Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Sunday, April 06, 2003  

It's been hard to decipher truth from fiction in the Iraq invasion, on both sides. But when you see something for yourself, even if it is through a lens - a blood-smeared one at that - there's no denying, as cliché as it may be, the awful, brutal truth that no number of supposedly realistic war movies could prepare you for: that war is a terrible, terrible thing.

And so there I sat, transfixed, at the report from BBC World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, reporting from the north of Iraq with the Kurdish and American forces, as "friendly fire" (such an innocuous, anodyne term) from an American jet hit the battalion Simpson was following. The camera man was injured; drops of his bright red blood spattered the camera and were messily wiped by unsteady fingers, smudging the lens. He was groaning, making an indescribably heart-sickening sound, as the camera tilted this way and that. Small explosions were going off all around him; soldiers were screaming, shouting, and John Simpson himself could be heard incoherently mumbling, as he and the camera man tried to get across to where their interpreter lay, a piece of shrapnel imbedded in his leg. (He was not to survive.)

It was madness, sheer madness. There's no other word for it, nothing that could truly explain what happens in such a moment, and what it does to the minds (not to mention the bodies) of those who experience it. Forget, if you can, the attendant issues - the politics, the protests, generals in an air conditioned room giving a press conference - and try to focus on that moment: soldiers, a bomb, an explosion, smoke, metal piercing flesh, blood, screams. Somehow I don't think we really can, safe in our cozy, well-fed lives.

At school, when they wanted to impress upon you the horrors of war, they taught you Owen's "Dulce et decorum est". And you were moved, and felt you knew what it was like to experience such horror. Yet after what I saw today, I don't know if the poet's words - or the filmmaker's pictures, or the singer's lyrics - could ever resonate the same way again.

posted by Jonathan | 11:23 PM 0 comments


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