Saturday, July 16, 2005

The meaning of victory?

As I sit at the computer I regularly check up on the latest news. Several times a day I see reports that state that n people had been killed and m people been injured by a suicide bomber in Iraq. Often I just read the first number and ignore the second. They are still alive, after all, right? Then, again, I do sometimes wonder what ‘injured’ means here. Some with a minor leg wound will walk away from the site of the blast. Some will somehow manage to live on even though half their faces were left hanging on by a strip of flesh, unable to ever again live the kind of life they had before. Then I wonder about something which is not normally mentioned. You know those movies in which the bad men kidnap a little girl and do terrible things to her but where in the end she is rescued by the hero. A victory, the movies present the rescue as. Joseph Conrad already knew the acrid smell of that word. What victory is it that a girl went through hell and in any realist world will now be scarred for life by the memories? Victory? – a meaningless word, surely – only an ‘undefeat’. And it is the same in the case of Iraq. A few days ago a man drove his car into a stopped US vehicle and pressed the button on the explosives. The US soldiers had parked to give out candy to children so a large number of children were killed and wounded in the attack. And those that weren’t killed or wounded? They will also be scarred for life – however long that will be in the war zone that is Iraq.

It all reminds me of a particularly powerful passage that Dostoyevsky wrote about a hundred years ago. In Brothers Karamazov one of the characters tries to explain the need for evil in God’s world. The other man says that there is no amount of good that can redeem the cry of pain of a single child. Indeed, there is nothing that can redeem those children that died, that were injured, that saw and will remember. This does not mean automatically that the attack on Iraq was wrong – it was, but that is a more complex matter as our decisions are naturally bound to be morally compromised – but it does mean that our leaders ought to be people who read and understand Dostoyevsky and Conrad, who appreciate that our decisions are naturally bound to be morally compromised and yet who feel the full moral force of the implications of their actions. None of those traits have any chance of being instantiated in the person of George W. Bush – the reborn Christian.

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