Photographs of the victims of war are themselves a species of rhetoric. They reiterate. They simplify. They agitate. They create the illusion of consensus…No 'we' should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s painExcept....
I mean, when I think about America's problems, top of the list is not that Americans are too aware of suffering in other countries, right. Hard to say what "rhetoric" here even means; all argument is rhetoric. I don't blame anyone for being seduced by this passage. We have certainly seen all the problems that come from American do-gooding. But the illusion of consensus? The idea that there's too much American consensus about the need to end war-- wow.
I am torn between the desire to affirm this and the knowledge that invoking this passage now requires a willful rejection of context. Every day, the American public is still inundated with pictures of smiling soldiers, gleaming American flags, aircraft carriers cutting through churning seas. Meanwhile, our media and our government and our people are in a conspiracy of silence regarding the victims of our military, our machine. But apparently, to show the bodies of the children we keep massacring, more dead bodies in Afghanistan, would be a failure of... I don't know, ontology? What theoretical construct can you gin up? Grab your Spivak and your highlighter, and construct a rationale for why there's something enlightened about your apathy.
Here's the "we" that I assume: I assume that we are responsible for the conduct of our country, and so we have to be aware of its horrid behavior, and we have to do everything possible to stop it. The American people don't know the consequences of our military's behavior. To refuse to show them because Virginia Woolf told you can't possibly be the best stance, can it?
I think my many years of noninterventionism on this blog will convince you that I'm not interested in any neocolonial military adventures to get Joseph Kony. But the Kony backlash was so swift, so universal, and so complete in its sanctimony, I couldn't possibly mistake it for a positive development. Has there ever been a more self-congratulatory genre than the anti-Stop Kony essay? I haven't read a single one that wasn't actually a statement of the author's superiority to the noobs who posted that infuriating video in the first place. Can anyone get outside of the Endless Cultural Contest of Superior Savviness? Can I?
Here's the question. I told this story. It was one of the most profound and important moments of my life. So: should my father not have taken me to that mass grave? We could have done many other things, stuff that the tourists who choke the island do. We could have gone body surfing in Kuda. Would that have reached enlightenment? Could it somehow have been better, more critical, more conscious?
I'm actually asking, here. Y'all who have read me for a long time know that I would be perfectly thrilled to get to a place where Americans understood that remaking the world for goodness and democracy is not our business. But I remain entirely unconvinced that my principled isolationism is different from apathy. I feel it is, I hope it is, and I'm not going to change my mind. (War on Iran, jesus christ.) I just don't know where other people's suffering begins and ends anymore.
Update: Anonymous in comments:
"'Has there ever been a more self-congratulatory genre than the anti-Stop Kony essay?'
Yes: the "Stop Kony" video."