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PDY Blog for 12-13-04

Dulce bellum inexperitis.
[War is sweet for those who haven’t experienced it.]

Blessed are the peacemakers.

    Hear the uplifting words from a Christmas card I received from a very devout cousin: “Our Wish for the world….A place where Christ can find a home, hearts that love each other, lives embraced by heaven’s joy, helping one another. An end to terror, war and want, forgiveness of the past, Children safe from every harm…and peace on earth at last.”

    Genuine as those words from the Abbey Press at the Benedictine monastery at St. Meinard, Indiana, may seem, you have to wonder: where is the Prince of Peace this Christmas 2004? And where is the spirit of peace on earth goodwill toward men among those who call themselves Christians? Maybe the people of goodwill are still reeling from the catastrophic results of the presidential election.

    The war in Iraq is such a mindless, stupid repetition of the senseless slaughter in Vietnam, I can hardly bring myself to read the headlines or watch the evening news. Eight Marines killed last night in Iraq and not a word of it on the front pages of the major newspapers. Just as it was in the Vietnam years, The War has become so routine it’s no longer front page news.

    I recently had a very enlightening conversation with a close friend that changed my attitude about Dan Rather’s nightly tribute to the heroes of our time. It seemed to me that he was glorifying the war effort. No, my friend retaliated with feeling, this is very much an anti-war statement. How so? I asked. “Because, he’s talking about people getting killed, sons and husbands and fathers dying…and you will see that nowhere else.”

    As I wrote in Two of the Missing, published in 1975, “I think the television people did not shock Americans nearly so much as they bored them with their seemingly endless reports of places, names and statistics that had no meaning for most of the viewers.”

    But there is a new element in the reportage and photography coming out of the disastrous Iraq War: there are no dead people. There are none of the kinds of still photographs that shocked the world out of Vietnam. Can you imagine the consequences if the government or the military had ever said to that wildly reckless or courageous few that they could not photograph the flag-draped coffins coming back from the war?

    In World War II, there had been an unwritten code among photographers: you never showed an American in a position of fear; you never showed the face of the dead. The young photographers in Vietnam understood THAT was the story. As I wrote in my book, “Their work provides an unprecedented illumination of the real stupidity of war—whether they intended to do that or not. It was as if—after years of romance—the cameras were suddenly focused not on the taut thighs of the brave matador, but on the gory mess of blood on the bull’s back. In 1972, there were simultaneous exhibits in New York of the Vietnam pictures of David Douglas Duncan and of a group of younger photographers either missing or killed in the war. The striking difference in the two exhibits was that the older Duncan had not focused on the fear the American GIs felt or on the obscenity of death (of mud and shit and blood and guts all mixed in ugly colors). The younger photographers all knew this was what war was about. And finally in Vietnam, with all past pretense of glory stripped away, they could show it for what it was…

     “At a certain point in history, Americans (most Americans) were revolted by what they knew about Vietnam. And I do not think they learned nearly so much about it on the television news (and certainly not from newspaper stories) as they did from these incredible still pictures….”

    I promise you nearly every American alive at the time recalls the still image Eddie Adams shot of Police General Loan shooting a Viet Cong prisoner in the head at point blank range. Nobody recalls that moving footage of the same scene was shown on ABC Television news that same day.

    Sadly, I must report that I cannot bring myself to join in the holiday spirit this year because of the depressing dark cloud of war that looms over every sparkling bit of tinsel. And I am frankly cynical about all others who seem to be able to go about their business as usual when our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers are dying and getting maimed for life in this stupid war. We must continue to ask ourselves: Where is the outrage? Have we completely, utterly lost all sense of decency by allowing this thing to go on without raising even a mild utterance of protest.

    Cynical Christians must stoop to the simplistic God of revenge and vengeance of the primitive tribes of the Old Testament to support their evil warmongering. If nothing else, this celebration of the birth of Jesus this year should remind us that first and foremost Christ was a man of peace.

    Maybe the wisdom of our age is written in bumper stickers. Consider these: WHO WOULD JESUS BOMB? JESUS WAS A LIBERAL, SO WHAT’S YOUR POINT? And, most important, the famous headline from the London Daily Mirror: How Can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?

    Don’t just pray for peace; get out your marching shoes. It’s going to be a long four years.