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Images and sounds of war

04/07/03 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin
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(Kunin) These are unsettling times. Regardless of your mental health, or whether you supported this war or opposed it, life seems out of joint. Here at home, our daily lives roll out from sunrise to sunset as usual - go to work, run to the grocery store, pick up the mail, check for phone messages, scan the Internet, walk the dog, make dinner, do the dishes, and watch the evening news. The evening news - that's what's different.

Through the eyes of the non-judgmental dark screen we enter the war zone, and listen to disembodied voices that speak from a spot on the map. The reporter speaks of earthquake size bombs that shake the earth on which he stands. There is some surprise in his voice, as if he hadn't expected it to be quite so fierce. And as we focus on his photograph, we try to imagine where he is, and hope that he will be safe. "Keep your head down," says the interviewer, speaking for us.

Next we see the sky over Bagdad light up like a hundred fourth of July's setting off rockets simultaneously. At first, it almost beautiful to see the night sky illuminated. Red lights contrasted with black clouds. But then we remember there are people in Baghdad, huddled in shelters, caught unawares. We open the New York Times, and on the front page of the new section called "A Nation at War," a marine is cradling a wounded child whose mother has just been killed. Such a wrenching photo. The poor, motherless child, we think to ourselves. Then, the poor marine. How will his memory of that scene be inscribed in his dreams? Calling it collateral damage is small solace.

We think of the seven American prisoners of war, the missing. How are they being treated, will they ever be freed? Look at the fear in their eyes. And those who have died, we see their photographs, and think, so young, so young. Women fighting side by side with the men. We believe in equal rights, and yet, pause and look at the woman's face as she crouches in the trenches. We have to look carefully to see that it is a woman, not a man and search for some hint of what she feels. Is this what she expected when she signed up and hugged her children goodbye?

The media give us these glimpses of war. They touch our lives sporadically, for as long as we keep the tube on, or the paper unfolded. Then, we go back to our regular lives, to try to seek balance and carry on. We feel helpless to change the course of events. We simply see them unfold. As we destroy, we talk of rebuilding - as if it were a simple matter of piling the child's blocks up again, into a tower. And then we ask, how does one repair the agony and the loss?

The best we can do, in our everyday world, is to keep these men and women in our thoughts, and then turn to our own family and friends, and reach out to them to strengthen the bonds of love. And then we can hope - there must be hope - that perhaps this time we will learn to work for peace.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.
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