Thursday, June 1, 2006

Moyers on Journalism, McKenna on Haditha

We have another contribution from Terry McKenna today, on the topic of Haditha. But first I have a little assignment for you—and indeed, if I were a professor of journalism, it would literally be an assignment. I would put away my lecture notes for a class and do this instead. Click the link at the right to the video of Bill Moyers' recent speech to his colleagues at PBS. It will be one of the most important 50 minutes you've ever spent; and if it doesn't put a fire in your belly for the future of this nation, then maybe nothing will. I recommend you watch and listen to the fire in Mr. Moyers' eyes, the feeling in his heart and voice; but if you prefer reading it, the transcript is here.

And now, Terry McKenna on Haditha.

We’ve just learned about the savagery in Haditha, but why are we surprised? War unleashes our base emotions.  Thus, in every war, the enemy is likened to the lowest of the low.  In WW1, the Germans were portrayed as bloodthirsty Huns.  Two centuries earlier after the Jacobite rebellion was crushed, the victorious British decorated the roadway back to Scotland with the heads of the defeated Scottish warriors. 
It is a pity we don’t read mythology today.  It is also a pity that prose has replaced poetry, for only in poetry can we read a true description of anguish and loss.  Rather than poetry, we rely on modern history to attempt to understand war, but in our modern histories, war has lost both its glory and its brutality. 
What did we think would happen to our fine young men as they saw the head of a buddy turned into a mass of goo?  We had to know that they would strike out.  So far it is only in one place and with only a relative few victims, but Iraqis are now complaining that our soldiers kill with impunity.  Again, I’m not surprised. 
We pretend that modern war is clean and that our smart weapons remove the risk of pointless carnage.  But it’s not so.  The smart weapons were never as smart as they were made to seem.  And in the end, war requires gutsy young men to go out and face danger.  (And yes, I’m emphasizing men.  For however much women are a part of modern war, they still can’t carry the weight of a full pack and a heavy rifle – and maybe they are not quite as foolhardy as you need to be to become the cannon fodder that the gods of war require.)
The ancients prepared themselves for battle by singing chants and by taking strong drink.  The ancient Norsemen loved combat, and envisioned wild warriors known as berserkers who fought without fear or pain.  The berserkers went gloriously and naked into battle.  Modern historians – who look for the true story behind the myth, believe that these furious fighters were armed with mead (an ancient alcoholic beverage) fortified with a hallucinogen.
The American Indians also prepared themselves by chanting their war chants and by smoking hallucinogens such as peyote.  They needed every bit of artificial courage to face an equally furious foe wielding a stone club.
Modern warfare began with the Greeks and Romans.  They developed tactics that allowed masses of not so brave men to fight effectively and with some protection.  But even so, personal valor was still required.  In the famous last stand at Thermopylae, King Leonidas led his Spartans to eternal glory as all of them died keeping the Persians at bay. 
So on to so called modern war.  The Americans have a well earned reputation (before Iraq) for the excellent treatment of civilians and prisoners of war.  Still, in WW2, a number of Germans were slaughtered rather than kept as prisoners – usually for convenience.  And in the Pacific, the rumor is that some of the Japanese who surrendered were slaughtered – this time out of vengeance for Japanese atrocities.  It’s all been covered over, and nearly impossible to prove now – but the story has the ring of truth. 
The ancients understood man’s foibles too.  They ancient story of Pandora’s box is a tempting analogy for the Iraq war.  In the fable, Pandora unleashes forces that cannot be contained.  The ancients would have understood Iraq quite well.

—T. McKenna

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