Thursday, April 10, 2003
Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.
Abraham Lincoln - April 6, 1859
As we enter the third week of war in a maelstrom of images, sound and emotion, I am again struck by the seeming graphics skills of impoverished, oppressed people and the overwhelming dominance of a combined United States Army and Marine armored assault.
As a pitiful collection of Iraqi, including a few suspiciously overweight fellows, unsuccessfully climbed and poked the bit of cultural detritus that was rapidly ascending into historic metaphor, I was thrilled that my hoped for “enterprising tank commander” was deservedly and appropriately entering the statuesque fray.
As a folded American flag was handed to the Marine atop the ladder and unfurled rather unceremoniously I started to think, “uh, oh.” As the US flag was draped upside down over the head of the Saddam statue, I could hear military chins dropping around the world and up the chain of command. Uh, oh, indeed or, maybe, not really. The flag incident certainly didn’t seem real…it seemed historic, but the action seemed forced, a beat behind, as did the rest of the morning. Even, oh so sure of itself, CNN seemed a touch off and unsure and I was pleased to note the Marines on the statue’s plaza never seemed to relax their guard as the morning wore on.
I certainly hope the excited and proud young Marines involved in this unfortunate incident are not disciplined in any fashion for, as I posted earlier, the attitudes that contributed to this display originated much higher in the command chain among men who should be diplomats. And, anyway, there are two separate and equally powerful metaphoric images for history to pick from: the flag over the face and the statue hanging by a toe…while neither is necessarily positive, call them conflicting data sets in files History has not yet stored.
Several times Wednesday I observed cheering Iraqi clutching beautifully made English text graphics on 8 X 10 ish photo quality scan paper. The one that sticks in my mind was a color montage in blues and reds showing a photographic scan of President Bush and what looked like the White House clutched in several scrawny waving televised hands. Sort of a 2003 “subsequently updated” version of Gulf I’s Baby Milk Factory sign but, like the smart bombs, much more sophisticated and, unlike them, on expensive photo paper. Again, what appears to be data in conflict.
What was going on here?
I recently had a little computer difficulty that reminded me of the importance of complete data sets. Anymore our poor little overloaded modern brains have much in common with a computer on a high-speed Internet connection. Always on and always receiving information, particularly in these ever so common larger historical moments, where we sit enraptured before a visually gushing tube of conflicting datasets and emotion. And, like the computer, we sit innocently (cynics included) open and trusting in a data bath that could have some very nasty brain cooties floating around in its warm infomotional soup. We Americans, like our soldiers in Baghdad, have to be on our guard against fedayeen real and electric, foreign and domestic and, at moments, obvious and subtle. Images, like people, ideas and information can be more and less than they appear to be. As we learned from Ari Fleischer on Wednesday, statements from important officials, like collapsing statue metaphors, can be “subsequently updated”.
Though fraught with difficulty, the more spontaneous and successful Army and Marine advance to Baghdad holds a better metaphoric lesson for America in the War on Terror than the fallen hollow images of a despot and his pitiful savaged people.
Photo: US News