Monday, November 08, 2010

"War? What War?"

             If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again 
be any war. 
                                - Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored
                                  graphic footage from the Gulf War
* * * *
“Ace!  Bob’s on the phone!” called Patty.
Bob didn’t waste any time.  “Ace!” he barked out.  “Get over to the courthouse right now.  There are half a dozen people down there carrying anti-war signs.  It’s the biggest peace protest here in years, and I want you to get some pictures and interview them before they get too cold and head home.”
“I’m on it, Chief,” I assured him, then grabbed my coat and headed out the door.
One of my neighbors, Uncle Whitt, was just walking past the house, dragging his rat terrier Roscoe, who--as usual--was doing his best to lift his leg at every tree, bush, hydrant, gate, and signpost they passed.
“Where are you running off to in such a big hurry, Ace?” he gasped, wheezing from the effort of dragging Roscoe every step around the block.
“There’s a big story down at the courthouse,” I said.  “An anti-war rally.”
He stopped.  “Anti- what?  An anti-war rally?  What war?” he demanded.
“The same war we’ve been in for the last nine years,” I told him, surprised.
“What the Sam Hill are you talking about?” he snapped, staring at me as if I had just claimed visitors in flying saucers had arrived from outer space.  “We’re not at war.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I read the newspaper every day,” he said.  He must have thought I was trying to pull a fast one on him, and he was obviously getting hot.  “You get the same big city paper I do.  Have you seen any articles about a war?”
I had to stop and think about it.  “Now that you mention it,” I said, “I don’t remember seeing anything lately.  I don’t even know what I mean by ‘lately,’ though.”
“War is news,” he said belligerently.  “Big news. Listen, I’ve lived through World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and I know what kind of press coverage they had.  There’s been nothing in the paper about a war.  Don’t you think a major newspaper would cover one of the biggest stories in the world if we were at war?”
“Sure, but...,” I began.
“In wartime, newspapers are filled with pictures of mothers whose homes have been destroyed or whose children have just been killed.  Soldiers carrying their wounded buddies.  Bleeding, bandaged soldiers being evacuated.  Human interest stuff that makes a war intimate and personal.  Have you seen any pictures like that?”
“Uh, no,” I said, “but....”
“We’re always hearing that the world is shrinking.  That this is ‘an age of instant communication.’  That ‘our lives now are intertwined with those of people on the other side of the globe.’  Have you been feeling communicated with by people we’re at war with on the other side of a shrunken planet?”
“No, I guess I haven’t, but....”
“If you’re at war, the war looms huge in a nation’s life.  People talk about it constantly.  It’s part of the fabric of everyday life while it lasts.  It’s part of your consciousness.  Do you hear people talking about a war?  Is a war part of your consciousness?”
That caught me off guard.  “Well, no, but....”
“We just had midterm elections,” he interrupted me.  “I did my civic duty.  I watched all five debates between the candidates for Congress from our district.   Nobody mentioned a war.  In five debates.  Not once.  Considering that the military eats up around half our federal budget, and wars cause huge casualties and hardships, don’t you think it would be hard for candidates to ignore a war?”
“Yes, but....”
“Don’t ‘yes, but’ me,” he said.  “Did you watch the debates?”
“I did, Uncle Whitt,” I said.
“Did you hear anybody mention a single word about a war?”
“Well, no,” I said, “but....”
“And the Republican candidate’s main claim was that he would cut taxes.  Just like all the other Republican candidates.  Wars aren’t cheap.  You don’t cut taxes in wartime.  You raise them to fund the damn war.  Even an idiot knows that. So it’s obvious we’re not at war.  Don’t you think his opponents would have jumped all over him if he tried to pull a stunt like cutting taxes when we’re fighting a war?”
“Uh, ....”
“If we were at war, wouldn’t the war be one of the major issues in the election?”
“You would think so, but....”
“And don’t you think there would be millions of protestors clogging the streets in DC and New York and LA if we were fighting a war they didn’t care for?”
“I suppose so,” I said, “but....”
“Do you see streets packed with demonstrators?” he challenged, as Roscoe began to fidget.
“No, no, but....”
“Do you see soldiers welcomed home with parades, given the keys to the city?  TV news covering soldiers’ returning from a combat zone, or soldiers’ bodies being flown home with their families receiving a flag and attending their burial?”
“Well, no, but....”
“Do you think our government is actually conducting an invisible war?” he demanded sarcastically.
“I know it sounds crazy, but....”
“Ace,” he said, “you were never the brightest candle on the cake.  But this takes the cake.  I don’t know how you came up with this tomfoolery, but somebody with delusions like yours needs to have his head checked out.”  And, giving Roscoe a jerk, he trotted off in a huff.  Roscoe--as usual--took a nip at my pants leg as he passed.
I stood there for a minute, feeling a little dizzy.  Then I turned around and walked back into the house.  “Patty,” I said, feeling idiotic, “this may sound odd, but I need to know.  Are we are at war now, or are we not?” 
© Tony Russell, 2010
Writer’s Note:  Just to be absolutely clear, this column in no way is intended to say or imply that there aren’t people in this country who care deeply about the war and try to stay informed about it, whether it is because they have a friend or family member in harm’s way, or because of the devastation and suffering the war is causing, or simply because they are sickened by what’s being done in our name.  The column’s intent is to show how successful our political leadership (and their corporate string-pullers) have been in muting media coverage of the war, eliminating it as a political issue, and erasing it from our public consciousness.


Laura said...

Oh, dear. This one really gets me. I have occasionally gone searching online for the war, as I am uncomfortable with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind-games that we've been playing. I get disgusted when we haggle about who gets the biggest tax cuts while the country is at war. We, who do not have friends or relatives in harm's way, have not been asked to make sacrifices with our money or resources or time. The adrenaline of the first few weeks/months/years is long gone, and without new input of images, etc. or daily impact on our lifestyles, the path of least resistance is forgetting. We have had to make an effort to remember.

Tony Russell said...

Wonderful comment, Laura. Thanks.