Friday, April 30, 2004


I can hear it in the background - the soothing, dulcet tones of Ted Koppel as he reads off the names of all the U.S. servicemen and women killed in the invasion of Iraq. It is 11:44 p.m., he's been reading the names almost non-stop for ten minutes now and it sounds like Ted's still in the middle of the alphabet. There's no commentary, just Ted's smooth anchor voice and a picture. And all those names. (And the occasional jarring commercial interruption, but this is America by God). I keep thinking to myself, what could Sinclair Broadcasting be afraid of? What about this in their words, "undermines the efforts of the United States in Iraq"? I find myself wondering, what exactly are the efforts of the United States in Iraq?

So many names. I wonder to myself, if someone is getting killed in Iraq right at this very moment. Will they get their name read at the end of the broadcast? Is it more or less patriotic to have your name read or to be just a nameless, faceless grunt carrying out the latest American imperial campaign. A friend of mine who I respect said that ABC is grandstanding, using the sensationalism of reading the names of the dead as a cheap ratings stunt. Maybe so. But who, in journalism, American politics, on the left of the political spectrum or on the right, who speaks for the dead in this day and age? Who speaks for the sons and daughters that actually go out and fight the battles, rebuild the roads and try to bring order out of chaos? Who mentions the soldiers at all? Certainly not the Bush administration, which authorizes the extension of the troops' tours of duty while often leaving them woefully underequipped. The soldiers come home to find their benefits cut precisely at a time when they will require more medical and psychological support, not less. The soldiers go to Iraq and do what they're told, because that's what you do in the military, because they believe that they can make a difference, that Iraq can be democratic, that in the long run no matter how much suffering goes on over there, somehow something noble and good can come out of all of it. Does our government really believe that? Do you?

A half hour's worth of names. If Nightline does this show again in six months, how long will it take to read all the names then? Someone suggested that they should read the names of all the victims of 9/11. What does one have to do with the other? And how many of those same names would be duplicated, if you think about it? And by victims of 9/11, do you include the names of everyone in the world who was in some way victimized by the politics of 9/11, by the loss of freedom we're supposed to endure because of 9/11? How long would it take to read 280 million names? Or a billion? Or six billion?

I honestly don't believe Nightline did this because they thought it would end the occupation. Only two things could end the occupation at this point: 1) an extraordinary escalation of conflict and casualties, which would drive the U.S., and eventually, the U.N. out or 2) a Utopian miracle of Iraqi democracy and freedom (those two terms are not necessarily related - see Florida, 2000) that results in a democratic oasis in the Middle East. The former sounds more likely than the latter, but even John Kerry faces a lose-lose situation if he tries to gracefully exit Iraq in his term (should he get elected). Leave before "the job is done" and in the eyes of the world the great United States would have again been defeated after a land war in Asia. Stay for years in some capacity, and it validates many people's beliefs that we invaded for oil and intend to create a "puppet state" in the Middle East that will do our bidding. These are the consequences of war. This is the Macro.

The Micro are the 700 plus names read on Nightline. They should not be ignored, forgotten or censored. Whatever the producer's motivation behind reading them, their names deserve to be read, the scope of our loss deserves to be revealed, the true result of war needs to be brought into our living rooms. This is the roll call of the dead. If we take their attendance, maybe some people will realize exactly why war is something that should be fought as a last resort, not carelessly, not under false pretenses and not strictly for the profit of the world's elites. Maybe if the names are read and there are no surnames like Bush, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney or Rice, a little bell will go off with some people in the audience, as the gap between the architects of war and its craftspeople is more fully revealed.

It is rarely bad to read a name. It is almost always bad to sit in silence.