News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: The Silence of Muffled Cries

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Silence of Muffled Cries

"No good at all can come from acting before the world and one's self as though we knew the truth, when in reality we do not. Qualified silence might perhaps be more appropriate for the church today than talk which is very unqualified." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Silence is the ultimate weapon of power." -- Charles de Gaulle

sigan ameinon taischra, mêde mousa moi
genoit' aoidos hêtis humnêsei kaka.

[Courage now; let us view their shame in silence.
Let my muse not sing the birth of this evil.]

-- Euripides, "The Trojan Women"

There are many silences I love. The sound of silence that comes with the blanket of sound emitted past mifnight when the frogs peep in the pools from the marshes and the pools left by the rain. There is the crystalline silence that lays on the fields after a big snow. The silence of an empty church; the silence of my soul in those rare times when my inner voices stop mumbling and I catch a glimpse of a silence that is joy and surrender to hope.

Recently, I hear a more ominous silence. I have heard the ominous silences before--those creepy moments when the skin crawls and you look furtively around to see what might lurk in a corner. There are the ominous silences that come from a man at the end of his rope, the day before he commits suicide. The silence of a person who looks vacantly and demonically into your eyes from the depths of inner terror and insanity.

But the more recent silence is of a special kind. It began the moment that two planes crashed into the two towers of trade center in New York. Certainly, there was the silence that one would expect to come after the shock and horror of a barabarous act. For days afterwards, the silence rose in almost reverent strains above the rubble as a nation wept and prayed for the unjustly slaughtered dead.

Only months later, the silence was broken by other cries in other lands and the bombs and bullets tearing into rock and mud huts, flesh and bone.

I wanted to prolong that first silence after 911. I thought the nation should go into mourning for a year. This time, I felt then, would have allowed the pain to sink in, allow the shock to subside and give way a silence that nurtures and promotes reflection. Each of us could have turned inward and meditated on the meaning of this loss, as well as given due consideration to the approrpriate response to those who perpetrated this act.

I do not know what outcome such a time of mourning might have elicited. My suspicion is that it would not have been the one that set into motion the events that have brought us to the recent wars and upheavals that thretaen to set a tragic stage of blood and betrayal that even a Kydd would not be able to portray.

This brings me to the silence I have heard rising from the depths of I know not what hell. I want to asrcibe the silence to the insidious lack of media coverage of the brutal deaths presently afoot in foreign lands. I do not want to join the mocking choruses that fling dung at each other from one side or the other of this issue. That does not mean that I do not take sides, it simply means that if one joins in the taunting and jibes one misses the silence that falls in between the gaps of the insults and counter-insults. It is these gaps that define the debate and perhaps will one day come back to haunt each one of us as our souls waver between life and death.

I understand why the news media might be reluctant to report news from these lands. With soldiers in the field, any reports that show war will inevitably call into question the justice of the actions undertaken to execute victory. War is not a one-dimensional or even digital, yes-no, proposition. Its gray fog threatens to engulf any meaning into opposite and even to obliterate the contexts within which meaning itself can come to birth. Our media simply cannot cope with ambiguity--and if there is one thing that war is, it is ambiguous.

Then again, there is another reason for the silence emanating from this war. And this silence I really do find insidious. It is the silence manufactured, implemented, and maintained by a war bureaucracy. The reasons for the silence have ostensibly the same rationale as that espoused by the news media--protecting the lives of our young men and women in the field. I acknowledge and respect this reasoning; indeed, anything else would be simply irresponsible and immoral.

So where is the insidiousness? The problem with this silence is that it emanates from a gray area that is not inherent to the human condition of war, nor even the inherent one-dimensionality of newspeak--the silence that has descended upon us is the one of confusion. The babel of disinformation, lies, and distortions that have been cast out as reasons for and the continuance of this was have simply laid a blanket of consternation that leaves the soul uneasy because it can't sort out fact from fiction and thereby feels incumbent to recede into itself dumb and blind. It is a kind of voiceless terror that sometimes comes in between sleep and waking where the mind is awake but the body has yet to follow suit. In this limbo state the presence of the world is there, but it is there in all its disembodied strangness and haunting familiarity.

While the dumbness of our public discourse is certainly basis for concern and alarm, there is an even more terrible and potentially ethically damaging effect of this sielnce. Among the many silences, there is one that does not register until many years pass and the devil of history lays its dust upon our lives. The tragic poets of Greece were perhaps the first and only sensibilities either willing or able to capture in their cadences and words the terror this silence brings to light. It is the muffled cries of the dying, the last gasps of those left to rot under a harsh sun bloated with flies. It is the stifled cries of one who killed blindly in fear of his life and yet the face of his victim visits his sleep and waking nightmare.

It is this silence that threatens the health of our ethos; not terrorism, not militarism, not colonialism--for were we to hear the silence emiited from beneath our contempt for suffering, these other threats simply would not possibilities in the first place.

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