Thursday, May 06, 2004

On Looking Elsewhere

For the last several months, I decided that the domestic policy news and the foreign policy news were too depressing to read, so I stopped reading them. I could do nothing about the news, I rationalized, except wait until November and vote. I closed my eyes, closed my ears, and wandered back to the Middle Ages.

I stayed there until the day (and we know from Beowulf that "until the day" is a deeply ominous phrase) when the Abu Ghraib stories slipped into my consciousness. First, there were the headlines on which I didn't bother to click; then a few capsule summaries, grimmer and grimmer. Finally I found myself skimming the New Yorker report. Even a cursory reading was too much. I was shocked, horrified, nauseated -- everyone else in the blogosphere has described this reaction already.

What good does knowledge do? I still have no more power over the fate of the world than I did two weeks ago. I used to think that once the USA had attacked Iraq, we might as well stay there until we fixed things; we seem rather to have created a royal disaster. Now I can say that I believe America should get out of Iraq posthaste (do not pass go and certainly don't collect the two hundred dollars!) but no protest in my famously left-wing college town will change the politics of the current administration. I can donate money to the Kerry campaign, but there's no guarantee he'd withdraw the troops either. I certainly can't provide any useful help to the traumatized prisoners on the other side of the planet.

Here I am, a sheltered academic, well-fed, decently dressed, living a life completely of my choosing. Trading spaces with the victims of the U.S. military would be both impossible and useless. Survivor's guilt is an old, old story. What can I do with my rage? Nothing at all. It might almost be better to have remained oblivious. Then again, perhaps not.

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