Show Us Body Bags and Coffins
Dover Air Force Base
"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." Robert E. Lee
In the New York Times today, OP-ED columnist Bob Herbert contends:
Americans' attitude toward war in general and this war in particular would change drastically if the censor's veil were lifted and the public got a sustained, close look at the agonizing bloodshed and other horrors that continue unabated in Iraq. If that happened, support for any war that wasn't an absolute necessity would plummet.Bob and I are usually on the same page, but this time I must respectfully disagree. He's got solid journalistic chops, mainly on television, so how did he miss the obvious?
We see at least as much gore on prime time TV as in the pictures he describes. Not to mention through the cinematic oeuvre of movie directors aiming to cash in on the country's seemingly unquenchable bloodlust. And C'mon, Bob, even scenes of actual beheadings on the Internet haven't managed to shake our collective lack of response to horror.
We're numb. Jaded. Bombarded by gruesome television and movie savagery -not even factoring in video games- our ability to summon shock and outrage at blood and guts has swirled down too many viscera-filled drains. We've absorbed violence into our daily lives in such a way as to minimize its impact on anything but our eyes. It's become theater. Incredible. Phantasmagoric. And it will never move us until it's made personal and much more real.
But television can do that too. A scene from The West Wing: the (unfortunately fictional) President Bartlett joining families at Dover Air Force Base to meet the coffins of loved ones killed in foreign conflict. A solid gut punch as flag-draped symbols of heroism carried by solemn soldiers march onto the screen and into our consciousness. Not a drop of blood. Just unadulterated reality. And grief. And despair.
And if you remember or have seen clips of television news during Vietnam, you know it was the real deal. Network news honchos back then may have pandered to their sponsors' censors, but never to the federal government's. They beamed authentic scenes of the war into our homes every day. For many viewers it was the chilling sight of thousands upon thousands of flag covered coffins on military tarmac that pulled them off their couches and out into the streets to howl in protest.
I believe America's attitude toward the war in Iraq would change dramatically and irrevocably if military and government censors allowed us to see body bags and coffins coming home from Iraq to their grief-torn families. The stark reality of the numbers, the immutable display of the enormity of our nation's loss -- that would stop us dead in our tracks.
And make us want to stop the trainwreck that is the war in Iraq.
Bob Herbert's column, Lifting the Censor's Veil on the Shame of Iraq - New York Times