Against Images of the War to Be

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Today and tomorrow, people from throughout the world are gathering in protest of a single action: war in Iraq. Why is that we never seem to unite as a people, crossing boundaries of religion and country, except when we unite around the issue of war?

The warbloggers, both those for and against, staged a debate this week about war in Iraq. NZ Bear had included me in his mailing list when he mailed out the questions for the anti-war folks to answer earlier in the week and I responded with questions about the questions because I have no answers to questions about the war. I am not some pundit. I’m only a writer who looks out at a gray and dark day, wondering how we reached the eve of this war.

I went back through the online archives of various publications, trying to find the seed of this upcoming war. I found this in the New York Times excellent archive system. We are reminded that Bush had Iraq in mind long before the Twin Towers fell. It’s not surprising that after we went into Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power, that the President would turn his sights from Osama Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein even though there has never been anything more than the vaguest circumstantial evidence linking the two.

That latter point is one that puzzles me in particular, in this my morning reflecting on how we got from the collapse of the towers in New York to this new war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is not a religious man and has never been known to be devoutly Muslim. If anything, his regime is probably one of the more secular in the region. Consider this: the person believed to be largely responsible for Iraq’s bio-warfare research is a woman. This would never happen under the Taliban. This would be absolutely repugnant to an organization such as Al Queda. I looked through the New York Times archives for associations between Al Queda and Iraq, but none showed until the allegations levied by the Bush Administration.

In fact, looking over old news sources, I had a hard time finding any that connected Saddam Hussein strongly to any terrorist organizations that we haven’t directly or indirectly supported ourselves, such as those against Iran. No, since 1990, the criticism about Saddam is about his strong desire to conquer most, if not all, of the Middle East. He’s a megalomaniac, but not an especially devout megalomaniac.

Saddam Hussein is a ruthless, vicious, deadly man with a destiny, and if this means obtaining technology from others — such as France, the UK, and the US — to build weapons that give him the power to meet his destiny, he’ll do so. But in line with a terrorist organization such as Al Queda? Not a chance.

(Of course, I believe there are a lot of Iraqis that are very devout and when we bomb the hell out of Iraq, they’re not necessarily going to care or even believe we did so just to eliminate one man from power. Why will they feel this way? Because it seems incredible that a country like the US would feel so threatened by Saddam Hussein and Iraq, not when other countries practically rub our noses in how much more dangerous they are to us.)

But back to the issue of war. Why we’re going to war. Is oil the issue? I don’t know that it is; this has never felt right to me. It may be the reason some people want this war, but I don’t think all people. I’m beginning to believe this isn’t why Bush wants to go to war. But why are we going to war, especially now? Do any of us feel that Iraq is going to attack us in the next year? Even indirectly? I can’t see how this is so because even in the most government inspired attempts to generate fear, such as ‘duct and cover’ this week, most people I know found this to be both a joke and an embarrassment.

People aren’t acting afraid. Some are buying the duct tape and the plastic, but most go about normally. We’re not acting as if we truly believe we will be attacked, either directly or indirectly, from Iraq in the next year. Next two years. However, we do feel this upcoming war, as we watch our economy degrade and hear of more families disrupted as members are called into battle.

There isn’t the fear of war, but there is the shadow of war. There is a malaise in the land that darkens even in the brightest light.

Why are we going to war? I don’t have the answers, only beliefs. I do not believe we’re going to war to ensure freedom and democracy in the world, contrary to Dave Winer’s piece this morning where he writes:

Then in the last few pargraphs the author explained that the Germans and French and other European countries with long histories of starting brutal hypocritical wars over things like oil, sometimes even proclaiming themselves the master race, might not understand a country like the US where we’re more likely to go to war to save the free world. Stupid ole US, no good deed goes unpunished. Of course. We knew that.

In a debate against those who say that Europeans don’t want war because too many wars have been fought on their own lands in the last one hundred years, Dave posts:

A common response from across the ocean. Unlike the US, France and Germany know what war is like. There’s the disconnect. Click here. Clue: That’s not Germany or France.

Such a deliberate provocation when, with all due apologies to Ben for again bringing World War II into this debate, one only has to search for photographs of the firebombing of Dresden, the air attacks against London, the bombing of Nazi strongholds in France, the tears on the faces of the French as the Nazis marched into their home. The price paid by many people, during and after the war. Our own losses in these places so far away. And this was just one war. Just one. We don’t really know the devastation of war.

It is within these photographs that I find the core of my own strong beliefs against this war. I grew up surrounded by war. My father fought in World War II and was in Vietnam, and I was a small child learning to live with the threat of nuclear war and watching the constant stream of living marching off only to be replaced by the dead being carried home from South Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Kosovo, Afghanistan.

Most of all, I grew up surrounded by the images of war. In the midst of all the political rhetoric about the reasons for and against war, that’s the only truth that feels real to me — the awful beauty of the photographs capturing the horror and the devastation that is war.

The government says that the issues about this war are complex and that I should trust it to do right; but all I see is my simple perceived truths: We’re going to war because both Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush see themselves as men of destiny; and I’m not fighting against the war as much as I’m fighting against the images of war yet to be.

Image of Japanese interment camp from

History Just Shelley

Once we believe in ourselves…

Another e.e. cummings poem has been coming to mind lately, spurred on by the discussions about the ‘proper’ amount of sorrow we should feel at the loss of the Columbia crew. Proper sorrow. What is that? I do not know what proper sorrow is.

cummings once said:

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

For me, I can’t think of a better good-bye to the Columbia and its crew (Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Llan Ramon) than that quote, and the following poem, If I believe:

if i believe
in death be sure
of this
it is

because you have loved me,
moon and sunset
stars and flowers
gold creshendo and silver muting

of seatides
i trusted not,
one night
when in my fingers

drooped your shining body
when my heart
sang between your perfect

darkness and beauty of stars
was on my mouth petals danced
against my eyes
and down

the singing reaches of
my soul
the green–

greeting pale
departing irrevocable
i knew thee death.

and when
i have offered up each fragrant
night,when all my days
shall have before a certain

face become

from the ashes
thou wilt rise and thou
wilt come to her and brush

the mischief from her eyes and fold
mouth the new
flower with

thy unimaginable
wings,where dwells the breath
of all persisting stars

e.e. cummings, from Tulips and Chimneys

A goodbye to Columbia, but never to space; and never to wonder and the unquenchable human spirit of the child within.

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What the shuttles have given us

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Dan Gillmor wrote about the following in today’s eJournal:

Obviously we need to find out what went wrong, if we can, before sending the shuttles back up. But I fear this accident (assuming that’s what it is, as is almost surely the case) will instead be a justification for paralysis — a halt to U.S. space exploration when the proper response is to redouble humanity’s push into the frontier. It has never been more critical, given the terrestrial threats, to get the species off the planet and to find new resources for those who remain.

The space station and shuttle program were under fire for other, good reasons. They do little for true exploration of space. A reexamination of the entire space program — and maybe turning it into a truly global affair — would be smart at this point.

Dan has the view of so many people who are impressed by the grand acts of space exploration — acts such as landing on another body in space — when the greatest acts of discovery have been through our eyes, not through our feet. And it is through our eyes, with the aid of instruments carried by the shuttles, that we’ll continue to learn in the future.

The Shuttle Discovery carried Hubble into space, and through Hubble, we’ve discovered stars being born, and brown dwarfs, and nebula of such beauty that they put the greatest artists to shame. It is through Hubble that we have discovered worlds in other galaxies.

The Shuttle Columbia, the very ship we lost today, carried Chandra into space, and it is through Chandra that we’ve begun to learn about that greatest of mysteries, the black holes of space — the keys to the beginnings of time and light and life, itself.

It is through the experiments conducted in space aboard the shuttles and the space station that we’ll learn so much about the life on our own planet. About ourselves and our place in this huge universe.

When we flew to the moon we discovered rock. And when we fly to Mars we’ll discover more rock, and maybe a little water. But we’ll find life through the instruments launched and maintained by the shuttles; shuttles managed by the crews who never have a chance to step onto another world, but who quietly work to give all of us a chance to see deeply into space and to peek at other worlds. Crews such as those of Columbia, who risk their lives with never the hope of a mention in history, or a parade down the streets of New York.

Most importantly, though, it is because of the shuttles that we have a better view and understanding of what I consider to be the most beautiful world in the universe — a blue and green and gold and brown and white marble that hangs in the blackness of space. A world we call Earth.

This is our home, and most likely will always remain our home. As much as we might wish to use all of it up and then jet out to a new home — pulling feats of terraforming and travel faster than the speed of light miraculously out of our scientific hats — we must accept the fact that our ability to destroy, pollute and exhaust far exceeds our ability to make new scientific discoveries that will enable us to travel to other galaxies. Thanks to the efforts of the Shuttles, we better understand our world. Maybe someday, we’ll even learn to appreciate it.

I agree with Dan on one thing: space exploration should become global. But I have to disagree with all my heart when he says that we’ve had little true exploration of space with the shuttles.

Look at the wonder of it all.



Oh no

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I received a news alert from CNN, only to hear that communication with the Shuttle Columbia has been lost.

Flight patchThere’s no other official news other than this, but it sounds like it did explode on entry. It breaks my heart because if there’s one thing this country does well, it is our exploration of space. It is the very best of us.

I tried to watch the news, but would turn the channel every time someone would start talking about terrorism. Can we for once not taint everything around us with our unreasoned and unthinking and unfounded paranoia, and just feel sorrow at the loss?

My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the astronauts.

History Photography Writing

Let ‘er come

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I’m back on track with the RDF book, though slowly. I want to write, frequently, strongly, and to cover the screen with pixels, but, lately, my thoughts have not been on technology. I think my new office location has something to do with it — my desk faces towards a window overlooking the housing complex and there is so much interesting scurrying about that I find myself easily distracted.

At this moment, exactly at this moment, I’m watching a wild rabbit hop around the bushes across the street. And one of the women that shares the townhouse where the bunny is foraging left just a bit ago, every hair in place, dressed perfectly. As always.

(Rather than be envious of her, though, she makes me feel oddly thankful to be so comfortable with my own rumpled condition. If she and I were cars, she would be a BMW, and I would be one of those volkswagon buses that has been around — you know the kind I’m talking about.)

I have also been spending time getting the web site for my online book (Coming of Age in John Birch Country) organized. I’m using pictures from the University of Washington Digital Collections to annotate the site, thanks to the school’s open copyright policy. One of my favorite photos is titled “Let ‘er come” and features a farmer and his wife talking to a reporter about the oncoming flood caused by the Grand Coulee Dam.

It’s easy to be sanguine when you know your home is above the water line.