Snows, generals of District 13, Capitolites, – bloodbaths in District 2 and Old Capitol, District 7 and District 1, the New Lands, and the islands off the coast of District 4; the inhumanity in the gulag and the tragedy of District Twelve. And, on a different level, of course, The Hunger Games. So much violence, so much indifference.
What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means "no difference." A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.
What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?
Of course, indifference can be tempting – more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.
Over there, behind the electric gates of the districts, the most tragic of all prisoners remained. District Dwellers as they are now called. Wrapped in their torn blankets, they would sit or lie on the ground, staring vacantly into space, unaware of who or where they were, strangers to their surroundings. They no longer felt pain, hunger, thirst. They feared nothing. They felt nothing. They were dead and did not know it.
In District Twelve, I remember the way things worked. The Seam where many died a day. And the ways of life might have seemed better from afar, from the safety of town and the bakery, but I know now how the other districts suffered. From cold winters, or the unavailability of clean, drinkable water. The treachery of their own mayors. Peacekeepers who raped and stole and whipped at will. We may have starved, from indifference of food, but the other districts were equally starved; starved of their own humanity.
Or the victors! Who would go to these abhorring arenas and return. Just another broken artifact to add to the shelf of many other children who have experienced the same. They slipped between the cracks. The very soul of indifference, even to this day.
So rooted in our tradition, some of us felt that to be abandoned by humanity at those times, was not the ultimate. We felt that to be abandoned by the rest of humanity was worse than to be punished by them. Better an unjust people than an indifferent one. For us to be ignored by our neighbors, friends, was a harsher punishment than to be a victim of their anger. Man can live far from his governments – not outside them. The Capitol was wherever we were. They saw. Knew what we felt. But to be pushed aside, put to work, ignored in our cries of pain.." For the first time in Peeta's speech I glimpsed the unstable boy I had last seen, a glint in his eyes, a look of disgust and loathing so profound on his face it made me ache to remember what he speaks of. The indifference of our government. Of even the people that were our neighbors, even when they could not truly help. Finally Peeta speaks again, voice steady, face composed; "The Capitol was wherever we were. Even in suffering? Even in suffering.
In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human-being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.
Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees – not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.
Indifference, then, is not only a wickedness, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century's wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.
In the place that I come from, in my own thoughts, society was composed of three simple categories: the killers, the victims, and the bystanders. During the darkest of times, the Rebellion and the seventy-five years of The Hunger Games – and I'm glad that Ambassador Heavensbees mentioned that we are now commemorating that event, that period, that we are now in the Days of Remembrance – but then, we felt abandoned, forgotten. All of us did.
We did not expect the Capitol to save us, to lighten their burden of pain, to suddenly change their malicious ways. No, we didn't expect that of them, therefore their continued hate for the District Dwellers and the murder of twenty-three kids every years, did not surprise us.
Then," Peeta takes a long breath, as if he might regret the next words he says, but I can see the light in his blue eyes, the need to say it, "we learned about District Thirteen."
For a moment that shocks me, the way he says that name. He had referred to District Thirteen multiple times within his speech, but only at this moment, did I detect anger in his voice. Regret and anguish underlining the frown on his face, the flush of breathlessness from speaking tinting his pale cheeks.
He continues to explain; "At first, like many alike me, we were overjoyed to know that we had a power behind our backs. Until, our minds caught up, and our only miserable consolation to make sense of them living and thriving for years afterward the Dark Days, was that we believed that The Hunger Games and turmoil of the districts were closely guarded secrets; that the leaders of District Thirteen did not know what was going on behind those electric gates and barbed wire; that they had no knowledge of the Hunger Games, and that the Capitol kept these things very much to themselves.
If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders would have moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spoken out with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombed the railways leading to the districts, just the railways, just once.
And now we know, we learned, we discovered that District Thirteen knew, all of their officials and citizens knew. And the main occupant of District Thirteen then, a well-known woman – and I say it with some anguish and pain, because, today is exactly four years marking her death – Alma Coin died on December the 30th, on the year the could have marked the Seventy-sixth Hunger Games, so she must have, and always had been, present to our suffering.
No doubt, she was a great leader. She mobilized the people of the districts along with the Mockingjay, going into battle, bringing hundreds and thousands of valiant and brave soldiers to fight the Old Capitol, to fight President Snow, to fight The Hunger Games. And so many of the young people fell in battle. And, nevertheless, her image in history – I must say it – her image in the eyes of District Dwellers, is hopelessly flawed.
The depressing tale of The Burning of Old Capitol is a case in point. Four years ago, the Rebellion was at its climax. I was there that day in the Capitol. Though I admit my mind does not completely remember what happened there, I know from the propos. From looking at the ruined and ravished red and pink tattoos of burned flesh on the victims of that bombing. Maybe four thousand died that day. Many of them District Thirteen medics and soldiers, or the innocent Capitolite citizens, or the children President Snow has used as a last ditch means of defense. And that happened after the rebels had just broken into the City Circle. I hold no doubt in my mind that whoever was in charge of those bombs, they knew how many of our own was in the Capitol, right in the domain of the bombing.
I don't understand. President Coin was a decent person, with a heart. She understood those who needed help. Why didn't she stall the hand of the bomber? Warn those troops on the ground? Four thousand people – children, adults, men, women, Capitolites, District Dwellers, District Thirteen citizens. What happened? I don't understand. People say she was devoted to the cause, and no one can deny that, but why the indifference, on the highestlevel, to the suffering of the victims?
But even before then, there were human beings who were sensitive to our tragedy. Those Capitolite Rebels, or sympathizers, whose selfless acts of heroism saved the honor of their humanity, despite their origin. I remember highly of a woman who sheltered me and my companions during those final days in the war. Why were they so few? Why was there a greater effort to save the Capitolite murderers, or these few sympathizers, after the war than to save the real victims during the war?
And yet, my friends, good things have also happened in this traumatic century: the defeat of Old Capitol, the collapse of The Hunger Games, the rebirth of our government, the demise of Avox salves, the rise of New Capitol. And let us remember the execution, filled with drama and emotion, of President Snow where we witnessed, tragically, the downfall of not only two Presidents but our beloved Mockingjay. Who, I strongly believe, had recognized the seductive manners of indifference and meant to silence such things with an arrow through President Coin's throat. I was there and I will never forget it.
And then, of course, the joint decision of New Capitol and the elected representatives of the districts, to open the water ways, build ships, to explore somewhere beyond Panem. Ultimately leading to the founding of the District Four Islands and small, but breathtaking New Lands. Or before that, when District Thirteen did rouse themselves to save the victims, those who were terrorized, by a man whom I believe that because of his crimes, should be charged with crimes against humanity. His death bettered our world, but this time, what really matters in this recollection is that, this time, the world was not silent. This time, they did respond. This time, people intervened.
Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? That even the Dark Days can be claimed beyond us, as both barbaric and unthinkable? Has the human-being become less indifferent and more human? Have we really learned from our experiences? The Hunger Games? Are we less insensitive to the plight of victims to tyranny and other forms of injustices in places near and far? Is today's justified intervention in the civil upsets in the New Lands, led by you, Mr. President, a lasting warning that never again will the deportation, the terrorization of children and their parents be allowed anywhere in the world? Will it discourage other dictators in another time to do the same?
What about the children? Oh, we see them on television, we read about them in the papers, and we do so with a broken heart. Their fate is always the most tragic, inevitably. When adults wage war, children perish. We see their faces, their eyes. Do we hear their pleas? Do we feel their pain, their agony? Every minute one of them dies of disease, violence, famine. Some of them – so many of them – could be saved.
And so, once again, I think of the young boy from the District of Twelve. He has accompanied the older man I have become throughout these years of quest and struggle. And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope."
The President of New Capitol steps up to speaks with Peeta Mellark, after a long pause of silence, as the whole nation wraps their head around this man's speech. Something that makes me slightly breathless. When he spoke of The Burning of The Old Capitol, I felt as though he were staring straight at me. Those soft, warm, safe hands gliding along the burn scars that litter my body, as he tells me he understands. That he saw. That he won't forget. As though Peeta were speaking about Prim the whole time. Her injustice. Her unfair ending. The awfulness that was both President Snow and Coin. Even me, he spoke of me, and I did not know whether he hated or loved me, for he wished me to be there, but called me a murderer with all the rest. While at the same time he called me a hero. A hero, who tragically fell down.
Peeta falls back into the line of people, and on his walk there, as the camera tracks his every move, I see him pause before a woman. A woman who grins shyly up at him and he kisses her cheek, then crouches down to the child who clutches her hand. The boy couldn't be more than four years old, and I realize with a start, that's Finnick's son, and Annie. Peeta ruffles the boy's hair and then moves along again. He takes his place at Johanna's side.
The next person who steps up to the podium is Enorbaria, to my shock. I don't hear much of what she says, because my attention slips away. Besides, I find I don't care what she says. Something about the Retribution Games, that was upheld with the Capitolite children as a source of vengeance. I had voted for that, yet, never watched it.
Eventually, Greasy Sae rises from the coach, turning both mine and Haymitch's attention. The old woman smiles crookedly at us. "I think it's time I was gettin' back. Your dinner in the fridge if you get hungry," and with that she left.
Haymitch mutters something about indifference when he hefts himself to his feet. He stumbles into my kitchen, finds my liquor and returns with two bottles. I take mine hesitantly. I almost don't want to forget the speeches. They aren't as dreadful as I thought. Especially Annie's. Hers was the only one that seemed to compete with Peeta's.
When the program is done, some three hours later, I find myself... not empty. For the first time in four years I feel like I'm not waiting for something. I'm here, in the present, in reality. I'm not a ghost. I can hear their words. Feel them afflict emotions inside my very real heart. See their old faces, healed and aged, with my own eyes.
When I open my mouth, surprised to find lips there, I say, in my very own voice, "I regret nothing."
Haymitch, who burst into a slurred round of laughter, responds, "Me either, sweetheart. Me either."