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The Barbarity of Ottawa, Illinois (On Three Years of War, Part 1) [View All]

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alcibiades_mystery Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 04:19 PM
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The Barbarity of Ottawa, Illinois (On Three Years of War, Part 1)
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1. I may have already made a mistake. I should have titled this thread The Humanity of Fallujah. I may have made the wrong reversal.

2. Barbarous (from the OED): Of people: Speaking a foreign language, foreign, outlandish; orig. non-Hellenic; then, not Roman, living outside the Roman Empire; sometimes, not Christian, heathen. Uncultured, uncivilized, unpolished; rude, rough, wild, savage. (Said of men, their manners, customs, products.) The usual opposite of civilized. Savage in infliction of cruelty, cruelly harsh. Like the speech of barbarians; harsh-sounding, rudely or coarsely noisy.

3. Sarah had decided to drive to Des Moines from Chicago. She wanted to see a bit of the heartland; she wanted to drive across the Mississippi for the first time in her life. Plus, the war had just started, and she was nervous about flying. Sarah had been in Lower Manhattan on 9/11, so the whole Iraq war put her real on edge. But the Chicago meeting had run late, and she was tired from her flight in, so she didnt make it very far. She stopped for the night in Ottawa, Illinois. The only thing on TV was the war, and she didnt want to order a movie, and she was feeling a little lonely in this hotel, three days into her business trip, so she decided to go out to a the closest bar, a sports bar across the road. Maybe have a conversation, catch some March Madness. But the war was on there too. And when the bombs lit up the Baghdad sky, the people in the bar cheered. As she sipped on her beer, they cheered that awful sound.

4. Anthropos Those who speak like you do. Barbaros Those who speak differently.

5. That awful sound. Most of you have never heard it. Youve seen the TV 9/11, the TV Gulf War, the TV Vietnam, the Cinema World War 2. On 9/11, our spectators had 10,000 cameras trained on the World Trade Center; there will be 10,000 books written on the thing, books written until the air runs out, and these lines and circles fall away from meaning, back into the furrow, the howl and the accident. Sarah was standing at a breakfast cart in Liberty Plaza picking up a coffee and a danish for breakfast when the first plane slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. That awful sound. I was a few blocks to her north, and I heard it too. More than heard it: for a split second I jumped out of my skin, I was gone. Zen intensity, Sarah had called it: One with fucking everything. That awful sound. The closest she had come to hearing it again was in Ottawa, Illinois, when the bombs slammed into Baghdad on speakers meant for joy and play, on speakers meant for Bears and basketball. But that was still a TV war, and not quite there. Not quite Zen enough. Not quite intense enough. That awful sound.

6. They cheered in Ottawa, Illinois. They cheered in Alpharetta, Georgia. They cheered in Duluth, they cheered in Worcester, they cheered in all our shining Albanys and in a thousand Clinton counties in every state and commonwealth. They cheered in Brooklyn, and in Sausalito, and in Flagstaff and Tampa and Detroit and Newark and Glendale. They cheered in houses built on hills a hundred houses lighting up the sky. They cheered in hovels, in shacks and bars on the side of obsolete highways. They cheered in Roxbury, in Danemora, in Buffalo, in Encino. They cheered that awful sound in Chelsea. Some didnt cheer, but thought it right and proper. They put on a grim visage, and spoke at length about the necessary. Those used German words, like realpolitik. Some took a long view.

7. I cheered too, in Flushing. I was a senior in high school in early 1991, and we spent the afternoon as we usually did, getting stoned at Rob L.s place. Steve and Pat were there, and we all watched the TV on mute, blasting Metallicas Fade to Black. The line in the sand had been crossed, the date had passed. The electricity was in the air but nothing had happened yet. And God, we prayed for war. As it rolled toward dinner time, Steve and Pat and I walked home; I laughed and laughed as Steve sang a perverted Lennon: All we are saying/ Is give war a chance! When I finally got home I was startled by my mother, tense as memory, sitting very close to the television, which looked like a light show, an underwater celebration. The bombing had begun. I walked to my room to hang up my jacket, and under my breath I whispered Yeah, motherfucker. That awful sound.

8. I suggest no equivalence. In fact, I argue against it. What happens in Fallujah is not the same as what happened in March 2003 in Ottawa, Illinois. But we might consider that difference more closely. In Postmodern Ethics, Zygmunt Bauman argues that our ethical systems were developed primarily to deal with the problems of proximity, and so are insufficient to our new technological capacities, our capacity to act at a distance in time and space, to act indirectly in a network. Put plainly, we know about direct conduct, and we know how to judge it, but our ethical confusion derives from our inability to think an ethics of distances. Not an ethics of the neighbor, but an ethics of the barbarian. Not an ethics of the unborn, but an ethics of the unconceived. In this situation, some hold fast to old ethics in nostalgia these are able to judge only when they see a direct action in proximity, the barbarians of Fallujah. Others throw the whole thing out; they see the deficiency of the old ethics as a deficiency of ethics in general, and so lapse into extreme relativism. Both responses are insufficient for our network, our shining Earth. We must be able to think of the barbarians in Ottawa, Illinois. And we must be able to think an ethics of the barbarian, a barbarous ethics.

9. Anthropos Those who can act in proximity. Barbaros Those who must act in a network.

10. The old ethics doesnt go away. One can still recoil from the awful site of Fallujah. Because nothing ever goes away. The old lingers, it re-erupts, it guides and shapes. It explodes. That awful sound. But because it explodes, we must work for a new ethics. This is a childrens story, in the end, I fear a childrens story that Mr. Bush could not possibly read, could not even face. In the bravest act of her life, Sarah got up from her bar stool in Ottawa, Illinois, walked over to the men who were cheering that awful sound, and sat down with them. They all looked up; they all read the identifying signatures of her clothing, her hair, her purse. She began to tell them a story. It only started in Liberty Plaza on September 11. It only touched on that awful sound. There was more imagination to it, more distance. And with any luck, shes still telling it.

(Note: These are some writings I did during the war thus far, and that I'll be reposting here as we approach the anniversary; as another motivation, I kinda want them in my DU journal)
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