Saturday, May 01, 2004
Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of eight ABC affiliate, has decided to block Friday's episode of Nightline, "The Fallen", where Ted Koppel intended to present the names of all US military casualties from Iraq. This comes a week after Tami Silicio was fired by her employer for taking photographs, subsequently published in the press, of the coffins coming back from Iraq.

Behind the exhortation to "support our troops" and the expressed concern for the families' privacy, appears to be a hesitation here to acknowledge the dead, killed in the course of duty to their own country, as individual human beings as opposed to some number, which though growing by day, is nonetheless small when referred to wars in the past. The daily loss of life, one or two or three, or on bad days, a dozen or so, are dutifully reported by the press and government; but the names and images, that which renders the head count into their individual human realities and implications, is suppressed, or if not amenable to suppression, reported with an uncomfortable gingerliness.

The architects and supporters of the Iraq war clearly believe the action to be right, worthwhile, and can be defended and advocated on honorable grounds, in public; I am not persuaded that they are wrong. Their hesitation to attach human faces and realities to governmental policy is therefore short-sighted and self-defeating, but perhaps not surprising. Governments, everywhere, in every era, have attempted to hide the fact their policies, no matter how abstractly sounded, or how remotely aimed, ultimately exacts consequences upon real, individual persons. It is a credit to human beings, whatever faults they posses, they are not fundamentally bloodthirsty as individuals; almost everyone will hesitate to physically hurt or kill another person, and those who do not are universally condemned. Thus more often than not, the Government, or the People, or the Party, or some such organised authority made up of humans but certainly not human-like itself, can only carry out its policies, in particular policies enabled by violence and coercion, if the human consequences of these policies is sufficiently obscured from the authority's human constituents. This is not necessarily because governments feel obligated to the people they govern; even such malignant organisms as the Nazis and the Communists always hid their bloody deeds behind euphemisms and bureaucratese, for the simple reason it lubricates the bureaucracy by anesthetizing the conscience of the bureaucrat and the populace. When governments want to mount crusades against unbelievers, burn heretics, liquidate counter-revolutionaries, combat terrorists, but without the inconvenience of having to constantly explain themselves, they claim whatever is that they want to do, it is only against unbelievers, heretics, counter-revolutionaries, terrorists — faceless icons, more or less, only incidentally human beings and really, it is best not to dwell upon that little fact all that much...

What has always moved me about the Vietnam War Memorial was its restraint and its anti-monumental humanism. Instead of nameless iconography, the Memorial presents sixty thousand named individual facts and the infinite implications that emanate from them, until at last the full weight of what has lost, of what could have been had the facts been but slightly different, implicates the viewer. The cause for which those facts come to be is still subject to discussion and debate, but surely it is possible to advocate and argue about that, or about the war in Iraq, without resorting to lies and obfuscations, without dehumanising our opponents and ourselves. To give into the inhuman logic of the machine within which we are embedded, for however righteous and just a cause, poison and destroy the very same which we intend to defend, and reduce ourselves to an unthinking, mechanical intellectual slavery.