Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Dulce et decorum est

Like all laws governing the freedom of speech, the First Amendment was not meant to protect people who say nice things. Its entire purpose is to protect people who say things so unpleasant that they actually need protection. Freedom to speak means freedom to irritate others.

A man was arrested in Florida recently for running a pornography website where he gave free access to soldiers in the war zone, if they could prove that they were by sending in a gruesome photo. The photos were then used on a separate website. The man was charged with, believe it or not, obscenity.

No matter how shocking the images are, they cannot be sensored. They need to be shown to the public, every bit as much as images of Smurfs being blown up. Someone pointed out that the US is by far the world leader in developing unmanned vehicles, smart munitions, etc - everything to get its soldiers as much out of harm's way as possible.

The problem with that is, it makes war much too cheap. If two thousand American kids die in Iraq, the public isn't shocked - "it's a war! Support our troops!" Banners and collages appear all over the place, depicting the fallen as happy young lads.

It is moral for the images to be shown. It is moral to display them along with the authors' captions, which are often beyond cynical, for this is just one more consequence of war. It is moral for the soldiers to trade for these images, no less moral than for a stringer to get paid by Reuters and Associated Press, who then charge their subscribers.

War is not a Tom Clancy book. War is a poem by Wilfred Owen:
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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