Monday, May 24, 2004

The Eternal Now
Everybody's seen the photo, taken during the Tet Offensive in 1968--South Vietnamese general Nguyen Loc Loan executing a prisoner with a pistol shot to the head. Even though 36 years have gone by and we're all a lot more jaded now, the photo is still a horrifying image. What you might not know is that there's motion picture film of the execution, too. The general speaks to the prisoner, and after a few seconds, blows him away. The prisoner falls to the street, and soon the film is over. Although it's horrific, too, it doesn't have the same effect as the still photo. In the film, the event happens and then it's over. In the still photo, however, the event goes on happening forever. Look at the photo and it's still happening, right now, and it always will be.

That's not an original thought of mine--but it occurred to me reading a piece by Susan Sontag that's being widely reprinted around the Internet this week. The pictures of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib are going to endure for as long as history is written. They'll be there long after Rush Limbaugh and James Inhofe are moldering in their graves. And in the same way the execution of the Vietnamese prisoner has been happening eternally since 1968, for the rest of time, Americans will be tormenting Iraqis and smiling about it.

Recommended Reading: Every time one of the players in the Watergate affair weighs in on current events, it's worth reading what they have to say. Carl Bernstein has his say in today's USA Today, even though his point is ultimately a depressing one: If anybody is going to put a stop what is looking more and more like utter incompetence on the part of the Bush Administration, it's going to have to be Republican leaders. Perhaps not those in official leadership positions, like Bill Frist and Tom DeLay, but perhaps, as in 1974, one or more of the party's "wise men"--senior members with the vision to see beyond short-term political concerns to the long-term future of the country and the institutions of government that serve it. The recent decloakings of Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel, who have dared to criticize the administration from within its own party, won't win them any friends in their own caucus--but it might from historians yet unborn.

PS: USA Today gave the Bernstein piece a fairly pedestrian headline: "History Lesson: GOP Must Stop Bush." TomPaine.Com linked to it with a headline of its own that's much better: "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Nixon."

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