Sunday, April 6
Civilization's Obscene Ghost
Peter Brooks, LA Times.com, April 6, 2003
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 was a terrific shock to European intellectuals, many of whom spoke several languages, traveled widely and felt themselves equally citizens of French, English, Italian and German cultures. War had come to seem unthinkable in a world marked by rapid economic and social progress, a world in which European values had apparently spread across much of the globe.
Sigmund Freud, lover of Sophocles and Shakespeare, trained in Paris and Vienna, was one of these intellectuals. Deeply disillusioned and depressed by the war, he sat down at his desk in early 1915 and wrote an essay he called "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death." [...]
What one misses in most talk about the current war is any sense of its human cost.
What is wholly lacking in current political discourse is any recognition of the obscenity of war. It's as if we'd reverted smoothly to that primitivist thinking about death identified by Freud:
We must be heroes, and the death of our enemies is greatly to be wished.
I don't doubt our leaders' desire to minimize casualties and to control, to the extent possible, "collateral damage" -- our nice euphemism for the inevitable killing of civilians by mistake. But it would be more honest if our death-dealing were discussed openly and fully.