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COLUMN: 'Fag bomb' should be viewed as a reflection of war, not language

By Katherine Mulvany

The Daily University Star (Southwest Texas State U.)
11/13/2001




TODAY'S HEADLINES
11/13/2001





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COLUMN: Crash an accident, not an act of terror

COLUMN: 'Fag bomb' should be viewed as a reflection of war, not language




(U-WIRE) SAN MARCOS, Texas -- Did you see the photograph of the infamous "fag bomb" aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier? You had to look closely because the picture disappeared rather quickly.

"Fag bomb," I hasten to say, are not my words; they are the words of Washington Post writer Hank Stuever in a recent article about the picture in question.

The picture I'm referring to was a photograph taken by a journalist aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. The bomb was being readied for deployment in an air mission above Afghanistan, and a sailor had scrawled the words "HIGH JACK THIS, FAGS" in a childish handwriting on the casing of the bomb.

Soon after the picture was distributed by the Associated Press (the wire service that supplies news stories and photos to newspapers across the country), a gay and lesbian advocacy group called GLAAD protested, and the AP withdrew the picture from circulation. Jack Stokes, a spokesman for AP, apologized for what he called "a journalistic error," explaining "the picture never should have gotten through, and nobody should have seen it."

I think the decision to suppress this photo was wrong, and it reflects, in a small but significant way, our refusal to face squarely some of the difficult truths about the war we have begun to fight.

Let me say at the outset that I am, in no way, homophobic. I am a progressive Democrat, I have gay family members, friends, and I favor gay marriage. I am resolutely against any form of discrimination against gays. But the photo contained a lot of lessons about the war, and to suppress the photo was to suppress these insights.

First of all, the unenlightened sailor's graffiti tells us something about who will be doing the actual fighting in this war. These are young kids, many or most of them without a college education, so inarticulate, they are driven to use playground epithets to express their rage over the terrorist attacks. So, while we debate this war from the comfortable and enlightened surroundings of our university campus, let's remember it is people without our privileges and our education who are taking the real risks right now.

Next, the graffiti contains a lesson about the difficulty for all of us in articulating our feelings about what happened in Washington, D.C., New York and Pennsylvania. When a tragedy of this magnitude happens, it is not clear to anyone what the proper response should be. It's hard to find the right language for these feelings. We should all be hesitant to criticize anyone else for the way they choose to articulate their anger and sorrow about the attacks.

Finally, to quibble about a photograph of the word "fag" written on the side of a bomb is to ignore the bitter truth that war, in many ways, is about rage, revenge and other less enlightened aspects of human nature. As columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times on Oct. 28, "we Americans are so enlightened that we stand in danger of tripping over our scruples and sensitivities as we try to win this war."

It is certainly sad that the sailor wasn't articulate enough to phrase his rage more delicately. But if you are as dedicated to fighting and winning this war against terror as I am, let's not hide from the truth about who is doing the fighting and how they feel about their job. Let's worry about winning the war right now. We can civilize our fighters later, when the bigger job is done.




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