Monday, July 14, 2014

Between The Keyboard And The Chair

War is not tidy. It is not sanitary, sanitized, clean, nor anti-bacterial. War creates chaos, rubble, dirt, and dead bodies. These days, however, war mostly creates photo ops and sound bites.

Doesn’t much matter which war, but the most gruesome picture wins. No one reads the caption; no one vets the picture. If you have a really good picture, you can haul it out periodically and say it was from yesterday even if it was from a decade ago…or even a different war. As long as there’s enough shock value in the shot to get it on the front page of the world’s morning editions, you’ve succeeded.

My dad once told me World War II was the first real “photog’s war.” He explained that even though there were gruesome photographs taken during WWI, everyone had a camera in World War II and journalists were everywhere. The amount of photographic documentation is overpowering. Even the Nazis were copious about taking pictures of how the Final Solution was going. So it should come as no surprise that in subsequent wars, we were treated to up-to-the-minute pictures of the horrors taking place somewhere else in the world. And everyone who wants to get a message out understands the power of video gone viral. It’s really neither the medium nor the message that counts; it’s the image. The old TV adage, if it bleeds, it leads, is seriously ramped up.

Rabbi Yosi Gordon, a well known educator in these parts, is in Israel for the summer and had been posting his thoughts on his Facebook page. Yesterday, he made a comment that whacked me right between the eyes. He wrote:

Some terrorist organizations have all the luck. I really hate the idea of killing — what was it? — 17 members of a family in order to eliminate a Gazan police chief. It’s not a question of proportionality. It’s a question of 17 members of a family. Even if we “knocked” on their door with phone calls and fake bombs and a birthday present from Amazon. 
Jeffrey Goldberg is right again. If Hamas dies better than we do, they win. And they will die much better than we will, because babies crying in shelters is kids’ stuff compared to babies being all blown up. Emotional trauma is serious stuff, but dying is forever.

This is the voice of frustration with the media, and I think he’s spot on.

You have to wonder why the press is not marveling at Iron Dome and the fact that hundreds of rockets launched at Israel are being destroyed mid-air. You have to wonder why the media hasn’t exploited the human shield Hamas has set up as a barrier to air attacks. You have to wonder why there is not worldwide outcry at a government deliberately telling its population to stand up and die. And you have to wonder about a government who, knowing lobbing missiles at another, better-armed country will provoke a response, digs tunnels to smuggle but does nothing to provide underground safety for its citizens.

But maybe that’s just me. I always thought part of a government’s responsibility was to protect its people, not preach on television about how to embrace death. Clearly, I was mistaken.

So what are the choices?

Yosi suggests:
So here is how Israel can stop the war: don’t bomb. Tell the world, We’re staying home. We love peace. We’ll defend ourselves. Iron Dome and shelters and other defensive measures will keep us safe. We’ll invite the press to show pictures of Israelis trembling in protected areas, dashing for safety, embracing screaming babies, soothing terrified children. Tsahal can continue to do stuff that doesn’t photograph well, like undermining tunnels. But we’ll be the peace team. This has never happened before, in all of history. It will make headlines all over the world. What if they threw a war and one side didn’t show up?
Would that that were an option. 

But there are things we can do, too. All of us. On whatever "side" you're on. It doesn't matter, and the most obvious one is to stop clamoring for the 60-second new cycle. That constant spinning does more to spew mis’n’dis-information than Faux News. All of us aid and abet that process every time we share something on social media that we have not personally vetted in some way for accuracy. All we are doing is giving hatred a chance; we are adding to that mass of chum floating around cyberspace and it stinks, it’s wrong, and it’s unnecessary.

Yehuda Kurtzer, in his blog entry in The Times Of Israel, writes:

There is a long-standing critique of social media that many of us self-style our personal “brands” and images in ways that are far different (and look better) than the more complex realities of our lives; in crisis, and in moments of profound anxiety, this narcissism quickly transforms from being harmless to being destructive. Coupled with the built-in nature of the media – which reward speed and wit more than long-developed substance – the pitfalls of instant commentary and vitriolic response emerge easily, and the usefulness of the media for public discourse are undercut by their own limitations. 

Talking about it does not quite drive the point home. He suggests that for an observance of the Fast of Tammuz, we abstain from spreading hysteria on social media. The fast, albeit a minor one, is observed on Tuesday, July 15th, and, like the Ramadan fast which is taking place now, extends from dawn until dusk. Why not use that period to abstain from spreading hysteria on social media?

We can be silent for a day. We can take a moment to read all the way through instead of skim. We can make it a point to verify before we share. 

If everyone thought through that process, if everyone took a moment to think, "What message am I sending?" we are half way to honesty. 

The other half can be found between the keyboard and the chair, and again between the mouse and the monitor. 

The choice is ours. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Know any widows or widowers?
When they are having grieving moments, it's all about them, not you. 
Unless you have direct experience in that condition, you don't know. 
Try to remember that. 


  1. Germane to your point, this is worth reading:

  2. StarTrib provides interesting perspective from Twin Cities rabbi on a recent experience in Israel:

    "Latz and his family recently returned from Israel on a trip where his daughters attended camp and he studied. One day, sirens sounded in the area, signaling residents to take shelter, he said.

    Latz asked an Israeli friend how they coped with the situation and she replied with a question: “How do you deal with sending your children to public school when there have been 75 shootings in the last 18 months?”

    Latz said that helped put the situation in perspective for him."

    1. Thank you for posting this. Here's the link to the article referenced: