Tuesday, May 03, 2011

`The Common Will for Which Explosion Spoke'

Every journalist eventually hears the complaint: “How come you only report bad news? Why don’t you report the good things that happen?” I've always sympathized with such critics. For years I covered criminal justice, and the news on that beat is grindingly bad, as it has always been and will always remain. Whenever I took such a call, I resisted the urge to point out the reader’s naïveté. That would have been discourteous and more than enough motive for yet another cancelled subscription. Still, for some of us, the urge to hear good news – whoopingly-and-holleringly unambiguous good news – is as primal as the urge for food and sex.

We heard the good news out of Pakistan first thing Monday morning, about 5:30. It was sweeter, of course, for the unlikelihood of it ever arriving. Like most Americans, we’d given up on ever seeing justice. To have the criminal removed so cleanly, without loss of American life, was more than anyone could reasonably have hoped for. It’s the self-contained, closed-case neatness that proves so satisfying, the long-deferred, good-guys-triumph, happy ending. Samuel Johnson writes in The Rambler #81:

“Justice is indispensably and universally necessary, and what is necessary must always be limited, uniform, and distinct.”

The strike in Pakistan was measured and precise, “limited, uniform, and distinct.” It closed the circle without broadening the diameter. Yvor Winters placed the words

“Europe: 1944
as regarded from a great distance”

between the title and the first stanza of “Night of Battle”:

“Impersonal the aim
Where giant movements tend;
Each man appears the same;
Friend vanishes from friend.

“In the long path of lead
That changes place like light
No shape of hand or head
Means anything tonight.

“Only the common will
For which explosion spoke;
And stiff on field and hill
The dark blood of the folk.”

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