TCS Daily

A Casualty of the Watched War

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - November 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity.

-- EZEKIEL 9:5

What would I do?

In a mosque.

In Fallujah.

With the battle still ringing in my ears.

With my face still stinging from yesterday's wound when that booby-trapped body of a dead enemy fighter blew up, killing one of my fellow Marines.

When the body by the wall in that rubble-strewn room moved.

What would I do?

How many million times in the long annals of war has the blurred moment in some small corner of a battlefield brought death -- death faster than thought, faster than the swiftest moral reflection?

Death to innocents. Death to the helpless, the wounded.

And to the treacherous.

The times are past counting. Most probably remain hidden, known only to the surviving participants - the awful secrets of combat, when men fight to the death and a terrible pragmatism chokes off restraint and even feeling.

Some are cold murders.

But many are simply moments. Moments beyond morality, beyond any kind of civilized measurement, beyond the ken of those of us who have not been caught in the bloody maelstrom of battle.

But this thing in Fallujah was not hidden.

Little is hidden in this watched war, this most watched of wars.

The embedded camera pries and spies.

It sees all.

And tells nothing.

"Shooting in Iraq Mosque Angers Muslims," reads the headline to an Associated Press account of the incident. It informs us of the "dramatic footage of the shooting that aired through the day on Al-Jazeera."

We in America have seen the "footage," too, although the actual shooting has been excised. We have seen the footage again and again.

So the terrible instant, the blurred moment, for some young Marine, has been transformed into an endless instant replay for the meticulous judgment of all those of us who might consider ourselves even-tempered, schooled in civil ways and sure of our moral compass, our inherent tenderness.

We are spared the footage of an innocent Iraqi woman who did nothing but good for her country being blindfolded and shot in the back of the head. We are spared the carefully planned and staged decapitations in blood filled rooms by masked terrorist cowards.

But we must see, over and over, this watched moment.

And each time the grim scene runs, that moment -- the gritty, chaotic moment of decision or instinct or reflex -- recedes more rapidly from reality, from the only truth to the thing, a truth somewhere inside one young Marine, at the razor edge of his own life in the midst of battle.


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