Readings: The Real Obscenity

People inspect the damage at a site hit by what activists say was a car bomb in Raqqa, Syria, Aug. 29. (CNS photo/Nour Fourat, Reuters)

Last week, following a year of disgust with the local tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Post, I sat down to write a short essay on how their sick preoccupation with sex and violence has disgraced the American journalistic tradition. Originally, tabloids and sensationalism were legitimate 19th-century developments. The smaller size made the product easier to read on public transportation, and the use of photographs, cartoons, imaginative layout, headlines and livelier writing about everyday realities in the lives of the ordinary people, including crime and political corruption, raised circulation.

But the recent preoccupation with punning about Congressman Anthony Weiner, and former Governor Eliot Spitzer on page one of The Post (8/17) in his underpants, drained my zeal to write about the phenomenon. I was reluctant to dirty my hands.


But today’s headlines introduced the reader to real obscenity. These tabloids rejoice in war. The Post’s cover (8/29) has Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s head as a bull’s-eye in a target and a headline, “Stop dithering, Obama! If we’re serious, we must…TARGET ASSAD.” The editorial says we must “target” him and “take him out.” What they mean is murder. Michael Goodwin’s column mocks Obama, who is "from the faculty lounge,” as “reluctant, but not much of a warrior.” It is amazing how having a newspaper column gives the writer the courage to send other people’s sons and daughters on missions to kill other people.

The Daily News splashes “OBAMA’S PLAN FOR WAR” on page one and dedicates pages 4-5 to the plan’s details, under the headline “CLOCK TICKING FOR ASSAD & HIS THUGS.” To their credit they allow columnist Denis Hamill on page 6 to ask, “When are going to learn?” He parallels the evidence for weapons of mass destruction they duped us with in the Iraq War with today’s scenario that will lead us into war with Syria. Even if the U.N. representatives confirm that Assad authorized the use of nerve gas, he asks, “what gives the U.S. the moral authority to intervene in the civil war of yet another Middle East nation?”

As Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung write in today’s Washington Post, it is by no means clear we have a legal right to attack; in fact most international lawyers say we do not. We cannot claim that the United States is threatened by Syria. And I doubt we can “punish” Assad without also killing innocent people. Someone close to President Obama should explain to him how in some circumstances it takes real courage to not fight.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is literary editor of America.

(Photo credit: Catholic News Service/Nour Fourat, Reuters)

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Bruce Snowden
5 years 4 months ago
Yes, it's a real obscenity creating international arrhythmia, as Assad goes about gassing civilians, men, women and children and the national response has been mostly, "let's sit on our hands," President Obama apparently the only trigger happy responder. What to do? I think Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., has the answer saying, "It does take real courage not to fight!" On the other hand, the world cannot stand idly by allowing gassing to happen. In one way or the other I've been a Franciscan for fifty two years, thirty five in the Secular Order, so I'm spiritually stimulated to suggest the well known, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace" approach, the non-combative way. In other words, "Let's talk!" But to whom? How about an arranged meeting between Assad and Pope Francis at Damascus, or in Rome? Invite Muslim and world leadership to come together in a Peace Summit, sowing pardon where there is injury, hope in place of despair. Let the world try to build a Monument to Peace, recalling the words of Francis of Assisi to his Brothers as he lay dying on the ground, "I have done my part. May Christ teach you yours!" Out of respect for Islam let's say to Assad, "May Mohammed teach you yours!" Yes, it does take real courage not to fight, For God's sake, for Allah's sake, let's talk!
ed gleason
5 years 4 months ago
I second Bruce's approach... a startling intervention meeting on the road to Damascus may show us a new way...
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
The nice thing about what you're proposing is this: it's good to do no matter who is really responsible for the poison gas and gives time to pull out the real facts out of the fog of war.
J Cosgrove
5 years 4 months ago
The problem with this is that Assad is a puppet. He has no real authority and is just a figure head and if we somehow killed him, there would be another in his place within minutes. The puppeteer lies several hundred miles to the East in Teheran. That is where the bulls eyes should be placed but I doubt that anyone will be able to do anything. We are all afraid and as Thucydides said 2500 years ago, weakness is what begets war. The more we try to avoid war the more likely we will have it thrust upon us.
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4 years 11 months ago
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