Lest we forget

By Yousef Munayyer

Graphic pictures scare us: photos of people without limbs, dead children, crying mothers over the bodies of the war dead. We do not want to be bothered by any of this. Whether they are pictures of caskets covered in American flags or photos of POWs being tortured, we find no place for them in the mainstream media.

ABC’s news program, “Nightline,” devoted the entire half hour to reading the names of the war dead. Many people criticized the station for having political motives, saying that such a reaction was unnecessary. About two weeks ago, photos from a mortuary in Delaware were released showing caskets covered in American flags. They almost seemed as if they were in a warehouse being shipped around like cargo. These pictures were also not received well.

Soldiers are affected traumatically by killing the enemy. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has an answer to this – he proposes advancing combat to the point where you will never have to see your enemy when you destroy them. That way we won’t have to watch them die. The problem, though, is just because we don’t have to watch the enemy die, it doesn’t mean the enemy is any less dead.

All of this points to a very scary direction. We, as a society, are working to take any and all humanity out of war. We don’t want to see the dead; we don’t want to think about the dead. We just want to destroy and not have to be bothered by the consequences. We put up statues of the war dead and make memorials. We look at the list of names on lists but we never realize how horrific it really is.

Thucydides the Athenian wrote 2,500 years ago, in what may still be to this day the best and most relevant work on war, about the reservations of the Spartan king before engaging in war with the Athenians. “Spartans,” said King Archidamus addressing his people, “in the course of my life I have taken part in many wars, and I see among you people of the same age as I am. They and I have had experience, and so are not likely to share your enthusiasm for war, nor think that war is a good thing or a safe thing.”

The words from the pages of the Peloponnesian War speak with uncanny relevance today. Our society is forgetting the horrors of war and therefore will be more inclined to accept war as a reasonable action. We have to realize that a declaration of war is an admission of total failure.

We keep hearing these names and looking at pictures of young men and women who do not exist on this earth anymore, yet it doesn’t seem to move us. In fact it bothers us because we do not want to think about it. We call them heroes and that seems to make it all right, but like a friend told me last week, our nation could use a lot more living veterans and a lot less dead heroes.

Our society is disconnected from the military and our military is also disconnected from our society. The civilian will never understand war through violent video games. What is scarier though is that modern warfare has begun to move in the virtual direction. We don’t want to see the enemy; we don’t want to put boots on the ground, and of course “we don’t do body counts.” The military is very much being disconnected from the enemy. The days of the western front’s man-to-man ditch confrontations are over. Today, buttons are pressed to lock onto boxed shaped targets from thousands of feet into the night sky.

Some might say that this is perfectly fine. In fact many, particularly those in the defense department who advocate this numb warfare, see this to be the way of the future. This is a great problem. As the Spartan king told his people so many years ago, once you come to know what war is about and the horrors that come with it, you will be less inclined to use it.

Our society today is becoming disconnected with the horrors of war, and war is becoming more acceptable. It has become acceptable to the point where a few individuals lied to the nation and got the congress to give up their constitutional right so to pursue their own interests. Now, blinded by the “patriotism” of war’s hero-making industry, we neglect to realize that war in its nature is failure. We have become blinded to the point where we embrace failure.

Yousef Munayyer is a Collegian columnist.