“War is at best barbarism. … Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”
—William Tecumseh Sherman
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
—Robert E. Lee
The two old generals were absolutely right. War is horrific. And unless we confront that fact and absorb it, and are haunted by the atrocity of shrapnel ripping through flesh and bombs tearing the limbs from children and bullets piercing skulls, then we indeed are in danger of growing too comfortable unleashing the horror and the hell.
The problem is we don’t want to face the consequences of our actions. It is our tax dollars, your and mine, that have paid for the million-dollar Tomahawk missiles that can be launched from battleships at an enemy 500 miles over the horizon. Our tax dollars paying for the tanks massacring an enemy that sometimes fights back with machine guns mounted on Toyota pickups. Our tax dollars paying for the one-ton bunker-busting bombs that leave a child buried beneath rubble and bleeding to death.
It is the reality of war that few Americans are witnessing.
“I’m not seeing anything (on television) of the screaming, the yelling, the pain and the carnage all this is doing,” Dr. Bowles, a neurosurgeon at a military hospital in Germany where the war’s wounded are being flown for treatment, told a reporter from Denver’s Rocky Mountain News.
It may never be known exactly how many people have died as a result of our invasion. Time magazine reports this week that Pentagon officials “privately estimate that more than 10,000 Iraqi troops and up to 2,000 civilians have died so far.”
But, as Gen. Tommy Franks said, “We don’t do body counts.” At least not enemy bodies. According to the latest figures, at least 128 U.S. troops and 31 British soldiers have died in the war.
We are responsible for the carnage. We just don’t want to see our tax dollars at work. And the media, knowing this, complies by “sanitizing” the images that flash across our television screens and are printed in the pages of mainstream newspapers and magazines.
The information gatekeepers worry about transcending the bounds of good taste and refrain from alienating the customers they need to keep ratings and circulation up, and corporate bottom lines fattened.
Photographer Peter Howe summed up the situation in an essay appearing on the Web site The Digital Journalist (www.digitaljournalist.org).
“What I think we’re seeing here is a selection process that is the result of internal media company censorship rather than the military kind. Rumors are surfacing of directives to picture editors to only choose photographs that make the U.S. military look heroic, and to spare the American public the distress of seeing dead or badly wounded personnel. Of course this also spares the advertisers the same suffering as the reader, which is a fortunate coincidence.
“Unfortunately the media companies are right. Not only do most advertisers not want images of death and mutilation to spoil the promotion of their products, but also most readers don’t want that either. … Whenever they have appeared, even if they show the corpses of the enemy, angry letters to the editor follow in their wake.”
Much of the rest of the world, meanwhile, free from the need for self-delusion, watched an unsanitized war unfolded on their TVs and in their periodicals.
Our embrace of the fiction of a war that is clean and bloodless is dangerous, indeed.
That is why we offer up these images that come closer to approximating the horrible reality that 70 percent of Americans say they support.
This is what we are responsible for. As our leaders rattle their sabers in the direction of Syria and Iran, it is important that we grasp the consequences of actions already taken. Otherwise, as Lee warned, we do run the risk of growing too fond of our wars.
Check out the accompaniments to this feature:
'A chill wind is blowing in this nation ...'
Masters of war
Curt Guyette is the news editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]