The tight, absurd parameters of “peace,” as they are drawn by the military model we continue to believe in, make real peace —neither bitter nor temporary — impossible even to imagine. God save us, for instance, from New York Times editorials, which inflict as much damage on civilians as F-16s.
“Israel must defend itself,” the paper intoned a few days into the bombing attack on Gaza that quickly left 350 people dead, expressing regret only that the action was “unlikely to weaken” Hamas. The editorial affected a neutral assessment of the situation that failed to mention either the Israeli occupation of Palestine or the month-and-half-long blockade of Gaza that preceded the bombardment and, among much other deprivation, left the region’s few hospitals drastically undersupplied with medicine, gauze or even space to treat the flood of newly wounded.
With that omission securely in place, and clear signals emanating from every sentence that the right of heavily armed U.S. allies to bomb powerless Third World “enemies” into good behavior would not be questioned, the Times editorial remembered its compassionate side sufficiently to declare: “Israel must make every effort to limit civilian casualties.”
How decent of them. Or as Jerry Seinfeld might have put it: Yada yada yada.
I quote from the Times, of course, not as one paper among thousands, but as the Paper of Record and exemplar of the mainstream, corporate media’s unified voice on geopolitics and the future of civilization. This is the voice of moral relativism and denial. Nowhere in it is there room for something other than a military solution to chronic global troubles, and that solution flows in only one direction. And nowhere is there the least real humanity toward the punishees, whose role is to suffer, die and retaliate just enough to keep the cycle going for another round. “Israel must defend itself . . .”
And thus the civilian dead — whatever that term actually means — merit the barest sniff of a eulogy as, alas, the regrettable byproduct of the high-tech pummeling their country or territory has called upon itself, before being consigned to some mass grave in paragraph five. By gliding over the dead, the media are free to discourse on grand strategy, as though war is rational and contained and does something other than spread toxins, hatred and its own ongoing inevitability — and as though “winning” such one-sided, preposterous displays of power actually means something, or is possible.
Whether reporting on Iraq, Afghanistan or Gaza, our media spare us eyewitness accounts of the hell we create in pursuit of our interests, such as Safa Joudeh’s live Gaza diary on ElectronicIntifada.com:
“There were piles and piles of bodies in the locations that were hit,” she wrote on Dec. 27. “As you looked at them you could see that a few of the young men were still alive, someone lifts a hand, and another raises his head. They probably died within moments because their bodies were burned, most had lost limbs, some of their guts were hanging out and they were all lying in pools of blood.
“Outside my home,” she goes on, “which is close to the two largest universities in Gaza, a missile fell on a large group of young men, university students. They’d been warned not to stand in groups as it makes them an easy target, but they were waiting for buses to take them home. Seven were killed, four students and three of our neighbors’ kids. . . . Nothing could stop my 14-year-old brother from rushing out to see the bodies of his friends laying in the street after they were killed. He hasn’t spoken a word since.”
No war, no military action, no act of self-defense or revenge has a legitimacy that exempts the perpetrators from responsibility for the consequences they create. And every bombing campaign — certainly one against the most densely populated region on Earth — will wreak the sort of searing havoc Joudeh describes.
I refuse to believe that any long-term human good will come out of a geopolitical strategy that casually inflicts this sort of suffering on people, and fear for the souls of the complicit parties, especially if they lack the courage to acknowledge what they do without reducing their victims to expendable, subhuman status.
And I cannot read something like the New York Times editorial quoted above without feeling an urgent need to fill the void that it opens. Peace on this planet is possible, but only if we make ourselves bigger than war. This can happen only with the sort of genuine openness to our “enemies” that is documented, for instance, in a Peace Now video of Israeli and Palestinian students engaging in dialogue with one another that I viewed on the organization’s Web site.
“It’s very easy to dehumanize someone you don’t know,” a student says at one point, glowing from her realization that we’re all in this together. The implications of this simple truth are the only antidote I know of to the suicidal folly of war. On a day in which I have endured too much news from the Middle East, they burst in my heart like a symphony of peace.
- - -
Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column ator visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.