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In Reckless Hands

In Reckless Hands

By Victoria Nourse

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Posted on Jan 11, 2014
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

(Page 2)

Consider, for example, the controversy in April 2004 sparked by the release of photographs depicting the flag-draped coffins of dead American soldiers being returned from Iraq and Afghanistan to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The majority of the released photos were attained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Russ Kick, a writer and First Amendment activist. Kick posted them on his website as a way to provide visual confirmation to everybody who already knew that the United States was engaged in a war using thousands and thousands of troops who were not the only fighters in the conflict considered to be armed and dangerous. 

Remarkably, these images of U.S. casualties packaged and arranged in crisp, neat rows like so many boxes of ghoulish confections created a firestorm of protest from military families, conservative groups and pro-war patriots desperately attempting to beat back the unsettling notion that mass death wasn’t somehow glorious, awe-inspiring and worthwhile. It was as if knowing that dead servicemen and -women were being shipped in bulk to the largest military mortuary in the world was acceptable, but only as an abstract idea that could be recalibrated, spun, simplified into numbers and presented in such a way as to pose no significant threat to some narcissistic, though enormously common, desire to remain complacent and blissfully unaccountable for tragic circumstances.

Similar attempts to present physical evidence to those crouching and squinting out at the world through the bunghole of plausible deniability would include the presentation of flammable drinking water and sacks full of dead fowl at congressional hearings convened to examine the dangers posed from natural gas drilling and fracking. There was also the forced parading of local German civilians through the liberated concentration camps and along the fetid rims of mass graves and around great heaps of rotting corpses at the end of the Second World War. The purpose of that exercise was to help those everyday members of the public who were complicit with Nazi rule better understand what the words mass extermination really meant and what sort of business was being conducted inside those giant factories down the road with the greasy smokestacks and the bulldozers. There was the Arnold Shapiro documentary from 1978 called “Scared Straight!” that endeavored to dissuade its target audience of snarky teens from becoming hardened criminals by having inmates berate juvenile delinquents on film by saying motherfucker and faggot and shit a whole lot and, more recently, with movies like “Food, Inc.” and “Meet Your Meat” revealing footage that exposed precisely how gruesome factory farming was both ethically and nutritionally. 

Of course, these are all troubling examples of how willful ignorance of the sentiment expressed by the Steig cartoon can postpone any number of meaningful actions otherwise capable of preventing catastrophe from flourishing and how the demand for direct evidence to substantiate what we already know to be true runs counter to our desire to save ourselves from the peril of living in the present tense. Yes, injecting millions and millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground will produce adverse effects to the environment and surrounding wildlife—we know that! Yes, rounding up millions and millions of people for the purpose of starving and slaughtering them will produce more than a few bones—WE KNOW THAT! Likewise, crime will often lead to jail and attempting to harvest living flesh like millions and millions of inert, pesticide-soaked soybeans for the purpose of increasing our profit margins will likely subvert our natural ability to express empathy for cows and pigs and chickens and our own physiologies.

What defect in our supposed higher intelligence insists that we continuously wait for proof before we acknowledge our acquiescence to bad behavior and the wanton destruction of people, places and things?

In Santa Monica there stands a landmark sculpture by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad, one of the most ferociously conscientious and sincere political artists of the 20th century. The sculpture was erected in 1991 and depicts a 26-foot mushroom cloud that is composed of—what else?—chain links. For more than 22 years the clarity and precision of Conrad’s message warning against the doomsday scenario guaranteed by the proliferation of nuclear weaponry has given passers-by the opportunity to recognize the threat and to forgo humanity’s demand for corroborating proof from the real thing. But, of course, isn’t that the responsibility of the editorial cartoonist, even when he is a sculptor—to present the insane mathematics offered up by the bogus logic of nefarious men, women and institutions and portray the terrible conclusions assured by public apathy? If so, it might be wise to reconsider the intent behind the Steig cartoon insisting that People Are No Damn Good and interpret it more as an alterable prediction than an incontrovertible fact.

On Feb. 25 the Santa Monica City Council votes on whether the Conrad sculpture should be knocked over and replaced with retail development. Because nothing says we should work to prevent nuclear self-annihilation like a Tommy Bahama, a food court and a lighted fountain full of pennies tossed by shoppers wishing for world peace with their eyes closed.

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