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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Forgiveness–Or Should Vengeance Prevail In The Case of Brian Williams?

David Brooks writing in the New York Times (2.11.15) suggests that Americans suffer from ‘Coliseum culture’, or throwing public figures that have sinned or offended to the lions. Fueled by Internet, the gaffes, misdemeanors, or crimes of the accused are mercilessly satired.  Talk show hosts pick up the butcher blade and take pieces of the now wounded and badly damaged transgressor.  What ever happened to forgiveness?

The case of Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News and yesterday suspended for six months because of his distortion of the truth regarding a combat incident in Iraq, is the latest casualty.  In his view his statement that he came under enemy fire was a regrettable mistake, and he publically admitted his surprise at ‘conflating’ one helicopter – the one that was attacked – with his. In other words he said that he was confused as anyone who had experienced ‘the fog of war’ would have been.  Pure nonsense of course. No one ever mistakes getting shot at.

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Cpt. Arthur Moore did three tours in Vietnam as captain of a helicopter gunship.  His accounts of coming under enemy fire are vivid and unforgettable.  The incident for which he was awarded a Silver Star involved landing a high-ranking officer in a critically strategic area.  The men on the ground had taken many casualties, the company was without any ranking officers, and only a seasoned colonel could help restore the ranks, reestablish defensive positions, prepare for offensive action, and rebuild morale.

As Moore approached the LZ, he began to take enemy fire.  He dipped his Huey over the treetops and followed the river only a few feet over the water.  Knowing that he would take even more fire, and this time from the anti-aircraft guns manned by North Vietnamese soldiers who would suspect that a lone US ‘copter coming in hot and alone would be carrying brass, he stayed over the river as long as he could before pulling up and over the close flank of the surrounding hill to the Landing Zone.  He had to surprise the enemy, avoid their fire, and somehow set the chopper down quickly and on target.

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He took advantage of the rising sun, and as soon as he cleared the tops of the highest trees, the copter was spotted and tracers tracked the incoming fire.  The door gunner laid down heavy fire into the jungle at the enemy positions until Moore banked left and quickly down back over the trees and under the protective overhang of a falaise.  The LZ was over the cliff and well beyond into the forest, and for the last 5 km. Moore knew that he would be open and exposed. Again he pulled the Huey up into the gathering rain clouds and flew blind.  He counted the clicks in his head, and when he felt he was over the LZ, he decelerated, banked right towards the hills behind the landing area, and headed for it.  The enemy fire was withering, and later Moore confessed that for as much technique as he might have had getting that far, he was simply lucky not to have taken a direct hit.

Image result for images door gunners firing M-60 vietnam huey

The point of the story is that any soldier who has ever faced enemy fire will never forget it.  There is no conflation, no mystery, no questions asked once the AK-47 rounds start ripping the leaves of the trees above, kicking up the dirt on the entrenchment dug only hours before, snapping branches, buzzing overhead and past the machine-gunner.  Arthur Moore knew he was being fired upon.  The door gunner knew that the tracer bullets arcing up from the jungle were meant from him.

The worst part about Williams’ lies were that they dishonored Arthur Moore and all helicopter pilots that have ever flown combat missions.  They disrespected the tens of thousands of American soldier who faced enemy fire in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His fabricated story was not just jiggering with a resume, or stretching the truth on the campaign hustings.  It was an out-and-out damaging, corrupting, and immoral lie.

So, should he be forgiven? The Bible of course tells two stories.  The Old Testament displays a ferocious God who brooks no disobedience and destroys unbelievers and enemies of Israel alike.  Joshua is told to lay waste to Jericho, to take no prisoners, and leave no one alive.  Sin, even carnal sin, is to be punished by death.

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The New Testament, of course, is all about forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.  We are all sinners says St. Paul, but because Christ died for our sins, He took away the eternal damnation of The Law, and offered the promise of eternal life.  Christ preached charity to and understanding and forgiveness of our enemies.

America, a profoundly Christian country, is one of the few to retain the death penalty.  Although we follow the words and example of Christ in most things, we are solidly Old Testament when it comes to heinous crimes.  Even though there has been no correlation between the death penalty and the reduction of crime - i.e., no one thinks about the gas chamber when taking a shotgun to the Bloods or Mara Salvatrucha – we still want to see Hebrew justice done.  The worse the crime, the more bloody, savage, and brutal the murder, the more we want to see the perpetrator gassed, hanged, or fried.  The murderer is way beyond the reach of compassion or forgiveness.  He is evil, and should be destroyed

King Abdullah responded to the inhuman burning alive of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS by launching F-16 fighter-bombers to attack enemy positions.  ISIS fighters, their families, and their friends must die in a fiery, explosive holocaust of vengeful and righteous Arab bombs.

We all can understand the King.  He was so morally outraged that he wanted to fly one of the assault planes and do the killing himself.

We wanted every Taliban in Afghanistan to die as painfully as the victims of 9/11.  We wanted them to be incinerated, blasted to smithereens, obliterated from the face of the earth.  The reason we invaded Afghanistan was vengeance, pure and simple.  Kill the motherfuckers.

In Michael Mann’s movie Heat, the Al Pacino character is homicide detective in LA.  He has seen it all – gang slayings, domestic violence, serial murders, and demented mass killings. His wife, feeling excluded from the biggest part of his life, asks him to share, which is what married couples do. 

Oh, I see, what I should do is, er, come home and say "Hi honey! Guess what? I walked into this house today, where this junkie asshole just fried his baby in a microwave, because it was crying too loud. So let me share that with you. Come on, let's share that, and in sharing it, we'll somehow, er, cathartically dispel all that heinous shit". Right?

“I gotta hold on to my angst. I preserve it because I need it. It keeps me sharp [snaps fingers], on the edge [snaps fingers], where I gotta be.”

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The desire for vengeance is no different. In another movie, The Crossing Guard, Jack Nicholson plays a businessman whose daughter was killed by a hit and run driver.  The driver was caught and served time in prison.  All through his lengthy incarceration the Nicholson character harbors a malevolent desire for vengeance.  The day that the driver is released, Nicholson will kill him.  He has ‘held on to his angst’, preserved it, even nurtured it; because it is the only thing that makes sense in an indifferent, meaningless world. Killing the driver would vindicate Nicholson’s sense of moral rectitude and Biblical righteousness.

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There are tens of thousands of stories like that of The Crossing Guard. Evil must be punished.  If one lets go of the desire for eye-for-eye retribution, one relegates the murdered into an indifferent past.

Nietzsche was eloquent about his admiration for those Übermensch who are beyond good and evil; and whose expression of will is the only possible validation of the individual in a meaningless world.  In The Antichrist Nietzsche writes:

Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity. That loss of strength which suffering as such inflicts on life is still further increased and multiplied by pity. Pity makes suffering contagious.

In The Elements of Revenge, Nietzsche writes:

The revenge of restoration does not protect us against further harm; it does not make good the harm suffered—except in one case. If our honor has suffered from our opponent, then revenge can restore it. But this has suffered damage in every instance in which suffering has been inflicted on us deliberately; for our opponent thus demonstrated that he did not fear us. By revenge we demonstrate that we do not fear him either: this constitutes the equalization, the restoration.

The intent of showing one’s utter lack of fear goes so far in some persons that the danger their revenge involves for them—loss of health or life or other damage—is for them an indispensable condition of all revenge. Therefore they choose the means of a duel although the courts offer them help in attaining satisfaction for the insult: but they do not accept an undangerous restoration of their honor as sufficient, because it cannot demonstrate their lack of fear.

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Forgiveness is most often expressed for practical reasons – restoration of divided families, repair of the social fabric, ending long Hatfield-McCoy feuds, even consolidating a post-genocide peace in Rwanda.  The English War of the Roses lasted Thirty Years.  Henry VII didn’t forgive and forget, but simply found a way to end the war and consolidate his own position. Henry, having been acclaimed King Henry VII, then strengthened his position by marrying Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and the best surviving Yorkist claimant. He thus reunited the two royal houses merging the rival symbols of the red and white roses into the new emblem of the red and white Tudor Rose.

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Brian Williams should not be forgiven.  He deserves every lashing given to him.  He has committed a serious moral offense and has insulted thousands. He has dishonored the military, deceived the American public, and was callow and groveling in his ‘apology’.  He should be strung up.

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