A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America

A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America

A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America

A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America


In the wake of Abu Ghraib, Americans have struggled to understand what happened in the notorious prison and why. In this elegant series of essays, inflected with a radical Catholic philosophy, David Griffith contends that society's shift from language to image has changed the way people think about violence and cruelty, and that a disconnect exists between images and reality. Griffith meditates on images and literature, finding potent insight into what went wrong at the prison in the worksof Susan Sontag, Anthony Burgess, and especially Flannery O'Connor, who often explored the gulf between proclamations of faith and the capacity for evil. Accompanying the essays are illustrated facts about torture, lists of torture methods and their long-term effects, and graphics such as the schematics of the "pain pathways" in the human body. Together, the images and essays endow the human being with the complexity images alone deny.


The day the bombs started falling on Baghdad my Notre Dame jacket, a dark-blue satin jacket with NOTRE DAME stitched across the front and a pugilistic leprechaun on the sleeve—my most prized possession—was stolen out of my locker. They also stole a package of Hostess SnoBalls and a peanut butter and honey sandwich, snacks that I would eat after school to give me energy for wrestling practice. I weighed 110 pounds and wrestled in the 112pound weight class.

A young policewoman came to the house to take a report. It was maybe seven in the evening. Before the policewoman arrived I was sitting downstairs in the dim living room trying to do my algebra homework but, instead, watching live images of explosions lighting up the Baghdad skyline.

It was impossible to understand what was happening on the screen. There were no soldiers. My picture of war came from Vietnam: shaky handheld-camera footage of soldiers cautiously trudging through the jungle.

Instead, what I saw was a view of Central Baghdad from a hotel rooftop, narrated by journalists who had chosen to stay in the city even after being warned of the danger. The journalists, Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw, tried to communicate what it felt like to see these images, rating the power of each bomb blast based on how violently the windows rattled or the hotel swayed. At times the burst of light as a bomb detonated made the screen go completely white. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the television.

When the policewoman came downstairs she started watching the footage too. She looked stunned, as though she’d never seen a television. “They’re bombing Baghdad,” I said. “Wow,” she said.

The entire time the woman took my statement about the stolen jacket her eyes cut back and forth between the note pad in her hand and the television.

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