cd2-27 crawling in the guts of vigilance


   The VigilanceVoice
Tuesday-- February 27, 2002óGround Zero Plus 169

Crawling In The Guts Of Vigilance
Via The Guts Of Terror

Cliff McKenzie
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 the fact.
        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 of war.
      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 be found.
     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 them.
      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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