Friday, April 01, 2005

So Long Ted. So Long America.

During the Iraq War, Ted Koppel delivered a simple, powerful news item that stuck with me throughout all the embedded showboating of that brief contest. He got down from his convoy after a roadside firefight and told us to remember that war had very human, and very painful costs, as he stood by the two twisted corpses of Fedayeen killed in the recent skirmish. Ted had been there before in Vietnam. He knew the score. And by the resigned look in his eye that desert day, he knew that most of us did not.

It was one of the few times during the war, that we got an opportunity to study the dead, to see their motionless vacancy, the blood, the curled fingers, the finality and futility of their their deaths.

Ted Koppel wasn't anti-war, or pro-war, or a right-wing shill, or a liberal stooge, he was and is just a journalist telling us how it is. It's not something we see much of anymore. Koppel belongs to a bygone American age, where the people didn't have to be led thorugh an issue to understand the core of it, where the facts actually meant something.

It was a tiny moment that meant so much, especially when contrasted with the endless Kevlar journalism of his dusty action-hero colleagues rumbling along in their Humvees, asking us to believe that war was just fantastic.

From its very founding, America has always struggled with the two polar opposites in its makeup, pragmatism and belief. It's a nation of optimists, and a nation of rationalists. It's a nation of objectivity, and a nation of opinions. It's a nation of faith, and a nation of law. Very rarely do belief and pragmatism coincide. And when they do, good things happen. Like civil rights, or the New Deal, or the end of slavery.

America is ripe for another of those moments, for an awakening to the facts of its dire predicament, for a reassertion of its belief in those parts of American society that are good for the many rather than the few. The last four years have seen the American cultural zeitgeist lurch dangerously towards belief, and away from the facts.

But hubris has a habit of changing the rules on those in power more quickly than they expect. And then, once again, the facts will be seen as the driving force of a true American resurgence, based not on jingoism, conspicuous consumption and false individuality, but family, community, and common sense.

Ted Koppel would no doubt approve.


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