Blindness Toward War Easy for Americans

Article by John R. MacArthur.
To understand the utter absurdity of America’s intervention in the Libyan civil war, I recommend a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York to see its new exhibition of German Expressionism. It will be much more instructive than reading the media commentary about the president’s opening of yet another Mideast war.

I’m not merely referring to the surrealism (in the work of the artists Ernst Kirchner, Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann) of Nicolas Sarkozy’s “leading” a coalition of the righteous against the evil Moammar Gadhafi, who not so long ago was the French president’s honored guest in Paris. Nor am I alluding to the stupidity of entering a sectarian battle (the German Expressionists were deeply affected by the overthrow of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the factional fighting that followed in 1918-19) in which the goals and personalities of the opposition leaders are largely unknown; or even to the hypocrisy (the Expressionists were big on pointing out moral hypocrisy) of Barack Obama, once considered the anti-Bush, who now wages his very own “war of choice” without bothering to ask Congress for permission.

No. I’m talking about the growing divide between American illusion and the reality of war. Because we have been largely cut off from images of corpses and carnage since the invasion of Grenada — whether by official censorship or self-censorship by the timid U.S. media — Americans no longer have the capacity to connect military action with the casualties of war. Evidently, they think very little about the consequences of firing millions of bombs, bullets and missiles at distant targets occupied by unknown foreigners. Nowadays, with only 0.5 percent of Americans in the military (compared with 8.6 percent during World War II), we have relatively few witnesses to the butchery of soldiers and civilians who can come home to tell their stories.

I don’t know war up close. Thankfully, I’ve only gotten to hear the accounts of others who suffered through World War II and Vietnam. Even so, the MOMA exhibition grabbed me by the throat, since the German Expressionists, in particular Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, understood war quite well, having endured trench warfare during World War I.

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