Watching a man die

In his book Slaughter House 5, Kurt Vonnegut wrote the sentence “So it goes” 106 times. But before I get into that:

The other day I was watching David Letterman’s interview with Dave Chappelle. And they were talking about Dave’s response to the George Floyd murder and his special called 8:46. And Dave said “The commentary after [he died] was very heady and intellectual. And I was shocked that nobody ever talked about what it feels like to watch a man get murdered that way.”

The day before I watched that interview, I saw a video on Twitter of a Russian helicopter being hit by a Ukrainian missile, crashing to the ground, and exploding.

And the day before I saw that video, I finished reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House 5 for the first time. It’s a depiction of World War 2 and the bombing of Dresdon through the perspective of a soldier named Billy, who sporadically jumps around in time his entire life and is at one point abducted by aliens. The aliens aren’t the point, though. And neither is the time travel. The war is the point. And the death. So it goes.

Today, now, there is another war taking place in Europe. And thousands more deaths.

And I watched that video of the helicopter on Twitter, and I clicked in, and I used my finger to go back and forth, backwards and forwards, slower and slower – the missile hits, the helicopter goes down, the helicopter explodes, and the people die. I’d never seen people die like that before. So it goes.

Just like the scene of George Floyd’s murder. Just like the deaths in Word War 2 that Billy saw. We’d never watched someone die like that.

And there are two responses two watching these scenes: either you become desensitized to the horror, and you shrug your shoulders, and you say So it goes… Or you fight like hell to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

And I watched that video on Twitter… I scrolled back and forth for a few minutes, slower and slower… And then I put my phone down. And I sat. And then after a moment of silence and sadness sitting at work, I pulled my computer over again and I went back to work. And then I got lunch. And did some work. And I complained about this and that. And then I saw a friend, and ate some more food, and did some more things. And I forgot about the helicopter. Until the next day, when Dave Chapelle said “I was shocked that nobody ever talked about what it feels like to watch a man get murdered that way.”

And those soldiers came back to my mind. And the couple of seconds after they were hit before the struck the ground – to cry or pray or think about their mothers or their children or their country or their war. And then the thinking stopped. So it goes.

The cost of war isn’t just the people who die. But the way it tempers our reactions to death. Our desensitization to the horror is just another byproduct of the horror itself. So it goes, so it goes, so it goes.

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