Friday, August 04, 2006


I usually keep a safe distance between myself and the unfortunate people on the other end of my television screen. There have been times, of course, when I was moved nearly to tears by what I saw or heard or read in a news bulletin, but these are rare and I imagine they will continue to be. To be truly emotionally engaged with all of those suffering of the world, after all, would mean a swift, debilitating nervous breakdown, and better still, no one around me is directly affected by the events in these foreign countries. And I try to be objective about the things that don't personally affect me - what's the point in the alternative?

Still, I am sometimes caught unawares by the intensity of my reactions to stories of those I will in all likelihood never meet or even see in my lifetime. I encountered one of those stories today, and a simple image engendered that same kind of empathy in me. I was not (as I often am) simply numbed into silence at the overwhelming atrocity of a war - I actually felt something for one, just one, of the victims of such a conflict. Even more surprising, it was not so much horror or sadness or anger that I felt, though all of those things were present in various intensities as well. But if there was a primary aspect to my reaction, I would have to say it was, of all things, regret. Not even grief or sympathy, but regret. I will do my best to explain, but if you don't already understand, I doubt any of my words can make you.

National Public Radio broadcasted a story today about the drive from Beirut to Damascus. It was an excellent piece, one which said a great deal simply by placing its listeners on the same sort of highway that they are accustomed to traveling every day. The highways in Lebanon, of course, have been mostly destroyed by Israeli airstrikes by now. Many of the bridges on the roads connecting Lebanon to Syria are also already in ruins, but the story described one which had been destroyed more recently. This bridge had been demolished in the same way as all the others - exploded by an Israeli fighter jet - but this scene was different from those published by the news networks, or at least the ones that I had seen. Among the ruins of this once-stable, servicable bridge was the remains of a small freight truck, still smoking at the bottom of the ravine only hours after the bridge had been destroyed.

The driver had been travelling, delivering goods from one place to another, in all likelihood simply carrying out someone else's orders. Perhaps it was his job, perhaps he was travelling, or perhaps he was even taking the truck to bring back aid to his family or his town. At any rate, it did not matter: a bomb, one which probably was not in any way intended to end this man's life, destroyed a bridge he was crossing and he died.

I heard this story on the radio - I saw no truck or body, heard nothing of this person (man or woman) or their life, their family or their friends or their memories. They might have been a terrible person - the kind that you avoid at parties or at work - a religious fanatic or a bigot. But whatever this person was, he should not have died today crossing that bridge. It was neither his fault nor, arguably, that of the pilot who pulled the trigger. I find myself putting very little fault on that pilot - he was simply achieving a strategic objective, and that bridge would have been destroyed, by one pilot or another, at the time that truck arrived on the scene. That Israeli was simply another link in a very long, very old chain of events; yet the truck-driver is dead nonetheless, and for absolutely no reason at all.

Whether you consider yourself a "political" person or not, the news of the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict has affected you. Perhaps you had only heard of it in the passing comments of others, or cringed at news reports on the renewal of an age-old conflict - one you had heard a great deal about but had not seen manifested for quite some time. Regardless, it is a story which, for various reasons, seems to touch some part of everyone who hears of it. I would have thought that my own cynicism would have prepared me for the stories of such a conflict. After all, we hear daily that it is an ancient one, perpetuated by hatreds thousands of years old, their intensity stoked by almost continual conflict and bloodshed throughout that period. When you hear of fighting erupting, the automatic response is, "Of course it's Israel and the Arabs." I want to be angry with them for killing one another so indiscriminately. I want to be able to scream and rant about their obstinacy and hard-headedness in continuing to harm so many people on both sides. But it's mostly still just regret: a small, dense locus of pain in the deepest part of my stomach.

This kind of conflict - one which has absolutely no concern with reason or cooperation or communication, and very little for the well-being of those involved - is horrific in its own right. But it goes deeper than that. War is always terrible, but this war seems to have no valid objective, and its causes are rooted so deeply that they are barely even visible now - they are just symptoms of a disease that has been virulent for so long that it's a wonder it wasn't terminal a long time ago. I have many negative reactions to my own country's stance: a seeming indifference sewn up with methodical pragmatism and the hopes that it can achieve its own objectives in the region. But those concerns are sidelined when I hear about the people who are dying simply because they and their enemies' fathers killed one another, too.

I have noticed that most of my posts involve a revelation of some sort, an intellectual circuit; they are the results of a certain culmination of my thoughts and ideas brought into the best focus I can manage. This one involves a revelation, too, I suppose, but of a very different kind. It's quite something to realize what a senseless war really means, if only for a moment, and if only in some very small way. I am not the same person as the one who did not understand.