America is in a muddle about mourning. The standard newspaper of record, the New York Times, registers this muddle in its national edition of 30 April with a depth and clarity that one can attribute either to a brilliant sequence of editorial decisions or to the happenstance of journalistic montage. It is, indeed, the mourning edition, the memorial edition. In Washington, the controversial World War Two memorial opened to the public for the first time. The controversy has been over the placing of the memorial - smack in the middle of the Mall, historically and aesthetically a symbol of the right of assembly and the power of assembly - and over its design, which has been called both Napoleonic and fascist. Its circular array of columns topped with wreaths does, it's true, smack of triumphalism, despite the obligatory fountains and reflecting pool. Meanwhile a small town in Tennessee is trying to preserve what little is left of its Civil War battlefield from the clutches of the developers, partly in homage to the dead and partly because people feel it necessary to be able to walk where others actually died. (The phrase now routinely invoked for the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, 'sacred ground', was, we recall, coined at Gettysburg.) Elsewhere in the same day's newspaper, we read that the developer of the WTC site has been handed a significant financial defeat by his insurers; that a critical stage has been reached in the case before a Brooklyn court concerning the compensation of Holocaust survivors; and that the broadcast of Ted Koppel's television show Nightline will be blocked by TV stations in several major cities because his plan to read out the names and show pictures of the American dead in Iraq is deemed by the Sinclair Broadcast Group to be unpatriotic and subversive. As if this were not enough, Terry Nichols, the convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator already serving a life sentence, is on trial again, this time for his life. The names of two more dead soldiers are published - no pictures - making 718 American dead since the start of the war, more than half of them since the president declared that the war was over. Also reported is a study which found that the number of prisons in the United States has almost doubled since 1974, with Texas leading the way 'in a league of its own'. Because these prisons tend to be built in rural areas, more than 30 per cent of the population of some counties is behind bars. Again, a Texas county tops the table, with 33 per cent of its residents in prison. Extraterritorial Guantanamo did not figure, as it fails to figure in many other ways involving basic accountability: this too has been recently in the news.
LRB 20 May 2004 | PDF Download