Last week, when news of a homicide attack on a deployed group of Ohio Army National Guardsmen hit the airwaves, our household held its breath. A handful of men from my husband's unit had volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan and very well could have been among those killed or wounded. Even when we learned that the soldiers my husband personally knows were not among those involved, we watched news reports to see if there were anything we could do to help or if more news were forthcoming.
What I didn't realize until I read this amazing blog post on Afghan Blue was that the news footage I was watching (that appeared to be stock footage) was actual footage from the scene of the horrific incident. Realizing that I had unknowingly watched something I would never have sought out made me sick to my stomach. In reading Blue's blog post, I realized that several newspapers and other news sources had run much more vivid and graphic images than even I had seen.
I imagined the excuse or reasoning many people use when they seek out or view such imagery: "Well, it was horrible to see. Thank goodness I don't actually know them." or even worse, "How awful for their families. I'm certainly glad that wasn't someone I knew."
But, that's the thing...you DO know them. And you should be able to fathom how those images made their families feel. Because you know me. Or, you know my husband. And, but for the grace of God and troop rotation cycles, he could have been on that mission in Afghanistan and those images emblazoned across your TV or computer screen could have depicted him. Or his buddy.
So, you can't say you don't know.
Those images are things that wake a military spouse in the middle of the night with a racing heart, sweaty pajamas and the icy grip of fear so deep and raw that no night light is bright enough. It may be something you never allow your lips to speak, but your brain does its due diligence in warming up your physical body for the fear, anxiety, terror, sorrow, and anger that would accompany any kind of news like those families received this past week.
As someone who has only watched from the sidelines as friends and online acquaintances have received word of a loved one's injury or death, I certainly cannot say "I know how it feels", but I can say that I know that what I imagine it to be like cannot possibly ever be as awful as it really is.
When I read the blog post on Afghan Blue, two paragraphs had me screaming, "YES!" in my head and in my heart. Because these words reached in and gripped my gut as it is how I felt every time I imagined my husband's 'game face' standard military photo on the television screen were the unthinkable to happen:
There is no dignity at the moment of death. There is no dignity in agony. The dignity comes from the purpose in their hearts, the reason that they subjected themselves to the risk of such incredibly lethal, destructive violence. Those pictures do not show that dignity. Without the context of the honor of their hearts, which cannot be captured in a photograph, the only thing captured is the inhuman lack of dignity in that moment. A photograph may appear to be coldly objective, but it lacks this greatest of contexts and is therefore highly subjective. To view these men in that vacuum is to fail to grasp the reality of that captured moment, and to view only the absence of dignity; which is to objectify the dead.
Objectifying human beings, especially their deaths, is not good for the human soul. It is the natural state of the sociopath, and bringing even a bit of that into your own soul depletes you. Now, some will not be able to help themselves, but I’m telling you that it never feels good after having seen the result of extreme violence in that moment where the context of the man is missing, where the viewing of a human being as an object is unavoidable. Those men do not deserve to be gazed at in their agony. They do not deserve to be gawked at where they were tossed by the horrific violence of that last moment. When the dignity of their spirit cannot be conveyed, when they become horrific objects to the human eye. I can’t stop you, but I can ask; please don’t. For you, for them, please. (emphasis added)
No truer words.
Simply because you don't personally know the three individuals in this most recent act of violence against our troops, does not equate to an inability to understand these words on a deeper level. In their formal uniform photos their faces appear as "objects", I suppose, to strangers seeing them on television. There may even be a lack of emotion attached to seeing the footage or still photos from their final moments, should some of you have done that.
You know me. Even if only online. You know me.
Through me and what this would do to my family, you can surely extrapolate what it has done to the families involved. I am, in no way, attempting to associate my husband's service and sacrifice to the level of sacrifice these families & soldiers have found themselves making. What I'm trying to say is that even if you don't 'have a dog' in this particular fight, by your acquaintance with a National Guard family, you DO have an investment in the dignity of these individuals--if you allow yourself to see it.
We know that in our current world, very few people have a close relative serving. That many in our nation have a "comfortable distance" they can keep from the images they see on TV, online and in newspapers. They see themselves as objectively able to look at humans being objectified and some even shrug and say, "Well, what did that person expect? They knew when they signed up that could happen."
There is no reason to see the images being portrayed of these men in their final moments. I feel the same way when reports of other murders or even horrible accidents are shown on television or in the paper--no one should have to see their loved one that way; and, no stranger should be privy to those images that debase a person to a split second of agony. I don't buy the "our country sends them there, we should see how it sometimes ends up" either. The assertion is interesting, but that conclusion does not necessarily follow.
But. I will say it again. These Guardsmen weren't strangers. And, if you're reading this, they aren't unknowns to you. Because you do have a relationship with the National Guard. You do "know" someone who serves. And because that service creates a family unit amongst those serving, you do know someone whose family member has been lost. And, you should (even if it's just as your individual self) honor that family's dignity by not availing yourself of those images or sharing them.
You can take what I'm writing with a grain of salt. I realize that. But, I don't think you can honestly say that you don't know them any longer.
Because you do.