News, it's said, in the classic definition coined a century ago, isn't when dog bites man. It's when man bites dog that we break out the big type and clear our columns.
I don't know whether that's what's been happening lately or not, but surely the world appears to be suffering from a mass case of rabies, and no matter who bit whom. This last week, in particular, was no time for gentle souls - and there was no way, it seemed, to escape the deadly and dreadful news. A week worth forgetting, except you can't
Sunday morning, the time of peace, brought the banner headlines about the Palestinian terrorist raid on Israel's northern coast, the most savage attack in 30 years of Israel history. For sheer horror - and cold-blooded murder - the accounts of the slaughter of those innocent passengers begging for their lives aboard a bus hurtling toward doomsday can hardly be surpassed.
The single most riveting lines that jumped out of my paper that morning were:
"One of the dead was a girl who appeared to be about five yeard old. She held a tooth-brush in her hand."
In its formal communique claiming responsibility for the attack, Al Fatah said the operation was launched as part of the Palestinian's determination to step up "revolutionary armed violence against Zionist occupation." A less elegant way to put it would be to say they intended to murder more women and children, whenever and wherever possible.
Madness has its own terrible rationale, of course.
That Sunday paper carried another Page One headline:
Carter Is Told
He Cannot Halt
The comptroller general, the report said has told the Carter administration it can't legally phase out the Clinch River breeder reactor "and that any government official who approves spending to terminate the project will be held personally liable for the debt." Proving, I guess, that events are out of control in all corners.
Monday began with repercussions from the raid, Page One pictures of the grieving families at graveside - and some new details.An American woman was among those slain. She was on the beach, beside a bird sanctuary, when the terrorists came ashore on rubber rafts and shot her. Out of Lebanon came reports about "elated" Palestinian commandos. Al Fatah issued a communique saying Israel losses were more than twice the number officially announced.
Tuesday. Struggling out of bed in the darkness, early in the morning, and reaching for the morning paper on the front stoop, as usual, brought more bad news, the black headline proclaimed. Terrorists had struck again in Holland. They seized a government building, and at least 72 hostages "in a hail of bullets that left five persons injured. They vowed to kill the hostages if their demands were not met."
Wednesday the headlines were bigger and bolder. The Dutch terrorist story had reached its climax - troops had stormed the siezed building under a barrage of small-arms and rifle fire and freed 71 of the hostages - but that report was relegated to secondary news position. And for good reason: the Israelis had invaded Lebanon in massive numbers in an air, land, and sea attack.
The inexorable, explosive pattern of the last 30 years was being repeated. Violence begetting violence, sudden attack breeding sudden counterattack.
Another Page One story that morning reinforced the feeling of hopelessness. Saudi Arabia, the news report said, was threatening to go elsewhere for arms if the United States delayed selling the best jet fighters to it.
Those kinds of stories, I confess, fill me with an unreasoning rage. Ever since I covered the war between India and Pakistan 13 years ago, the generous arms gifts of Uncle Sam to his weaker allies stir bitter memories.
On the Pak side in 1965, and then on the Indian, you would come across ammunition cases.Each bore the emblem of the United States, and each was marked by two hands clasped in friendship. They were gifts from the American people, gifts used first to arm and then to destroy two of our allies. After a large tank battle on the plains of Punjab the landscape was littered with wreckage: American tanks destroyed by American planes and shells. Later, it was Greece and Turkey and now it's the Mideast.
There was one voice of sanity in the papers last Wednesday morning, but not a commanding one in terms of attention paid and news space given it.
Anwar Sadat, in Egypt, was condemning the Palestinian attack on Israel. "Let us break this vicious circle of action and reaction, because it will lead to nothing," he said. When he heard about the attack, Sadat went on, "I asked myself this question - what will be the result?I should have like action toward the establishment of peace instead of starting revenge again."
Thursday. The inevitable pictures, destroyed cities, homeless refugees, reports from the scene, the strategy and reaction - all were there, all in profusion. But on inside pages both The Washington Post and The New York Times printed two haunting glimpses, from opposing sides, of this consuming tragedy.
The Post reported the wailing of a Palestinian mother in the corridor of a Beirut hospital. "Please save my son," she called out. "His belly is open, his arm is cut off. I want him to live, please." Then, turning toward a group of reporters in the corridor, she is said to have shouted. "Write, write, tell the Israelis I still have two sons [and] they will grow up to take revenge."
In The Times, it was an open letter to a Palestinian military spokesman that began: "When you say that your friends killed 33 Israeli soldiers in last weekend's terror attack on the road near Halfa, do you mean my cousin Imri? Your friends shot him in the throat. He was not a soldier. He was 14 years old, and played the clarinet."
The writer wanted to tell something about her cousin, but, as she said, "I promise you it won't occupy much of your time, because if someone is murdered when he is only 14 years old, how much can there be to tell?"
Gifted as the writer was, I was able only to get through the part where she described Imri's elderly Israeli grandfather - "a poet, a lover of the English Romantics," who has translated Whitman into Hebrew but who now "mostly sits in his little garden reading Wordsworth and Keats and Shelley and
Friday. The latest news has driven the Mideast terror lower on Page One. Above it, now, is an eight-column display from Rome, "Terrorists in Italy Kidnap Moro, Kill Five," complete with picture of one of the slain sprawled in the street.
Saturday and Sunday are mine, the last weekend in this terrible winter, and I will not let the news intrude. After all, the new season is on the way and change surely is in the air. But I can't help wondering whether Imri's grandfather has had the heart to go back to Wordsworth and read from the poet's "Lines Written in Early Spring." Two verses are still appropriate:
And'tis my faith, that every flower
enjoys the air it breathes.
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?