My heart bleeds; my head stays calm.
That’s the best I can do with reports from this war when the news media is spilling over with information. I react with horror — impartial horror — and then I wonder what of this massive information is factual, and what is not.
War is an event which demands we take sides. But in our age of communications, when every movement, every death and every passionate conviction feed our minds almost instantly, taking a single side and not moving from that side is emotionally and intellectually fraught.
One thing only is true: no matter what violent action kicked it off, war is a chaotic monstrosity. The real facts can only be collected in the aftermath, the long aftermath.
The most significant, honorable and moving statement about this war was written by the New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, in his superlative report from Israel in the November 6, 2023 issue. Its title is “In The Cities Of Killing: The Hamas massacre, the air strikes in Gaza, and what comes after.”
The first sentence stuns me. It is…
The only way to tell this story is to try to tell it truthfully and to know that you will fail.
Probably because I was born during World War II, I’ve been reading histories of it throughout my life. But only when I recently read Richard Overy’s Blood and Ruins did I learn immutable truths about war. They are:
War is a catastrophic mess, unmitigated chaos, the suspension of human order.
War is both itself an atrocity and an action releasing all atrocities of which man is capable.
The periodic need to make war is a glitch in the psyches of men.
The men who make wars, who command the actions, do not fight the wars and rarely get killed by the wars.
The strategic geniuses of war fuck up consistently. The only way any of them will eventually be designated as heroic is by burying some truth in the muck.
A powerful part of war is propaganda, promulgated by each side to elicit the population’s support and to build a fighting force. Any contemporaneous reportage of a war is unavoidably infected with propaganda.
The only soaring finality to any war is Overy’s title — blood and ruins. The ruins can be cleared for new construction; the blood can’t.
The full, accurate story about this war will not be in today’s media, no matter how scrupulous reporters are in attempting to gather and communicate complex information.
It’s not the fault of media; it’s the fault of war.
So when I read or listen to reports about this war, I try to hold my emotional reactions in abeyance because I don’t know what is entirely accurate. Thus, I’m deeply grateful to David Remnick for writing, “The only way to tell this story is to try to tell it truthfully and to know that you will fail.”