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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Marine Did His Job

Here is my original post from November 17. I re-dated it to move it to the top of the blog again. UPDATE: As we entered this past weekend, this valiant marine was still the topic of much debate. The cameraman's name has become prominent but the marine is still unknown to the public. May it ever be so--some heroes must remain unknown for their own good.
Last week in honor of Veteran’s Day, ABC aired Saving Private Ryan, the first Hollywood movie ever to cause me to grieve. It’s a film that earned is strong "viewer discretion" warning, but it's also one that should be seen by every American old enough to understand the words “freedom” and "cost." War, accurately portrayed, is hard on the eyes and harder on the stomach, but to the post WWII generations, Saving Private Ryan gives new meaning to five words:
Duty, Honor, Country... Thank you.

Monday night and again tonight, I saw a similar film. It was shorter—not shot by Spielberg but by an NBC imbedded cameraman in Iraq. I hope you have not seen this footage, and I hope it soon fades into the fog of "news that isn't news." But if this story has legs, I fear that a young marine may be in trouble for actions that should never have been seen in our living rooms. Allow me to describe what I saw, taking a few liberties afforded a typical screenplay:

A handful of marines are seen crossing an iron bridge in Fallujah, Iraq. As they approach the road ahead, they look up at the empty black girders of the bridge. The frame freezes and dissolves into a Flashback of the same image—this time with two charred bodies of American contractors hanging overhead with a throng of laughing thugs dancing below, firing rifle shots in the air. The gun bursts snap us back to “real time” and our marines take cover at the foot of the empty bridge. They trace the fire to a nest of remnant insurgents about 100 yards away, hit it with a small missile, and all is quiet but the sounds of war in the distance.

As they move along the rubble, they meet up with part of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment with an imbedded NBC cameraman. They exchange wary glances, and the newcomers are warned that the mosque they're approaching had been raining “AK-47 fire from Ala” down on them for two days, but it was finally put out of business yesterday just before the main wave of fighting moved north. As they cautiously advance, they give a wide birth to the strewn bodies of masked enemy soldiers along the road. The camera guy gets some shots of the carnage. “Don’t touch the bodies,” one grunt warns. “Some of them are booby trapped. One went off on our buddy yesterday. Killed him.” Another marine, whose face is still bloody from what looks like a bullet graze, adds, “And shoot anything that moves. Yesterday I nearly got my head blown off from one of these buggers who didn’t want to die alone.”

Suddenly, the boots stop at the base of a minaret, which the day before was illegally used as a machine-gun nest. They quietly enter the shattered sanctity of the mosque, camera rolling. The distant popping of gunfire fades. “It’s too quiet,” a voice whispers. Each trigger feels a tremulous finger, poised. Sunshine streaks in through high windows. The Marine’s eyes adjust to the light and each pulse quickens as the shapes of bodies on the floor emerge from the shadows. The marine with the wounded face cautiously steps toward one of them. The body is on its side; his hand is out of sight. Is he alive? Is he hiding something? “Why risk it again,” he thinks, remembering yesterday’s stinging blast to his face. And with little thought he fires a shot into the heap on the floor. Camera rolling. End of screenplay.

On the big screen, that scene in the mosque would run about 30 seconds, but unfortunately the incident was real, and the wounded marine who fired the gun may face criminal charges for shooting an unarmed “prisoner of war.” That’s the story. I don’t know every rule of the Geneva Accord; I don't know this marine (and hope that his name is never released). I don’t know every detail of this incident (though all but the dialogue and part about the infamous bridge is in the reports). But I do know this: that battle-weary marine was doing his job. Most soldiers in this unconventional war of human bombs and desperate terrorists would have done the same.

War should never be reduced to “reality TV.” There are no commercial breaks; no game-over buzzer at the end of each battle; no getting voted off the island. War is a mangle of man and machines where things blow up and people die. The horrific images should not be casually viewed and second-guessed from a living-room couch. I suggest a new rule for our military and our imbedded media:
Whenever an imbed's footage can help prove the facts of this war on terror—like when and where tons of explosives were found and who saw them last—use the footage, but never should an imbedded camera be used to subject a fighting marine to criminal charges for pro-active self-defense in a time of war.
Soldiers live between frenzied snaps of time, and he who hesitates is lost.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

A Mourning in America

June 11, 2004. The Funeral of President Ronald W. Reagan
"All we go down to the dust,"
his priestly friend intoned,
and the words echoed
in the stained glass silence.
Below him on the catafalque,
bound tight in stars and stripes,
was the wooden box
that throngs for days
had come to pay respect.

Outside (and all across the land)
that which tightly held our focus
waved slowly in the darkened noon,
never lower on the mast.
It, too, seemed somehow at a loss—
not knowing how to thank the man
who made it wave so proudly in his day—
and so felt all who lined the way
and watched him leave the towering spires
and pass forever
from his city shining on the hill.

Then in the West,
as if to claim the setting sun,
he came to rest upon a chosen rise
where were whispered last goodbyes
to him who kindly bid us all farewell
those many years ago.

The full weight of his absence
first hit me when we saw the empty mount
that bore his backward boots.
It was mourning in America...
draped not so much in sorrow
but belated gratitude.

Considering that President Bush's ( POTUS 43) second term is considered by many to be a continuation of the Reagan Revolution, I thought it might be appropriate to post something I wrote back in June.

President Reagan's death on Saturday, June 4, 2004, prompted a greater response from the public than even his greatest admirers would have predicted. After all, it had been a full decade since he had written his 1994 farewell letter to the nation informing us that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease which closed: "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

The years passed by with little news of his status. He and Nancy lived those years quietly in their home in California's Simi Valley. He breathed his last in the room adjoining hers, and that private moment soon triggered a week of non-stop nostalgia and personal tribute to the man most credited for the collapse of the Soviet Union's Iron Curtain and the literal tearing down of the hated Berlin Wall. For the networks and cable news channels, it became a review of the 80's, which (thanks largely to the Clinton 90's) were remembered by many as the true apex of the waning 20th Century.

Reagan's last week in the news was the first memorable state funeral since JFK's, and there were many similar elements. The most obvious difference was that Kennedy's tragic assassination left the country reeling in disbelief and grief. Reagan's funeral was a celebration of sorts, a time when long-overdue tributes were shared-in some cases by partisans who never said a kind word about the 40th president while he led the nation into his "New Beginning." These same critics mocked Reagan's traditional values, flag-waving, and his Rockwellian ad campaign that proclaimed, "It's morning in America," (and continued running after his inauguration.)

The observances began in California at the Reagan Library, then on Wednesday moved east to the Capital via Air Force One. It was on this day that the horse-drawn caisson followed the empty-saddled horse that had Reagan's own riding boots in the stirrups. Friday, the last day of scheduled events, was a drizzle of sky and gray in D.C. The official service was held in the National Cathedral. One of the speakers chosen by Nancy to deliver a eulogy was former Senator John Danforth, who is also an Episcopal clergyman (and recently appointed US Ambassador to the U.N.). I heard his portion of the service live on the radio, and this opening line "All we go down to the dust" (which may have been original or liturgical) stuck with me through the day and came back to me when the casket was last seen in the glow of the setting California sun. See the images here.

Friday, November 05, 2004

President Reagan - A Time for Choosing 2

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