Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Update on "The Short View"

I’m getting a lot of comments about the blog I posted yesterday about Sept. 11. Some of them were sent into the comments space, and some have come directly to me. I’ve tried to encourage the folks who sent directly to me to post to the comment space, or let me post for them. I’ve succeeded in some cases, but not in others.

The comments have generally been of two kinds. There are the people who wrote in and said they too were thinking about where they were and what their friends were doing that day in 2001. Some of them wrote about the friends they had lost. These are the people who, I guess, felt the way I did yesterday.

For me, it was a day of mourning and remembering the trauma that ripped through my family. My wife Linda’s from Brooklyn, and she has a lot of relatives in the New York area. We were both thinking about them yesterday, and thinking too about their friends and their friends’ friends, all that wide and complex set of connections we all worried about on 9/11 and the weeks after.

Like I said, it was a day of mourning for me, and I think it was a day of mourning too for some of the people who wrote in and told about their friends and family.

The other letters I got were from the people who felt that this anniversary of 9/11 called for something more than mourning. These letters suggested that the kind of emotions I was talking about in my piece “The Short View” were the kind of emotions that have gotten us into trouble politically, militarily, socially, and culturally. These letters suggested that politicians use the kind of emotions I was showing to their own ends, and that in this case, the ends were terrible, the continuation of a war in which there are more and more deaths each day with little accomplished and less in sight.

I really can’t argue with that bleak assessment of the war. The deaths are in fact terrible. I haven’t done much research but I’ve done some, and the numbers of dead and wounded suggest that there are a lot of people here and in Iraq who are mourning.

As of today, the Iraqi military and civilian death count since 2005 when the Iraqi Coalition Casaulties site (
http://icasualties.org/oif/default.aspx) started counting is about 43,000. That’s about 37,000 Iraqi civilians.

As of September 10, 2007, the site reports 3,765 confirmed US military deaths with 9 pending confirmation. The Department of Defense has confirmed a little less than 37,000 military people wounded or medically evacuated. The DoD also reports 122 US suicides.

I really don’t know how to begin thinking about all of the human cost in misery and pain. About 48,000 people dead and a country that’s been chopped up and blasted apart? I was talking to a mathematician yesterday, and she told me that a person generally can’t imagine more than a thousand of anything. 48,000 deaths of US and Coalition Forces and Iraqis? It’s difficult to imagine a number of dead people that high. And the number of wounded on both sides? And the number of people touched by those deaths and those wounds? That’s harder still to imagine.

How high is it? It’s hard to say, but I know I’ve had students who went to Iraq, fought and were wounded in Iraq. We all know people “on our side” touched by this war. I used to commute a lot when I was teaching in Illinois and living in Georgia. Every week, I would pass through the airport in Atlanta – it was full of soldiers going to Iraqi. The odds are that some of those boys and girls never saw the US again. And the numbers on the other side? Higher still. Higher still.

When I wrote the “Short View” piece in 2001, I was responding to that time and what was going on in America. Am I ready to give up the “Short View” and start thinking only about the “Long View”?

I don’t think so.

I’m not an either/or sort of person. I can’t say I’ll stop being emotional, taking the short view, and start being rational and take the long view. I tend to see things as both/and. I don’t know where that comes from, maybe from my parents who both went through the slave labor camps and came out two very different people, maybe it comes from growing up bi-lingual and bi-cultural and generally confused by how complicated the world is. Whatever the reason, I’m hesitant to pin myself down, choose one side or the other.

I can take the short view, feel grief and mourning, but I can also feel that we need to close the book on America and Iraq, just the way the British did in 1917 when they invaded the country and found themselves fighting a war they could never win, against a country that didn’t want to see anything of them except their backside.

11 comments:

Manfred said...

I find it hard to mourn those who died in 9-11 because if I start to open those flood gates, where will it end? I wanted no part of this war from the beginning and said so at the start. The Decider wants to decide and we're just supposed to stand back and wave the flag. So many dead, you're right, but right now my grief is anger, not just at those who crashed the planes, but at those whose actions afterward have exacerbated the problem and caused unnecessary deaths. Dying for a cause is one thing, but dying for no cause just increases my sense of futility and impotence to do anything about it. In a way I think excessive grief distracts us from the job of preventing further deaths. We should act now.

Manfred said...

I could grieve if I were proud of how we've behaved as a nation since 9-11, but any show of unity with this current govt. is unthinkable to me. I'm profoundly embarrassed and mortified by our national policy. How can we grieve when this national farce is still in full swing?

Michael Schmidt said...

I woke up this morning and did not want to get out of bed. Some days are like that, not often though. I put my shoes on, kissed my wife and got ready for my morning walk with her. We walked, I felt like I had cinder blocks on my feet, not my Nike shoks.
Near the University I explained to Nancy that I was feeling a bit down, work, students, money, time, life, etc, some times I think there has to be more...
She pointed out to me a few things. I have good health, kind friends, a solid job, a great boss, insurance, a nice home, a reliable vehicle - this list went on, to include a "hot wife," (she'll die when she finds out I wrote that, but I think it's true)...Anyway, I need that from time to time, someone to point out how great life is.
We continue down Oak Street, by the baron spot where Hopper Hall used to be, just a few weeks ago the area was filled with rubble, tangled metal, chunks of concrete. I remember making a comment, "looks like a missile hit the building, I wonder if that's what it looks like in Iraq? Only all over." Even after seeing countless reels of news footage and video, to witness something first hand leaves a more indelible image, and I have no idea, I try to visualize it in my head. This morning on NPR there was a bit about a Canadian soldier in the US Military that died in Iraq, not even a citizen and he fights, I felt bad and wondered why at the same time?
Often I wonder why people do what they do, I wonder why we can't be more thoughtful, sweet, brotherly, kind, generous, unselfish, considerate, altruistic...loving.
I used to get upset when I would see a W on the back of a gigantic SUV, probably getting 12 MPG, I would take it personally, be offended. But I suppose they have their own ideas, their own reasons?
Sadness, empathy, anger, compassion - I feel all of these things, especially after I read the things you write about so well. Most of all I feel disappointment, helplessness, sometimes shame, for all of us, humanity, I mean. What can we do, what can I do?
I will get up tomorrow, walk with my wife, continue to inspire my students (or at least try), love my family and friends, and be thankful of the life I have, and I'll try to make time to enjoy a good pinot noir on occasion. Oh yeah, I'll vote too.

John Guzlowski said...

Manfred,

I think there's always time for grieving. Maybe we don't grieve enough. Maybe we try to shut it down too fast.

On 9/11, I heard people talking about bombing Iraq and Iran and all the muslims, and days later my students were being called up for service and action in the National Guard. We've had six years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. We're not a grieving people.

Maybe America voted for this war because it's stopped grieving.

Stephen said...

Hi John,

I am almost done with the PAHA Newsletter.

I noted that there is a call for the long view, but cannot it be argued that withdrawal is shortsighted. While we can dismiss this as the ramblings of an ideologically obsessed and incompetent president, but should we not at least guess what will be the outcomes beyond troops coming home to America?

I do disagree with your comments that Iraqi's want Americans to come home. At least the New York Times interviews with Iraqis suggested earlier this week, that American withdrawal is everyone's 2nd choice for the future. Even the Medhi Army wants some continued presence.

Steve Leahy

Marty said...

John, you published my day-after response over at the screamonline.com website, so I won't belabor it here. It's important to remember those feelings. Politics is added on later, as outrage or political manipulation. It's important to remember these wars were products of long term thinking, and even before Bush, plans were in the works. The India Times reported on the planned Afghanistan invasion before 9/11, for example.

But the poet's job is to witness, and you are witnessing, and that is lyric and forever.

Mike, why don't you write stuff like that in your own blog? It's excellent.

BTW, Nice reading the other night, John. My students were very pleased. I hope you'll come to the class when we read your book.

Manfred said...

I've always been that way. Grief strikes me at odd times, seldom when it's most expected. Some part of me is always grieving. Maybe that's why I feel no urgent need to grieve on a certain anniversary, etc.

Nancy WWW said...

manfred, futility & impotence just about cover it. I didn't want to believe that MY country's leaders would start this war, and my fellow citizens would jump on the bandwagon so easily. So many of them seem still to confuse a war in Iraq with a "war on terror," and Saddam with Osama. This started for us with an unimaginable horror - New York City attacked! Washington! It was shocking to have such things happen on our continent, in NEW YORK. It looked like a bomb - those images will be with me forever. I too had friends there that day who witnessed, and still feel the repurcussions, nightmares. I watched on TV and felt it in the pit of my stomach, unbelievable, it can't be happening, not possible. Science fiction.
When Bush okayed an attack on the Afghanistan government, I felt trepidation but also thought the good could outweigh the bad. Repressive regime that was also a horror. Thank god that went quickly. Of course we have let that country go to pot, or poppies more like it. Things are bad there again because we just let it drift. A warning: we don't know what to do when we've defeated the enemy.
But when Bush started selling a war on Iraq, the U.N. was still there looking for WMD, and Saddam was cooperating with them (at least to the U.N.'s satisfaction.) He was a dictator and mass murderer, but so are many others out there still running their countries. Would we take them all on? I couldn't understand the bait and switch. Iraq is not Al Qaeda! Osama was still out there! War. War that we would start. I could only envision what it would be like to have tanks rolling down my street here in my own small town. I waited for sane voices to put a stop to this war. Again the same feeling - unbelief, we can't possibly start attacking countries without provocation.
And we still don't know what to do when we've defeated the "enemy".
Now I am torn - we should NEVER have gone in there. The statistics in today's paper, over 1 million civilians have been killed in Iraq. 22% of households in Iraq have suffered a death. That's more than 1 in 5 households!! and more in Baghdad - 1 in 2. Can you imagine that happening here? And no, it won't end when we pull out. We have caused so much suffering it's just plain unimaginable. How can we leave them to it when we broke the dam and let this death flood in? No, we are not killing them ourselves, not that many anyway, but our actions brought it about, left them unprotected from their own hatreds and outsiders too. I feel we need to stay, or get the UN to step in, and somehow get order restored. But then - I want our soldiers to come home too. I want us to leave, but more, what I really want, I want us never to have gone in. That's my futility.

John Guzlowski said...

NancyWWW,

You get at the complexity of feelings I've been trying to get at.

Your last few sentences sum it up:

"I feel we need to stay, or get the UN to step in, and somehow get order restored. But then - I want our soldiers to come home too. I want us to leave, but more, what I really want, I want us never to have gone in. That's my futility."

Your futility is America's futility.

Are there any good solutions or just varieties of bad solutions?

Manfred said...

Responding a little to Nancy's post, so many people here seem not to understand the gravity of using our military to settle diplomatic crises, of waging voluntary wars. The way people rationalize everything this administration does is disheartening because it is so far from a sane view of things. As bad as 9-11 was, we had a tremendous opportunity to usher in an age of international cooperation, but didn't. This is a good example of what economists call "the high cost of lost opportunities."

John Guzlowski said...

I got the following from my friend Lisa Childress and thought I had posted it last week, but I hadn't. Thanks, for letting me post it, Lisa.

Here's her letter:

Your letter was quite moving, and it reminds me of how I felt in the days after the Towers fell and the Pentagon was destroyed and the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, thinking of all those innocent people, of all countries, races and nationalities who died in those planes and in the buildings. It was a horror that was too hard to really process in the large term, other than to just email and IM everyone you knew anywhere near the sites. I had a friend who worked in Manhattan and he was in a building a mile away from the WTC. He was online at work and I was asking him what was happening, and he said they were about to evacuate, and then suddenly his IM name was gone. An hour later he was back on again, from home, and he told me about walking across the 59th Street bridge, with thousands of other people, and getting a train out to Long Island, where he lived.



And a woman I know online works at the Pentagon, and was not at work that day, but a friend of hers who was just getting ready to resign and move to California with her husband died in the crash into the Pentagon, because it crashed right where she was.



And another woman who lived in Virginia, who spent the day watching the war planes fly over her house, on their way to NYC and DC.



These are the things that make the tragedy real to me. The political stuff is real and is ultimately the cause of what happened, our blind arrogance and unfeeling rapacity for resources and uncaring attitudes toward the people we are exploiting in those third world countries. That is why it all happened. Again, in that context, I think of the people working long hard days at crummy jobs, for the equivalent of a dollar or so a day. Sweatshops. All so that the megacorporations can make their obscene profits and not have to pay Americans a living wage. The people in those countries hate us and they have good reason. That does not excuse what bin Laden and his henchmen did to all those people, but it goes a long way to understanding why.



And that was my problem right from the beginning about Bush and his response to the attacks. Of course, people were angry. Of course. But think of the other side. Why did they do that? What about us engendered that attack, six years ago today? We are not innocent little lambs, slaughtered by evil subhumans. We brought this on ourselves, in large part. And Bush gets up there and does his goddamned cowboy act. We’re gonna go in and get those rustlers. That mindset. Which was and is total bullshit.



We had a chance to do some real good in the days after the attack. The whole world was with us in our sorrow. We could have gotten the people responsible and brought them to trial for murder. We could have changed the world with our understanding of our own guilt, and our willingness to change. But that didn’t happen. A year later, the world hated us, and hated Tony Blair for sucking up to Bush. We have lost the respect of the world, because a parcel of rogues is in charge in the United States, and all they care about is oil.



Bin Laden is still holed up, because we went after the dictator of an oil rich nation, who had no known connection with bin Laden and his goons. The souls of all the dead still cry out for reparation for their deaths at the hands of a man who still walks free, while a man who was not involved was executed, and we continue to tear up the country he himself was destroying.



Six years later, nothing has been accomplished, and all those people died, many heroically, for nothing.



I am sorry this went on so long. As you can see, you pushed one of my buttons. I guess I take both the long and the short view of the matter. I see the people who died and I see the assholes who both caused and belittled their deaths by their greed.