Lessons and Lessened 

The internet is not just a place for e-mail, instant message, news, or culture. It has it dark places too--the least of which, but probably the most familiar, is the presence is pornography. It is these other places that I worry about most. Adults, who take seriously the ability to think critically and be responsible members of society, absolutely must decide what they stand for, so they can make decisions about their own morality.

One of the darker sides of the Internet revealed itself with the web broadcasting on Tuesday of the horrific killing of an American contractor in Baghdad. Although I am consciously, and very deliberatively, abstaining from the too-often-poisonous political rhetoric that infects public discussion of the war, I feel I must add my voice to the others who have near-universally condemned this barbarity. No-one, regardless of politics, or even previous atrocities, should have to die this way. The torture (not abuse) of Iraqi soldiers is reprehensible, but so is the killing of hostages. The colloquialism holds up: two wrongs do not make a right.

What has perturbed me today are the various sites--sites which I will not even refer to in the slightest way--that are mirroring the graphic video. While surfing on a particular site and reading the usual political commentary surrounding this tragic event, I was shocked to discover that people, primarily young men, have rooted out the footage and are seeing for themselves. And there are more than a few places that are hosting this, for lack of a better word, satanic video.

Aside from a few individuals infected by a diseased love for violence, there are some people who argue that the footage needs to be seen, that we must be a witness to happens in war, so once everyone is sickened by these atrocities, society will change for the better.

I disagree.

While it is sometimes necessary to be a witness to violent acts--such as the brutal effects of war on society, famines caused by greed or embargoes, or genocidal acts like the Killing Fields in Cambodia, Germany, and Rwanda--it is not necessary to see these kind of acts for the healing light of public exposure to root out the perpetrators of such acts, and so that justice can be fair but not willfully ignorant or blind.

Justice should be the primary motivating purpose here. Was it justice for the allies in World War Two to reveal the previously hidden genocide against the Jews, which was perpetrated by the Nazis? Did we need to expose the brutality of those acts to a disbelieving global public? Yes, I believe it was. Would it serve justice to see this footage of the American’s death? No, I do not believe it would be.

I will not see the video now or ever.

I am making a choice based on my own sense of morality, which is derived from my own sense of justice. This is precisely what I am arguing everyone on the Internet must do, right now. You don’t want to be the person who stumbles into one of these dark corners of the Internet and see this video, piqued by your curiosity, not thinking of the consequences. There are some things that you can not un-see. Take seriously the words of an individual who, by his own confession in the public comments of the site I mentioned, has watched it: “I am lessened for having seen it.”

12 May 2004
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