Mourning in America
February 4, 2003
guess I reached the limit of my patience Monday morning, when
Katie Couric, our national grief counselor, asked the stunned parents of
one of the lost astronauts if the enormity of their
sons death had hit them yet. Of all the rude, stupid, presumptuous,
intrusive questions Ive ever heard, this takes the cake. My guess is
that it hit them Saturday morning.
Can we stop the fake mourning
now? The families of the dead have some real mourning to do. President
Bush calls the Columbia disaster a great national
tragedy a phrase more aptly applied to, say, the Civil War.
Most of us hardly knew these people existed, and few of us could name
even one of them.
Oddly enough, Miss Couric is one
of those few: she had gone to high school, a few miles from where
Im sitting now, with the son of the grieving parents she
interviewed. Youd think that would make her a little more
sensitive. Instead she adopted the traumatized expression
she wears when her wonted perkiness would be inappropriate, and asked a
question so tactless as to shock any viewer in his senses.
Like a school-bus accident
across the continent, the space-shuttle wreck is horrifying to imagine;
but why pretend its a personal loss for all Americans? I suppose
people in public life, including the media, have to speak of it with proper
gravity and respect, but the hyperbole of shared grief in this country is
out of control.
The space program long ago lost
its original glamour; we now call it a program, something
routine and bureaucratic, because we no longer think of it as a
mission. It began in earnest in 1957, with the electrifying
news that the Soviet Union had successfully launched a satellite. The Cold
War dictated that we catch up. Our first astronauts became
heroes and celebrities. Every step in the race to the moon was sensational.
The historic first moon landing, in 1969, was so exciting that everything
after it seemed anticlimactic. Space travel had long since ceased to
inspire our awe and wonder by last Saturday morning; wed stopped
paying much attention to it, or to the individual astronauts.
On Sunday morning, the
fanatically Zionist New York Post supplied a bit of grim
comedy. It featured the Israeli astronaut alone on page 6, with a special
article, and crammed pictures of all the American gentiles onto page 7.
The Post has its priorities, even in mourning.
By coincidence, Id
recently seen two televised scenes of genuine poignancy, also featuring
total strangers. They didnt need exaggeration in order to reach the
Last week a news story from
Baghdad showed a man holding his little boy and begging the United States
not to attack his country. It was impossible not to be moved by this
mans desperate plea for mercy, whoever he was; and it cast a
strange light on Bushs endlessly professed indignation that Saddam
Hussein has gassed his own people. I leave you to guess how
sincere Bushs sympathy for those people is.
And on Sunday night, 60
Minutes did a segment on North Korea, showing the unbelievable
cruelty of Kim Jong Ils regime. By diverting all his countrys
wealth to building his military power, he has reduced the general
population to near-starvation. And actual starvation. We were shown the
results in shots of famished children with dull, hollow faces and arms
like sticks, of a 15-year-old boy the size of a 10-year-old. They have
never known joy, but they are taught that Kim is their benefactor. He
makes Saddam Hussein seem like a philanthropist. At least the Iraqis are
Kim has turned North Korea into
a gigantic concentration camp. Unlike most Communist tyrants, he hardly
pretends to have bettered the lot of his subjects; he doesnt even
hide his personal greed and privilege. In his country its not the
state that withers away, as in Marxist theory, but the
people. The 60 Minutes segment showed small children
eating insects to stay alive. Others regard eating a rat as a special treat.
Bushs humane sympathies are oddly distributed.
With all due respect to Stalin
and Mao, Kim seems to have achieved the final perfection of Communism: a
reverse utilitarianism, the greatest evil for the greatest number.
Sorry about those astronauts, but
there are more urgent things to grieve about in this world.