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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Origins of Buddhism for Kids

The Origins of Buddhism
An Indian story tells that a traveling Brahman met a stranger one day The Brahman asked the stranger's name and received this answer:
Although born in the world, grown up in the world, having overcome the world, I abide unsoiled by the world. Take it that I am Buddha
We know little of this man who called himself Buddha, or the "Enlightened One." What we do know comes from information written many years after his death. These writings tell us that his real name was Siddhartha Gautama. Born in northern India in 563 B.C., Gautama lived a comfortable life as the son of an Indian prince. His father gave him everything he wanted and kept him from seeing the suffering of the common people.

At about age 30, Gautama went outside the walls of his palace for the first time. First he saw an old man bent over with age. Then he came upon a man too sick to care for himself. Finally he saw a dead body. Gautama asked a servant to explain what he had seen. The servant said that age, sickness, and death come to us all. This answer was not enough for Gautama. Why, he asked, was there so much suffering? How might this suffering be ended? Gautama decided to spend the rest of his life searching for the answers to his questions.

He left his father's palace and lived the life of a wandering beggar.
For years Gautama continued his search for knowledge by studying and praying with Brahman priests. Nothing helped him find answers. One day Gautama sat down to rest and think under a tree. After several hours of deep thought, Gautama felt that he understood the meaning of life. He decided that people should seek love, truth, the joy of knowledge, and a calm mind. At that moment he became Buddha.

Gautama spent the rest of his life teaching his message, which centered on Four Noble Truths:

(1) Suffering is a part of life.
(2) Wanting things brings suffering.
(3) People can find peace by giving up wants.
(4) Following eight basic rules, called the Eightfold Path, can lead to peace.

After his death in 483 B.C., his followers told of his teachings. Buddhism, the religion based on those teachings, eventually spread across Asia.

Neither Buddha nor his followers organized a church or wrote holy books like the Vedas. They wished only to set an example for others through peaceful behavior.

Why did Gautama begin a search for truth?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Eastern Europe and the fall of Communism

Eastern Europe
During the 1970s, although dissent continued, the threat of Soviet intervention under the Brezhnev Doctrine prevented any real liberalization in the nations of Eastern Europe. The reforms implemented by Gorbachev, however, gave new encouragement to democratic forces in the region. In 1989 a tide of democratic reform swept communist governments from power across Eastern Europe. The fall of communism, however, left new and serious problems in its wake.

The growth of dissent. During the 1970s the communist governments of Eastern Europe followed the Soviet lead and imposed repressive measures to end internal dissent. Even so, many people in Eastern Europe continued to voice their opposition to totalitarian rule. Anticommunist writers skirted government censors by issuing samizdat, or self-published editions of their work. Following the announcement of the Helsinki Accords in the late 1970s, dissidents in Czechoslovakia called on their government to abide by the human rights articles of the accords. Dissidents throughout Eastern Europe subsequently began to make similar demands.

In Poland, economic troubles during the 1970s fueled the growth of dissent. In 1980 huge price increases spawned a series ot labor strikes. Led by an unemployed electrician named Lech Walesa (lEK vah-LEN-suh) and a group of shipyard workers, the strikers demanded political and economic reforms. In response the government agreed to allow labor unions to organize outside of the Communist Party. An independent trade union, known as Solidarity, was then formed. Under Walesa’s leadership, Solidarity pressed for further concessions from the Polish government. Fearing Soviet invasion, however, the government refused and imposed martial law. Demonstrations in support of Solidarity continued nonetheless through the 1980s; these demonstrations eventually culminated in the downfall of the communist government following the spread of glasnost and perestroika into Eastern Europe.

Initially, both communist governments and dissidents in Eastern Europe were skeptical of Gorbachev’s reforms. Although they faced tremendous economic difficulties of their own, many Eastern European governments, controlled by old-guard communists, were uneasy about restructuring along Soviet lines. In Hungary, however, the government believed that Gorbachev’s economic reforms did not go far enough. Reaction among dissidents was also mixed at first. Many expressed outright disbelief, but in the end they overwhelmingly threw their support behind the new policies as the best hope of winning freedom. By the citizens of Eastern Europe were widely citing glasnost and perestroika as they demanded democratic reform.

The revolutions of 1989. In 1989 the growing pressure on the communist governments of Eastern Europe reached a critical level as demands for democratic reform swept uncontrollably across the entire region. Poland led the way. In April 1989 the Polish government legalized Solidarity. The result of this action was the election of Poland’s first noncommunist prime minister in more than 40 years. In 1990 the Communist Party was dissolved in Poland and replaced by two social democratic parties.

Other nations soon followed Poland’s example. In Czechoslovakia, people took to the streets of the capital to demand reform. The government tried to break up the demonstration by force, but the police began to join the demonstrators. Having lost the backing of its security forces, the Czech government quickly gave in to demands for reform. In December, only six weeks after the first demonstrations had begun, the national legislature selected Vaclav Havel, a playwright and former dissident leader, as the country’s new president. So smooth was the transition from communism in Czechoslovakia that people dubbed it the “Velvet Revolution.”

The transition to a non-communist government proved less peaceful in Romania. Ruled by the ruthless dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (chow-SHES-koo), the people of Romania suffered one of the most repressive regimes in Eastern Europe. Ceausescu tried to crush pro-reform demonstrations with a brutal crackdown by Romania’s secret police, but the demonstrators fought back. A brief civil war followed. By the end of the year, pro-democracy forces had captured Ceausescu, whom they executed for treason.

In East Germany the government came under increasing pressure throughout 1989 to open its borders. As communist governments in Czechoslovakia and Hungary loosened restrictions on their own borders with Western countries, many East Germans obtained permission to visit Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Once there, they fled to West Germany. Amid growing protest, the East German government agreed to open East Germany’s borders at midnight on November 9.

That night thousands of Berliners from East and West Germany alike assembled on either side of the infamous Berlin Wall perhaps the most powerful symbol of the Iron Curtain. On the stroke of midnight, they raced to break holes in the wall or to climb over it. More than any other event, the fall of the Berlin Wall came to symbolize the triumph over communist tyranny.

The aftermath of communism. The end of communist rule in Eastern Europe held the promise of greater prosperity but also left many problems in its wake. The new governments of Eastern Europe soon set about the task of implementing democratic reform. Many adopted free-enterprise reforms to boost their economies. In March 1991 the member countries of the Warsaw Pact voted to disband the alliance. Some governments hoped for closer cooperation with the West, and in 1997, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were invited to become members of NATO.

At the same time, serious problems afflicted many countries. Eastern Europe lost its largest trading partner with the fall of the Soviet Union, and inefficient industries and outmoded factories rendered many regional economies uncompetitive with the West. Rising energy costs added to the economic problems of Eastern Europe as the region also lost its cheap supply of fuel with the fall of the Soviet Union. On top of these problems, decades of communist rule had taken an especially heavy toll on the environment. By the late 1990s, Eastern Europe remained among the world’s most polluted regions.

Finally, the new freedoms that had been gained in Eastern Europe released old ethnic tensions. In 1992, Czechoslovakia split in two following the rise of a Slovak nationalist party in the eastern portion of the country. The result was the creation of the more prosperous Czech Republic and the poorer country of Slovakia. The breakup of Czechoslovakia came peacefully through the ballot box. Other areas were less fortunate. Massive civil unrest gripped Albania in the mid-1990s. In Yugoslavia, ethnic divisions produced one of the most hostile civil wars in the history of modem times.

Yugoslavia comprised' a patchwork of ethnic groups, including Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Macedonians, and Albanians. Many Yugoslavs shared a mutually comprehensible language; the main distinctions ran along religious lines. The Serbs were predominantly Eastern Orthodox; the Croats and Slovenians were predominantly Roman Catholic. The single largest segment of the population in the central province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had once formed part of the Ottoman Empire, adhered to Islam. These divisions erupted in bloody conflict as anticommunist reform took hold in Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia began to unravel with the fall of communist governments across Eastern Europe. Serbia tried to exert dominance over the other groups, but the effect instead was to encourage Croatian and Slovenian nationalism. In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence. As a result, bitter fighting broke out between Serbia and Croatia, ending in a truce that was mediated by the EEC and the United States. A UN peacekeeping force soon arrived to monitor the cease-fire. Though Croatia paid a high price for its demand for freedom, Slovenia had managed to escape the fighting. Both had secured independence, however. In 1992, Bosnia followed suit and declared its independence.

In Bosnia’s case, the greatest problem was the ethnic mix within the province. Muslims formed the single largest group, but they did not represent a majority. Nearly a third of Bosnia’s population identified themselves as Serbian, while 17 percent claimed Croatian descent. Led by Radovan Karadzic, many Bosnian Serbs wished to remain part of Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia. Receiving aid from the Yugoslavian government in Belgrade, Bosnian Serb military units engaged in a program of ethnic cleansing a campaign of terror and murder to drive Muslims out of those parts of Bosnia that the Bosnian Serbs claimed for themselves.

The United Nations imposed an arms embargo in an effort to end the fighting. The result harmed the Muslim-controlled Bosnian government’s ability to resist the better-armed Serbs. In response to repeated Serb attacks, the UN declared certain areas of Bosnia to be “safe havens” under the protection of UN forces. The UN then began an investigation of Serbian atrocities.

Serbian aggression continued nonetheless. Continued shelling of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, combined with Serbian attacks on UN “safe havens,” eventually prompted NATO to carry out extensive air strikes on Serbian targets in 1995.

The Bosnian Serbs agreed to enter peace talks mediated by the United States in Dayton, Ohio. The resulting agreement, known as the Dayton Accord, gave the Bosnian Serbs a degree of autonomy in certain areas, at the same time recognizing the overall sovereignty of Bosnia’s Muslim-led government. In December 1995, NATO sent a joint military Implementation Force, or IFOR, to Bosnia to enforce the new peace. IFOR included large numbers of American troops.

At first the peace established in Bosnia by the Dayton Accord seemed to be holding. Its survival, however, seemed to depend on the continued presence of foreign troops. The future of Bosnia, like that of much of Eastern Europe, remained uncertain as the 1900s drew to a close.

Southern Europe after World War II

Southern Europe
During the 1970s and 1980s, the nations of southern Europe underwent major political changes. Italy, once one of the more stable European nations, experienced almost constant political turmoil. At the same time, Spain, Portugal, and Greece returned to democratic forms of government.

Italy. The world economic recession of the early 1970s hit Italy especially hard. For much of the decade, unemployment levels soared and inflation was rampant. During the same period, the country’s political system experienced a great deal of turmoil. None of the more than 14 political parties could gain a majority in the Italian parliament, so governments had to be formed through coalitions. Since few of these coalitions lasted very long, little could be done to lessen the country’s severe political and economic problems. Late in the decade, Italy experienced a wave of terrorism. These acts of terrorism only added to Italy’s problems.

Italy’s situation improved greatly during the 1980s. By the mid-1980s, the power of the terrorist cells had largely been broken. The economy took off after the introduction of a number of free-enterprise reforms.

By 1994, Italy ranked eighth among all industrialized nations and fourth among the countries of the European Economic Community. Its economy, however, remained burdened by a huge national debt. Moreover, a marked social division existed between Italy’s prosperous, industrialized north and the poor, mostly rural south.

In the mid-1990s, however, Italy continued to face serious political instability. Corruption scandals, particularly some that involved organized crime, racked the government. By 1997, the implementation of reforms, begun in 1994 concerning the allotment of seats in parliament, had lent Italy at least some measure of stability.

Spain. During the 1970s, Spain made the transition from dictatorship to democracy. On the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos became king. Juan Carlos immediately set about the task of returning Spain to democracy. In 1977, Spain held its first free elections in more than 40 years. In those elections, moderate political parties led by socialists won the majority of the seats in the Cortes, or parliament. Spain’s new democracy was not yet secure, however. In 1981 a group of army officers tried to seize control of the government. Although the attempt failed, it demonstrated the fragility of democratic government.

Other challenges to Spain’s new democracy included the questions of Basque separatism and of economic development. The Basque people, who possess a distinct language and culture and inhabit a region in Spain’s mountainous northwest, have long sought independence from Spain. In 1980, they won self-government within Spain, but some remained unsatisfied. The Basque separatist group, ETA, demanded complete independence and resorted to the use of terrorism throughout the 1980s.

Spain also faced the same economic problems that confronted many other European nations: high levels of unemployment and inflation. One way in which Spanish leaders sought to improve the economy was through trade. In 1986, Spain joined the European Economic Community. Although the issue of Basque separatism lingered and economic problems persisted, in the mid-1990s Spain remained democratic and numbered among the leading economic powers of Western Europe.

Portugal. Like its Spanish neighbor, Portugal also made the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1900s. Ironically, the process began with a military coup. In 1974, army officers led by General

Antonio de Spinola ousted the dictator Marcello Caetano. Spinola quickly granted independence to most of Portugal’s remaining colonies, including Angola and Mozambique. Spinola then resigned, after calling for elections. Portugal grappled with serious economic and political instability over the next several years. In 1986, Portugal joined the European Economic Community. At the same time, the government introduced a series of free-enterprise reforms. These measures helped spur economic growth and reinforce the stability of Portugal’s democracy into the 1990s.

Greece. During the late 1900s, Greece entered a period of political uncertainty. From 1967 to 1974, a repressive military junta ruled Greece. Its interference in the affairs of Cyprus led to its downfall. In 1974, Greek voters chose to make Greece a republic rather than restore the monarchy. In 1981 they elected a socialist government, which implemented various social reforms. Although a more conservative government in the 1990s promised closer cooperation with the West, Greece remained at odds with many Western governments.

France after World War II

France after World War II

After Charles de Gaulle resigned in 1969, his prime minister, Georges Pompidou, replaced him as president. Although the two men had worked together for many years, they viewed French interests differently. De Gaulle saw France as a major player on the world stage. In contrast, Pompidou believed that France should limit its overseas involvement and focus instead on domestic issues.

Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing. Pompidou believed that changes in the international situation had made de Gaulle’s nationalist approach to foreign affairs impractical. A more realistic strategy, Pompidou argued, would seek close cooperative relations with traditional allies. He, therefore, worked to strengthen ties with the United States and ended French opposition to British membership in the European Economic Community, or EEC. Within the EEC, Pompidou pursued Cooperation rather than French leadership.

Pompidou focused on domestic issues for much of his time in office. He introduced several social programs, which he hoped would ease the problems that had given rise to the political upheavals of the late 1960s. He also embarked on an ambitious plan to renovate much of Paris, which was not only France’s capital but a major tourist attraction. Pompidou had to curtail many of his plans, however, in the face of an economic crisis that was largely brought on by the OPEC oil embargo and price increases of 1973.

On Pompidou’s sudden death in 1974, Valery Giscard d’Estaing became president. Giscard d’Estaing wanted to improve French standing abroad and encourage social change at home. He continued Pompidou’s foreign policy, moving toward fuller cooperation with other countries. On the domestic front, he reduced state controls in the economy. However, high rates of unemployment and inflation undermined Giscard d’Estaing’s plans for social change, making his programs virtually impossible to implement.

From Mitterrand to Chirac. Disappointed with Giscard d’Estaing’s failure to fulfill his promises of prosperity and social change, in 1981 French voters elected a socialist president, Francois Mitterrand. Mitterrand faced severe economic problems, including high inflation, growing trade deficits, and rising unemployment. In contrast to Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Mitterrand sought to bolster his country’s economy by expanding the government’s role. Several industries and banks were nationalized, and taxes were raised for people with high incomes. Mitterrand expanded government programs for the unemployed. In the wake of further economic reversals in the mid- 1980s, however, Mitterrand was forced to pursue a more conservative approach to economics.

Under Mitterrand, France once again adopted an assertive foreign policy. French troops were especially active in Africa, frequently operating in support of former French colonies. For example, France assisted Chad in its border war with Libya during the 1980s. France also made major military contributions to multinational peacekeeping operations in Lebanon and Bosnia and participated in the international coalition against Iraq in 1990 and 1991.

Although Mitterrand had moved away from traditional socialist policies by the 1990s, support for his Socialist Party’s policies wavered when Mitterrand’s popularity waned. In 1993 Mitterrand’s party lost significant ground in midterm elections. Economic problems, such as unemployment and recession, persisted. The immigration of Arabs from North Africa into France was an increasing source of substantial social tension. Many people voiced concern about France’s ability to balance the economic and political power of a reunified Germany. A deep sense of uncertainty over the future afflicted France in the mid-1990s.

In 1995, French voters elected a new president. They chose Jacques Chirac, mayor of Paris and a member of the conservative Gaullist Party, or RPR. Chirac promised reforms and a fresh approach to France’s economic problems. Chirac’s government, however, soon encountered difficulties, including disruptive protests by various groups of laborers, farmers, and truckers who feared the loss of jobs and income as France dropped barriers to trade with its European neighbors. Chirac provoked controversy abroad by ordering a new round of nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific during 1996, though he stopped the testing after international protests. In 1997, Chirac’s political future appeared uncertain as to his party- suffered a setback at the polls.

Great Britain after World War II

During the late 1900s, many countries in Western Europe tried to consolidate the economic gains in the early postwar period. Other countries made political advances, turning from dictatorships and military governments toward democracy. Although progress was far from smooth, Western Europe generally made significant strides toward political and economic integration.

Great Britain
By the mid-1960s, Britain's postwar recovery seemed uncertain. By the end of the decade, the country faced severe economic problems and had decided to pull back from significant defense commitments overseas. Outdated factories, low productivity, and worker apathy made it difficult for Britain to compete with other industrial nations. The economy came under even greater stress as the government raised taxes and increased borrowing. The 1980s would witness a turnaround for British productivity, but unemployment and inflation would continue.

Margaret Thatcher. In a decisive victory in the general election of 1979, Britain's Conservative Party came to power. The party's leader, Margaret Thatcher, became prime minister, the first woman to hold that office. She argued that the government regulated business and industry too closely and taxed the British people too heavily. She planned to start Britain on the road back to prosperity by substantially reducing the government's role in the economy.

Over the next few years, Thatcher began to implement her ideas. She oversaw cuts in social spending, including the complete elimination of some programs. Her opponents charged that Thatcher's real intention was to dismantle the welfare state completely. Thatcher pressed ahead nonetheless, leading successful efforts to reduce taxes and to ease government regulation of business. She also began to privatize Britain's many government-owned industries. Not least, Thatcher managed finally to break the overwhelming influence that Britain's labor unions had exercised over the economy since the 1970s.

Aided by the development of new oil fields in the North Sea, the economy had begun to rebound by the mid-1980s, most notably in southern England. The country's northern areas did not fare as well, however. In this predominantly industrial region, unemployment remained very high. This was partly the result of a general shift in Britain's economy, like in the United States, from heavy industry to services. Although Thatcher pointed to an overall improvement in the economy, critics charged that her policies favored the wealthy and created an unequal society.

Thatcher brought a strict, no-nonsense approach to Britain's foreign policy as well as to economic affairs. In 1982 she ordered British troops and naval forces to retake the Falklands after Argentina invaded the British-held islands in the South Atlantic. Maintaining strong ties with the United States represented a consistent theme of Thatcher's approach to foreign policy. In 1990 she played an essential role in forming the international coalition that ultimately forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait in 1991.

Leadership changes. With a downturn in the British economy during the late 1980s, Thatcher began to lose popularity. Even her support within the Conservative Party began to weaken. Her situation became critical following her implementation of the so-called poll tax. This tax, which replaced property taxes as the source of funds for local government, charged all taxpayers the same rate, or percentage, regardless of their income level. The tax proved highly unpopular with the British people. Many Conservatives realized that they would have to reverse the tax if their party was to win the next election. Thatcher, however, continued to support the poll tax as the fairest and efficient way of financing local government.

As Thatcher's popularity continued to fall, her opponents in the Conservative Party challenged her leadership. Convinced by her closest advisers that she could not win the fight for the party's administration, she stepped down in November 1990. More than a decade after first taking office, Margaret Thatcher had served longer than any British prime minister in this century when she left.

In her place, the Conservatives chose John Major, a leading member of Thatcher's cabinet. Major was generally considered more moderate than Thatcher in many of his views, especially on a closer union with Europe. Still, he shared Thatcher's belief in free-enterprise economics and her support for incredibly close relations with the United States. Major was a strong supporter of the United States in the Persian Gulf crisis of 1991. During his term of office, Britain's economy began to pick up once again.

After nearly 18 years of a Conservative government, however, the British electorate decided on a change, prompted by scandals and incompetence in the government. In 1997 the Labour Party, led by the young moderate Tony Blair, won control of the government for the first time since 1979. Although Labour promised several changes, they did not propose to restore the British welfare state to the level it had reached in the 1970s. Many of Thatcher's political and economic ideas had taken hold. Several challenges faced Blair nonetheless. Among them was the lingering problem of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland. After creating the independent Republic of Ireland in 1922, Northern Ireland had remained part of Britain. Many people hoped that the old antagonism between Britain and Ireland would finally diminish, but new disagreements soon emerged. Over the years, the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland gained control of the government and dominated the country's economy. The lack of political power and the limited economic opportunities among Northern Ireland's Catholic minority increasingly produced resentment and ultimately erupted in violence.

In the late 1960s, Catholics in Northern Ireland began to demonstrate an end to discrimination in employment and housing. At first peaceful, these demonstrations soon turned violent. To keep the peace, in 1969, the British government sent troops to Northern Ireland, and the Catholics saw these troops as representatives of a foreign power. This stationing of soldiers in Northern Ireland became a permanent policy. Large numbers of British troops remained garrisoned there into the mid-1990s.

Throughout the 1970s, the violence in Northern Ireland escalated as Catholic and Protestant extremists alike took advantage of the situation. Assassinations, car bombings, and attacks on British troops became an almost daily occurrence. The most active extremist group was the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Almost entirely Catholic, the IRA wanted to drive the British out of the north and unite Ireland. The IRA took its "war of liberation" far beyond Irish borders, bombing public sites in several British cities and attacking British soldiers in other parts of Europe.

In addition to taking solid military measures, the British government tried to end the violence in Northern Ireland through political means. Progress came in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which gave the Republic of Ireland a voice in the affairs of Northern Ireland. In time, however, both Catholics and Protestants denounced the agreement. In the early 1990s, generally improving relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland combined with growing pressure from Europe and the United States brought new hope for a settlement in Northern Ireland. In 1993 the British and Irish prime ministers jointly pledged their commitment to self-determination in Northern Ireland. The IRA declared a cease-fire the following year, but the British insisted that the IRA would have to disarm before talks could begin. The IRA refused and, in 1996, renewed its campaign of terror. Peace talks resumed, however, following the Labour Party's victory in the British elections of 1997. A breakthrough seemed to come with the Good Friday peace accords, signed in 1998. Hopes were high that a lasting peace might soon become a reality.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Maya Ying Lin's Impactful Design

Maya Ying Lin
Among the 1,421 people who entered the competition to design a memorial to the veterans of the Vietnam War was Maya Ying Lin, a 21-year-old senior at Yale University. Her design for the memorial, shown at right, was simple: two long black granite walls, rising out of the earth and meeting at an angle. Written on these walls would be the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers declared killed or missing in action in Vietnam.

What drew the judges to the work of this young sculptor and architect? Like all great architecture, Lin's design was uniquely suited to its location, the sweeping lawns of the Constitution Gardens on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The design inspired contemplation and reflection; it was dignified and eloquent.

Lin chose a design that entered the earth and came back out again, feeling that such a design suitably symbolized death and remembrance. She also considered the symbolism of a scar a painful reminder of loss that can heal but never really disappear.

Carved into the walls are the names of the dead and missing. They are arranged chronologically on each wall by the date of death or disappearance. On the east wall, the names begin at the center and travel toward the end. On the west wall, the names begin at the end and travel toward the center. In this way, at the intersection of the walls the first and last deaths meet.

Lin chose black granite rather than white marble for several reasons. Black is, after all, a traditional color of sorrow in the American culture. In a practical sense, the names would be easier to read on black than on white. Also, black granite could be highly polished, allowing it to reflect the Mall and the people who were reading the names. In this way, finally, the dead and those who wished to remember them could once again be brought together.

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