May 10, 2004

The pictures did not shock me. (Do I really have to say which pictures?) I had been half-expecting something of the kind to show up, had been wondering if something similar had already been in internal circulation without escaping the trusted circles.

(You won't find a link to those pictures from me. By now much of the western world is familiar with them ... which means, in my estimation, that they have been given quite enough airplay. It is a fine line between continued reinforcement of the original reason for their creation [in the name of journalism], and an apathetic, media-trained populace which tends easily to forget what has not been raised in the last week. Still, at this point, I will assume that everyone who feels they have any relevance has already seen them: more is for the individual to do of their own initiative, if they will. No amount of greater media exposure will do anything more, here, than to allow luxuriation in a comfortable, collective feeling of guilt ... substituting quite well for the illusion of actually having personally done something.)

It is in times of extreme stress/frustration/fear that our inmost nature shows most clearly, and, much though we might wish to deny it (and thereby grant it all the more power!), the desire -- no, pressing, demanding need -- to demonstrate our complete dominance over those who have threatened us in a way we find significant is inherent to being human ... although we can hope that, as a species if not sometimes as individuals, we can eventually evolve our way beyond that. I may not agree with or in any way condone the reasons given, the initial invasion, the looting, the casual acceptance of "collateral damage" in the name of omelettes and breaking eggs, the actions behind these photographs: but spontaneous, I can understand.

More disturbing are the suggestions that the actions behind the pictures were premeditated, that specific orders were given to this effect as part of standard interrogation. It is not that nations do not react in precisely the same manner as individuals: quite the contrary. Once again, under stress, an entity's true nature tends to slip out. But this particular nation relies for its continued self-value, perhaps even its continued existence, on the collective illusion that its people and especially its structure demonstrate that it is not like most other nations, that it is more highly evolved than most (and thus has an inherent, not only right, but obligation, to sit in and act on judgement over them) ... that it is better than this.

If such a self-illusion can be pierced: what will be the consequences of that shattering?

For now, a few people will be sacrificed to the altar of public opinion, scapegoats against the whole: and an entire population will be able to breathe easily again, knowing that the system works and that, never mind that, as a spontaneous action, "we" are not really like that, "we" are better than that.

Until the next time.

Seems I will have to leave the Smile of the Day in-post. The comments don't allow the formatting I seek. Patience.

Remarks by President Bush, 2004 White House Correspondents Dinner, Washington DC, Mayday (slightly abridged)

THE PRESIDENT: I was going to start off tonight telling some self-deprecating jokes. But then I couldn't think of any mistakes I had made to be self-deprecating about.

... John Dickerson of Time Magazine asked ... what I considered my biggest mistake. ... I guess looking at it practically, my biggest mistake was calling on John. Or take that one about Cheney and me answering questions together ... So from now on, Dick and I will be holding joint press conferences.

... or we could do it this way: You could ask the question, then I could tell Bob Woodward and he could tell you.

... It really gets me when the critics say I haven't done enough for the economy. I mean, look what I've done for the book publishing industry. You've heard some of the titles: Big Lies; The Lies of George W. Bush; The Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. I'd like to tell you I've read each of these books, but that would be a lie.

... This year, we are also mindful that our country is in a period of testing and sacrifice. As I speak, men and women in uniform are taking great risks, and so are many journalists who are being faithful to their own sense of duty.

When we think of the great war journalists, we often think of an earlier era -- Edward R. Murrow reporting from wartime London; Joe Rosenthal with his camera at Iwo Jima; or Ernie Pyle, sending columns home from Europe and the Pacific, and dying with the men whose stories he told.

In every field in every generation, we tend to view the best as belonging to the past. Yet, in our time, that's not right or fair. Many of us were privileged to know Michael Kelly, and to read his clear words and to feel the moral conviction behind them. David Bloom passed through our midst with incredible energy, enthusiasm, and tenacity in getting the story. Others, like Michael Weiskopf, have shown incredible presence of mind and courage that won our admiration. This generation of wartime journalists has done fine work ... and they will be remembered long after the first draft of history is completed.

The same is true of our military. We are nearing important days of remembrance. Soon, we will mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day, in the company of men who have lived long and can tell you the names of the boys who did not. Later this month, we will dedicate the WWII Memorial here in Washington, and look back on a generation that saved the liberty of the world. These events will have an added meaning because America is again asking for courage and sacrifice.

As we honor veterans who are leaving us, we also honor qualities that remain. The generation of WWII can be certain of this: When they are gone, we will still have their kind wearing the uniform of the United States of America.

The loss of Army Corporal Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan brought home the sorrow that comes with every loss, and reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf. Friends say that this young man saw the images of September the 11th, and seeing that evil, he felt called to defend America. He set aside a career in athletics and many things the world counts important: wealth and security and the acclaim of the crowds. He chose, instead ... the hard duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Corporate Tillman asked for no special attention. He was modest because he knew there were many like him, making their own sacrifices. They fill the ranks of the Armed Forces. Every day, somewhere, they do brave and good things without notice. Their courage is usually seen only by their comrades, by those who long to be free, and by the enemy. They're willing to give up their lives, and when one is lost, a whole world of hopes and possibilities is lost with them.

This evening, we think of the families who grieve, and the families that wait on a loved one's safe return. We count ourselves lucky that this new generation of Americans is as brave and decent as any before it. And we honor with pride and wonder the men and women who carry the flag and the cause of the United States.

May God bless them, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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