February 27, 2002óGround
Zero Plus 169
In The Guts Of Vigilance
Via The Guts Of
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Feb. 26--War correspondents
come in two categories--those who watch the guts of Vigilance
being spilled and then report it, and those who crawl inside
the viscera of battle and bathe in its horror.
I fall into the second
category. The blood of war has dried on my soul.
I didn't realize that until last night--some three decades after
My wife, ever Vigilant
about interesting seminars and facts related to my writings,
signed us up for a symposium featuring war correspondents--authors
who had written books and stories about the world's wars.
It was held at the Wollman Auditorium
in the Cooper Union Engineering Building in the East Village.
The speakers included Sebastian Junger, author of the Perfect
Storm, and Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down. Both
men had been in the belly of the beast--risked their lives to
get the story of war first hand.
Junger, while best known
for his authorship of the Perfect Storm, has pushed the envelope
as a war correspondent to interview leading Terrorists, and
to crouch down as bullets whiz overhead so he can tell the story
of war with great authority.
Sitting in the audience, I felt
a communion with the writers. I could tell by their
calmness and respect of their experiences that they had seen
and felt much more than they were telling to the audience.
They had seen the face of the Beast--that ugly creature I often
awake to in the middle of the night looming over me, fangs dripping,
claws outstretched, trying to capture my soul, to rip it out
of my chest and eat it in front of me.
At first, I was somewhat intimidated
by the panel. I felt like an outcast, an anachronism
who had long since spent his seed and was now desiccated, sitting
on the sidelines watching the new warriors of the pen and sword
scrawling their words on fresh pages while mine were old and
tattered, scorched by time, antediluvian in nature.
I have been battered by agents
and publishers about my Vietnam memoirs, being told over and
over that the story of the Vietnam War was passť, that there
were new issues that were more important than the moral conflicts
of a man with a gun and pen, torn between his job as a warrior
versus his ethics as a muse, a scribe, a historian of the waste
But last night I was reminded
that the face of war, the Terror of Terrorism, has no time limit,
no Statue of Limitations. The ugliness of it all, and
the glory of those who struggle to survive in the midst of the
"Imperfect Storm Of War," never change.
Neither does the face of the
Beast Of Terror.
Bowman's and Junger's comments revived
my sense of purpose. I knew they had crawled into
the Belly of the Beast. They had been drenched in
the blood of war, seeking the elusive truth at great personal
risk. More important than just being reporters,
they were story tellers, as I attempt to be. They
weren't just after the "facts" but the compelling
motivations that drive humans to kill with indiscriminate madness,
each force backed by massive cultural distinctions that beg
to be understood, not as justifications for their actions, but
as ways in which one society might better bridge the gap of
understanding to another so that an end to war's waste might
To achieve this, words must become scalpels, not just cutting
into the flesh of violence, but exposing its cancer so that
a diagnosis can be made, and its heart can be removed without
destroying the roots of its being.
I know that Fear, Intimidation
and Complacency cannot be removed from the human condition.
They are integral to our chemistry, and often serve us well.
But, I know they can be twisted and malformed into acts that
cause irreparable damage to both those who receive and deliver
their end results.
A child being Terrorized by an
adult has a good chance of perpetuating that Terror upon others,
believing that this is the only way to get "attention,"
or to serve dominance over others. I also know that when
"righteous indignation" couples with Fear, Intimidation
and Complacency, that whole groups of people can be destroyed
without blinking an eye, on the grounds they were the "enemy,"
and the only way to rid them from competition is to eliminate
Prejudice and bigotry are only
two forms of this kind of Terror. There are many more
such as envy, lust, sloth, anger, hatred.
I know because I crawled into
the belly of the Beast once, and let its blood soak through
my flesh, deep into the marrow of my humanness until I became
inhuman, willing to kill anything for no reason other than killing.
I cringe at that thought today, but it existed once, and its
memory haunts me to this day.
That's why I was renewed last night
when I listened to Junger and Bowden talk about their viewpoints
of war, and reporting on the Terror of it all.
I realized that to crawl into the belly
of Vigilance, I must have once known the horror of the belly
of Terror. That was the unification I felt last night.
These two authors had been in the belly
of both the Beast and Vigilance. They were driven
to write about their experiences--Junger extolling the Terror
of a sea, Bowden the Terror of a tactical abortion.
Both men wallowed in the ugliness of their respective battles,
and each punctuated the Courage, Conviction and Action necessary
to overcome the battle with Terrorism of the Soul.
As a writer struggling to find
motivations to continue my work, I found a deep well last night.
Two average men sat and calmly, quietly shared their experiences,
never once flinching as they spoke, never once gun-shy at questions
thrown at them. They were veterans of the Beast
of Terror, each in his own way. And, they were Warriors
of Vigilance, promoting through their stories the need to fight
the Terror of Terrorism.
I chose not to ask any questions at
the end of the seminar. I wanted them to tell me
about the Belly of the Beast, about how they had smelled its
foul odor and how the pungent scent of it drove them to write
about what humans do to overcome it.
But I knew the answer. I had
been there too.
Go To Feb.
26 "Rags of Vigilance - Tattered Flags Over New York City"
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