2004: The political events that shook the world

Table Talkers weigh in on gay marriage, war and the politics of torture.


Salon Staff
December 31, 2004 12:05AM (UTC)

chili - 06:51 pm Pacific Time - May 12, 2004

I think the beheading of Nick Berg, like the bombing of the World Trade Center, brings home to us in the West the horror of the human atrocities that are happening every day in other countries as a matter of course.

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We are usually just so cocooned from any intimacy with these atrocities, and so deadened to them because they always happen to other people, that we don't really get the full impact of their horror until it visibly impacts our own people.

It seems to me that the so-called Daisy Cutter bombs, and land mines, and other destructive military weaponry, deliver horrors of equal violence and cruelty. But because they are technology, rather than people, we don't respond to their devastation of humans in the same way. Whereas when people are actually present, as in the beheading, we are horrified.

But someone is pushing the button, flicking the switch, or releasing the payload for every weapon that attacks others: just because these human killers and maimers aren't in close bodily proximity to their targets does not lessen the horrific power or their actions, and should not, in my view, lessen our disgust with those people who unleash these weapons. A beheading is just a more intimate act of violence.

Why do you think the Bush government has put a stop on the viewing of corpses, coffins and body bags of Americans killed in Iraq? Why have they tried to conduct, through the media, wars that appear as sanitized and clinically remote as video games? It's so that we won't be repulsed by the sorts of vile things humans do to one other, and the related death toll.

I'm not defending the people who behead people, of course, but I am saying that their brutality is little different from other acts in war and invasion. The main difference is in the technology that effects the violence, and the presence or distance from their targets of the human perpetrators of that violence.

If we are to be sickened by the beheading/s, we might bring to mind the horrible, horrible things that have been happening to people in Iraq probably every day since the invasion began -- to both Iraqis AND Americans -- in our name and in theirs.

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Where does this leave us? Well apart from all the other obvious political things, I think that instead of feeling miserable, instead of focusing on one incident of evil as if it is a horrific aberration rather than an everyday sort of act in war and life, we must acknowledge all this constant suffering and cruelty on both sides.

And I think we must do our damnedest to bring calm resolution instead of conflict to all our own tiniest daily interactions with others, and consciously cherish and nurture all that we love about life and people.

William Froelich - 11:04 am Pacific Time - May 8, 2004

In one of those moments of candor that teachers are noted for, my senior year English teacher told my class back in '59 that during the Battle of the Bulge it was impractical to take prisoners. Therefore, when a German soldier did surrender the standard operating procedure was to sit him on the ground, offer him a cigarette, and then walk behind him and put a bullet through his skull.

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The horrors of war are not new, nor are they to be readily dismissed because they are not new. Rather, because we know from the writings of veterans what the horrors of war are, that war is hell, we should do all we can to avoid war in the first instance.

We, the people, by electing fools to positions of leadership, have sent our young, easily misled people to war, to a place where the evil inherent to varying degrees in all of us is given license and free rein.

The torture of Iraqi prisoners is only the tip of the iceberg in the total picture of torture. Millions of innocent Iraqis are tortured daily by the life they are forced to live, and too, too many American military personnel will come home with tortured minds, in need of mental health treatment, perhaps to live a life far, far less productive and rewarding than they might otherwise have enjoyed.

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pt bridgeport - 08:54 pm Pacific Time - May 16, 2004

It's my good fortune, at this moment in history, to live a 12-block walk from Cambridge City Hall. So at 20 of midnight, I slipped out my front door and strolled on down. When I drew within four blocks, I heard the murmur of the crowd. I would judge there were two or three thousand well-wishers spilling over City Hall's steep lawn, Mass Ave., and the Post Office steps opposite. Cops had closed down two blocks of the avenue. Balloons and soap bubbles were soaring; one lady in peasant finery was passing out sweets from a huge wicker basket on each arm.

A dozen or more protesters formed a knot in front of the Post Office, bearing four signs explaining in bright red their firm opinions about "FAGS." No one was paying them the slightest attention, and just at midnight, the police escorted them off the scene. Whether that was their idea, or the policemen's, I don't know -- but none of the emerging couples had to deal with their ugliness.

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I learned that the doors had opened for couples to come in and start filling out paperwork at 10:30. Just before midnight, the crowd belted out a verse of "This Land Is Your Land" -- there were almost as many American flags as rainbow flags in evidence. And then the couples began to descend the steps, at three- or four-minute intervals, to thunderous cheers. A troupe of mummers broke into their performance. There was no way to tell which pairs had done the extra paperwork to waive the three-day waiting period and had just been married, and which had only received their licenses, so we hailed them all the same.

I stuck around for half an hour, soaking up the optimism. All the way home, my ears informed me every time two more partners came out the door of City Hall. I am flat out stuffed with pride for my state and my city. The American dream just opened its arms a little wider tonight.


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