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Saturday, May 01, 2004

Waves on the beach 

As I said in a comment I posted on Billmon about watching Nightline tonight, "the names and faces became like watching waves break on a forlorn sunset beach." I want to expand a little more on that comment.
I was 15 or 16 when Life magazine published its issue with the photographs of every American who had died in Vietnam. Now, I was a pretty ignorant self-centered Canadian prairie teenager at the time, and I hadn't even been particularly aware that the US was so involved in a war so far away, in a country whose name I didn't even really know how to pronounce. As I paged through that issue, looking at face after face after face, I began to realize these were just boys, only a little older than me -- why, they could have been in high school with me, they could have been my friends! It was a personal awakening --for the first time in my life, I was deeply affected by a tragedy which had nothing to do with me or my family or even my country. And it was a political awakening -- for the first time, as I struggled to understand why they were dying, I began to grasp the profound importance of politics.
Watching Nightline tonight, again there were the faces of boys and, for the first time, girls -- again there was the personal impact because so many of these smiling faces are about the age of my own son and daughter. This time, however, I thought that the perspective of 40 years of political awareness would allow a more intellectual approach, blunt the impact, temper the tragedy, immunize me from shock.
But no -- the sadness was even deeper. I know now how much those fine young people have lost, the lives they will never have, the contributions to society they will never make, the joy they will never share with families and friends, and the children who will never be born.
And I have seen the ocean tides now.
When you sit on a beach and watch the waves roll in, one and another and another and another, each individual wave seems to be just the same as the one before it. But cumulatively, there is an enormous effect, as the tide rises inextolerably and the beach is gradually overrun. When the beach is deserted, as it is in the evening, the tide is even frightening, because darkness follows the waves, and the beach itself disappears.
Are the names and faces of the dead in Iraq an evening tide for America?
I am profoundly afraid of an America which lets incompetent and unprincipled leaders pander to the bloodlust of the beltway pundits, the good ol' boys and the Joe Sixpacks by sacrificing your best and brightest in a pointless war. Is the "American way of life" so brittle, so hollow that a single horrific event can crack it? If so, America will take us all down into the darkness. It felt that way for me tonight.

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