Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The list goes on and on....


Anyone who reads the New York Times each day knows how exhaustingly sad an experience it can be. “Dining Out” and “Escapes” sections notwithstanding, most of the paper—especially, the “International” section—is filled with images of violence and misery. Unfortunately, such content eventually become so repetitive, so expected, the reader builds a tolerance to it.

A few years ago, after noticing my tolerance to these sad images and stories growing, and not wanting this tolerance to mutate into apathy, I made myself a promise: Until the war's end, I’d read the list of names of American soldiers recently killed in combat, a list the Times publishes every day, which also contains the age, hometown, ranking and battalion of each soldier lost.

Although this list doesn’t even come close to representing the breadth of the war’s casualties, especially on the Iraqi side, still, it was some sort of reminder.

This is what I'd read:

Doe, John A., 19, Sgt.,
Buffalo, NY.; 40th
Engineer Battalion,
Second Brigade Combat
Team, First Armored Div.

Reading this information, word for word, hometown for hometown, I believed, would make the war seem somewhat “real.” Reading this info would remind me, at least for the moment, that the Iraq war isn't just of captioned photos and tightly written stories. These were real men and woman. These were real teenagers.

So what’s my whole point for this post? It’s quite simple: I recently stopped reading the names.

It’s not that I didn’t care any more, I did. But after a while the constant stream of death tired and sickened me.

Now I don’t serve as any sort of bellwether for America’s overall opinion or the way toward which we’re moving as a country on Iraq, but if I, a person who for two years actually ruminated over the fate of these dead soldiers (however minute an act it is), recently stopped bothering to read these names, If I’ve grown slightly apathetic and uninterested, what does that say about much of America, who, I believe, at least, may have never really cared about many of the issues in the first place?

What does that say about our future as a country? Is this the new status quo? Is America comfortable with being a country that entangles itself in foreign conflicts, and whose soldiers die in droves, while many on the home front simply ignore the daily deaths? Are we becoming a country that is comfortable with the fact that, so many of our soldiers have died, the New York Times is able to print a fresh list of dead soldiers' names each day. Each day!

America needs to realize that the halcyon days are over.

Not only are the halcyon days over, but it's time for some serious attitude adjustments. Instead of watching game shows like “Deal or no Deal?," in which money is profligately tossed about, instead of worrying about how we can buy into that luxury condo in Manhattan, or quibbling over a few cents’ increase in the gas price, we should all, collectively, be thinking of how we are going to prevent another of our soldiers from making that damn list.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hating the Palliating

Talk about at a lesson in euphemistic language.

Jeep, the car company owned by GM, just had a commercial on TV advertising its fall deals. Fine. But at the end of the commerical, Jeep reminds customers to partake in the company’s letter writing campaign to "our overseas troops."

Fucking overseas? Give me a break. According to the A.P., the number of American troops killed in Iraq just surpassed the amount of people killed in New York on 9/11.
These troops are more than people who are overseas. My friend Stuey, who's backpacking through Europe and trying to find himself, is "overseas."

What's wrong? using the word Iraq or soldiers or military or figthers isn't palatable? Well not much in war is.

With all the ways to describe USA's might, it's interesting to note that on the home front, and in happy little car commercials, we say "overseas troops."

Any American soldier in Iraq is fighting for his or her life. It's a macabre ordeal fought with weapons that look like something out of H.R. Giger's imagination.

But, then again, do we Americans really care?

The war is so far away, so remote. And that new Jeep Cherokee comes with all leather interior and dual-zone climate control.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Can't Outrun Your Shadow


Here's an essay I wrote for a class a while back. Thought it was interesting enough to post, but I don't necessarily agree with everything I wrote. Nevertheless, it felt right at the time. Agree with it or disagree, if you'd like.

Time and again many great thinkers have proclaimed mankind a peaceful animal, albeit one driven to violence by iniquity. Were man granted an equal share of territory and equal access to resources, these thinkers argued, his soul would be fulfilled, obviating the need to perpetrate crimes or, for that matter, make war. And sadly, time and again, man, through his actions, has proved this notion wrong. History has shown us that even when a man seemed content—i.e., had a surfeit of land, a full belly and a heavy coin purse—he still wanted more. Suffice to say, then, that war, crime or enmity doesn’t stem from a dearth of land or resources but instead from an intrinsic flaw in mankind’s nature.

What happened in Nazi Germany underpins this theory. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, he instituted radical economic polices, many of which were incredibly successful, over a Germany that had, through the Weimar era, been destitute. By the time war WWII began, Hitler didn’t need any more land or resources for his people. The Reichsmark had recovered nicely, and Germans were again eating well. Germany’s problems, in fact, had never really centered on lack of land.

However, one of many impetuses for Hitler’s war was land acquisition. But the F├╝hrer didn’t want to harvest crops: he wanted more land with which he could better nourish German children, his cannon fodder. What is more, Hitler wanted to expand the Reich, so it could be harder to defeat—thanks to more resources and manpower—on the battlefield. Here is the perfect case of a man, who did not need more land, a man whose human condition was relatively agreeable, but started one of the deadliest wars to win more any way.

Though Hitler serves as an extreme example, he wasn’t the only man who exhibited such intrinsic flaws, when considering history and literature.

Similar to Hitler, Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky’s main character in the book Crime and Punishment, acts out of a twisted impulse when committing a nasty deed, a deed born not out of necessity. Raskolnikov was responsible for the death of two people, who, much like all those millions killed in WWII, could have easily been spared.

Raskolnikov had a decent life—he was going to university and receiving money from his mother back home. However, Raskolnikov, in Dostoevsky’s classic (a classic in which many a characters' ruminations most definitely reflected Dostoevsky’s personal musings), isn’t happy with his mundane existence. Acting from this frustration, he decides one day he wants to “challenge himself”: he wants to be unique; he wants to be a “superman,” or an “├╝bermensch.” The only way to do this, Raskolnikov believes, is by committing a spectacular act, which will set him above common man: murder. Perhaps most shocking, Roskolnikov commits these crimes just to see if he can. Thus, Raskolnikov, like so many before in history and literature, wanted to test the limits of human capacity, irrespective of who had to pay the price.

Disheartening as it is to think that true peace is almost never possible, thanks to a flaw in man’s soul, the case for it is strong. Both Hitler and Raskolnikov speak for the fact that, even when man is sated or comfortable, he still wants more. Therefore, idealists can—and will—perpetually bemoan the state of the world. They can preach about how one should give peace a chance, or one should share with one another and live cordially. Truth told: any man, given the right opportunity, would steer into the wrong due to some intrinsic flaw.