Tuesday, July 12, 2005

london's burning

the bombings in the london tubes and on a double-decker bus last week have been much discussed and agonized over and speculated upon. simply put, they were horrible, and my heart went out to all the people caught up in the conflagration as i read the early coverage of the attacks. i tend to avoid tv news at all costs, mainly b/c it is just so goddamned hysterical -- even over the most mundane of incidents, to say nothing of something this devastating. but i scoured news websites, especially UK sites from the BBC to the guardian, and the canadian globe and mail, and anything else that popped up on google news links. and, despite a welcome lack of any sort of hysteria, there was still something about the eyewitness reports that made my chest tighten up. the average commuters describing what they saw, heard, and experienced -- in measured, matter-of-fact language that bespoke the stereotypical british stiff upper lip, i suppose, but also a sense of calm and centeredness that comes through in so many elements of british culture and in the british people i know. (hullo, doc.) a feeling that, although this is very bad, it is not the end of the world, and life will go on ... because it must. compare that to the u.s. media's way of ratcheting everything up to a point of anxiety that really makes you feel like there will be nothing else, ever, but whatever moment of horror is being vividly relived and fretted over with wringing hands and in terrified tones.

the doc is going to address much of this at length in a special citybeat commentary this thursday, so i won't blather on about americans' sad obsession with their mythological safety. (although i will admit that i am glad my best friend didn't end up going to london on her most recent vacation jaunt with mr. wonderful ... even though there is scant chance anything would have happened to them.)

just a couple of days before this incident, i was reading james wolcott's long and excellent report/diatribe in the new vanity fair, titled "to live and die in iraq." the subhed frames the piece as a critique of our domestic media's continued unwillingness to face the human toll this war has taken, not only on our own soldiers but on the iraqi people. (and certainly, although he doesn't mention this, on the soldiers of other nations, including our allies the u.k.) one of the things i liked about ginmar's live journal when she was serving in iraq was how she would almost reflexively pay attention to the iraqis she encountered. whether she was telling stories about vendors in the local market, or kids along the side of the road, she took care to notice them and often reflected on the dangers of their lives and how the total uncertainty of their existence contrasted with the determined ways in which they tried to keep on living those lives as normally as possible.

wolcott writes movingly of u.s. soldiers coming home so fucked up by their experiences in afghanistan and iraq that they take deadly risks and in some cases end up like tragic suicide bombs themselves ... but usually ones who only take out themselves. he told one story of an army veteran of afghanistan who, set to be shipped to iraq and consequently miss the birth of his child, drove his girlfriend's SUV into a parking lot of new cars at 90 mph, dying instantly. "he didn't lose control," wolcott quoted a local detective as saying. "he just went right straight through."

the story also spoke of something many have noted, which is the near total absence from our domestic media reports of the iraqi people's suffering. "...the ongoing agony of the iraqi people is the huge, tragic unmentionable in the televised war coverage," wolcott wrote. reports of iraqi police recruits blown up by suicide bombers or other attacks are only dutiful at best, curiously devoid of the de rigueur companion pieces that, were u.s. cops being murdered in such a fashion, would relate in horribly sad detail the truncated lives of spouses, children, parents, friends, and colleagues left behind. fer fucksake, we don't even get much of that with regard to the people left behind when our own soldiers are killed, and we hear nothing about the travails of people having to deal with caring for a badly wounded family member returning from the war. (to say nothing, again, of the toll on our allies.) our soldiers are doing what this government has charged them with doing; for all the platitudes about remember our troops, that same government seems to have a hard time addressing, let alone expressing real emotion over, the natural result of war: the death of these soldiers. as for the iraqi people -- who have done nothing, nothing to us -- forget about it. "the iraqi dead," as wolcott says, "are discounted as the Price of Democracy."

now, it is quite certain that bush wouldn't actually say that the english dead are also the Price of Democracy, but he has certainly been acting like it. all he did manage to squeak out in the immediate aftermath was something like "the war on terror goes on." (and this, mind you, before we really even know who did it and why.) not one single word of condolence for the people who died and those who lost them. nothing. not even a shred of outrage over the targeting of civilians, as london mayor ken livingstone, according to the l.a. times last friday, noted in a statement i found ironic to the point of tears: "this was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. it was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. it was aimed at ordinary, working-class londoners ... an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever."

well ... yes, sir. your countrypersons did not deserve to die; they were innocently going about their business. and our media use your tragedy as an opportunity to fan the flames of fear, to selfishly fret over whether or not we are safe. (no, we're not fucking safe!) and suddenly these news outlets find that the travails of ordinary people suffering in this brave new world of terror without end are not merely the routine collateral damage unworthy of mention in this grand clash b/w good and evil, but people deserving of sorrowful reportage and sympathetic noises. yet still our own leaders seem to choke on any words of comfort or even solidarity, for that matter. remember after 9/11, when the world said that today we are all americans? fat chance of dubya echoing such a sentiment. which means that -- although the u.s. media has a horrible double standard regarding what human losses are and are not worth dwelling on -- even these callous, self-serving, tail-between-their-legs media lapdogs have displayed more compassion than our leaders.

No comments: