The journal of the Center for Documentary Arts, a nonprofit initiative to bear witness to suffering and promote the common good through the arts. At the crossroads of art, ethics, faith, and social justice, the Center brings together makers and thinkers whose work advances beauty, compassion, collaboration, dignity, and mercy.

07 December 2010


I was on Joe Donahue's radio program "The Roundtable" yesterday to talk about Battlesight. The station reaches seven states and I'm grateful to Joe and WAMC for the opportunity to speak about the exhibit and photographers before such a wide audience. Here's the link to listen. 

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, which when I was a boy was a somber day of remembrance and reflection for people of my parents' and grandparents' generations. Today, the attack on the US Naval base by Japan in 1941 is less reverently observed, as those who were alive that day more and more pass from our sight.  As the paradigm of a Day of Infamy, Pearl Harbor has, of course, been replaced in contemporary America by the terrible events of September 11, 2001. That day, which we watched unfold together on television, will remain vivid in our collective memory until our grandchildren are old.

As I wrote that last sentence, a black image passed through my mind, of some future event even more horrific than 9/11 searing a new standard of horror on our psyches. It's dreadful to conjure, but how can anyone who's paying attention completely avoid it? As much as we live lives of courage and confidence, it is difficult not to harbor some fear for our future, some dread that America will yet again be the site of a monstrous attack. In this regard, December 7, 1941, was the beginning of an epoch in our national history of the omnipresent enemy, the evil Other bent on destruction. Hitler, Hirohito, Stalin, Khrushchev, Ho Chi Minh, Brezhnev, Khomeini, Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden, Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il -- an unbroken chain of adversaries, some erupting on their own, others cultivated by our government inadvertently or deliberately to fulfill the requirements of a military-industrial economy.

It's a staggering thought, that this country has spent the whole of my half-century and more pursuing enemies. When I was in my twenties, a wave of articles and movies appeared detailing the consequences of nuclear war, and a threat that had been in the background through my childhood took on new urgency. I am too young to have experienced "duck and cover" drills or known anyone with a bomb shelter in their back yard, though I do remember the yellow Civil Defense signs in the steampipe-lined catacombs of my elementary school which led to a storeroom of mattresses and slowly rusting cans of food.  The Bomb was a vague threat in my consciousness during the 1960s and '70s, when Vietnam, street protests, and Watergate were much more immediate. In the 1980s, though, when we all learned the term Nuclear Winter, the feeling that civilization was provisional struck me deep. I remember a conversation I had at the time with an old New Englander about a great granite millstone we were admiring at a farm museum. "A thing like that'll last forevah," the man said in his Yankee inflection. "Or until the bombs fall," I thought to myself, shuddering at the notion we'd created a world where such a possibility existed.

My fear then was the product of a twisted manufacture, just as our fear of terrorist attack is today. That manufacture is a complex system of technology, ideology, economics, and propaganda. It is impossible for Joe Citizen to know how much of the threat is real and how much a construct. I swing wildly sometimes, from "recognizing" how dangerous the world is to suspecting the whole thing is a put-up job, created, as Lucy says in A Charlie Brown Christmas, "by a big Eastern syndicate." What I do know is that we will remain at the mercy of tooth and claw as long as we continue to choose conflict over cooperation. The way to enter a new epoch of peace is to be exemplars of justice and compassion. The question is, has nearly seventy years of being on the defensive changed our national personality in ways that prevent us from doing so?


laura said...

I also fluctuate in my read on how bad things really are out there. When it seems really bad - it can be paralyzing. I am grateful there are some smart people like you, and others, raising awareness.
Thank you for doing this work. It seems rare to hear anyone use the word "compassion" these days...
But I don't see any other way to stop the madness.

Timothy Cahill said...

Hi Laura. Thanks for your comment. (You're the first!) There are a growing number of people globally becoming aware of how basic empathy is to our humanity and how necessary compassion to our survival. But you're right, we're not nearly enough, and are fighting against what seems an ever-rising tide of fear, animosity, and competition. It's easy to feel swamped. In the face of all that, my aim for this blog is to create a place for sharing ideas and hope.

Ed said...

You know the saying, another world is possible... I think it is, but so much of how-the-world-is is out of my control that I don't let it bother me. I vote, I march and protest, I try to do the right thing, but mostly I live this miracle best I can -- grateful for every moment. I may think... annihilation, what a waste, how horrible, but then I think of other things.

Anonymous said...

Tim - You're absolutely right that the way things progress day by day, not just here in the States but abroad, that the inevitable feels rather imminent. In fact, it's more perplexing [to me] that so many of us are able to carry on with our daily lives consumed by what car to buy next or how big our bonus checks will be... thinking this is just another "phase" that will resolve itself. The cover-up's portrayed by the media can only last so long. But, by then, will it be too late? And whether or not the lingering prophetic theories reign true, is it wrong to hope that something does or needs to happen? I'm not wishing the oceans open up and flood the world, but I think that a shift in something, in consciousness perhaps, is not only necessary but seemingly hopeful. Food for thought. Thanks for yours :)

Timothy Cahill said...

Greetings Ed and WGF. Welome to A&D and thanks for your thoughts. Ed, I hear you about "living the miracle" -- this is the challenge, isn't it, to keep foremost in mind the truth that life *is* a miracle that we are part of? This is precisely the reason we raise our voices, to bear witness not just to what is (the good and bad), but what will actualize this miracle a bit more. As you suggest, Foodie, we have to keep hope alive. I agree that a shift in consciousness is necessary and believe it's taking place, little by little, among like-minded souls connecting worldwide as we do here. I have faith that our small acts of communication have their collective impact on the consciousness of the planet.

Your site, btw, is dynamite.

Something beyond the void

In his book  Pictures and Tears , James Elkins describes the charged silence that fills the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. The space ...