Not with a bang but a whimper.

Being an American can give one a disconcerting feeling sometimes. Today I was working out at my gym, simultaneously watching Fox TV footage of Israel invading the Gaza Strip. Long lines of Israeli soldiers, some of them smiling for the cameras, were loaded down with backpacks nearly as big as they were. Tanks were filmed leaving a military installation, on their way to Gaza. On live TV bombs lit up the sky, and at one point, when a fuel installation went up in flames, the sky was lit bright as day.

As I exercised I thought about the irony of having the luxury of a health club membership while people in Gaza are cowering in their homes, praying to God there's no terrorist being harbored in their building - making them a target. Live coverage doesn't show any blood, at least until daylight hits the region, but every time an Israeli bomb hit its target I knew people, many of them innocent, were being killed. And here I was, watching.

Insulated in America's heartland, my family is about as safe as anywhere can be. Reassured by the knowledge my country is the world's Super Power, the only real fear we have is terrorism or Russia lobbing over a missile. But that won't happen as long as the balance of power is maintained. Unless Russia decides the hell with it, which isn't likely, they aren't going to be sending missiles our way. Terror on the scale of 9/11 is a terrifying proposition, but even that would most likely be localized. We're so far out in the Chicago suburban area that were the city to be hit there's little likelihood we'd be in any imminent physical danger. Psychological danger, yes. 9/11 was proof of that. But nothing we wouldn't survive.

Watching a war unfold on television feels wrong. Treating violence and mass loss of human life as a spectacle is surreal. But at the same time, it rivets a person. It's hard to look away, despite the feeling of horror at what's unfolding in front of the world's eyes. Of all the images I saw, what continues to haunt me is the smile given to the camera by one of the Israeli soldiers, as if he were headed out for just another day's work, not on a mission to kill or be killed.

Is the technology in itself moral or immoral? I don't think it can be either. It depends how it's used and who's using it. What's disturbing is nothing seems off-limits. Violence, grief, bloodshed – they're all fair game. In the media world, "If it bleeds it leads." And here we are, watching it, creating the demand assuring the supply.

I'm left wondering if we all aren't a little complicit, if we should feel shame knowing what we're seeing is what we ultimately wanted to see. And my big worry is this seems so normal now. Oh, there's another war in the Middle East. What else is on TV? So desensitized are we, where did all the humanity go? I'm afraid it all slipped away while we were going on with our lives, buying our cell phones and hooking up our satellite TV, enjoying the luxury the rest of the world will never know. Meanwhile, wars are entertainment we can turn on or off.

And such is the way of the world.

3 thoughts on “Not with a bang but a whimper.

  1. Hi, Lisa.
    I think it is the context that the images are shown in. The news has become a context of selling and sensationalism. Do the newscasters really feel anything about what they are reporting or are they hoping for some big break that will propel them to bigger ratings/recognition? The news business is not about caring about the world but about getting people to watch. I don’t think it is wrong for us to see the devastation, in the general sense. But watching it and then following it with news that is gossip or trivial is wrong from a social or societal perspective. Who are we if witnessing others die does not provoke public discourse?

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  2. Hello, Linda! Great to see you stop by.
    I agree with the principle of what you’re saying re: my post, I just worry so many in the western world have grown to think of war as “just another conflict.” It is important to keep up the discourse, but so many don’t even talk about it at all, as it doesn’t affect them. I find that frustrating, but there’s really nothing to be done about that.

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  3. Interesting that you shared this. When the towers were hit on Sept. 11th, I was working out a gym. I was on the treadmill, walking, watching the towers billow with smoke. Then the first tower fell. We couldn’t see anything, of course, except for a plume of smoke. But I knew something was wrong. I mean, there was just some smoke and the tower and then instantly there was a ton of smoke and no tower. I quit my workout early and went home, listening to the report on NPR, woke my husband and said, “The World Trade Center just went down.”
    I also felt a strange sense of “This is wrong.” No matter how many flags I flew that day, it was just wrong to watch.

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