Luke Mogelson’s honest, compelling and heart-breaking story, “The Wound-Dressers” in the May 9th New Yorker brings the business of war and death, which march alongside one another, into clear focus. It brings journalism into clear focus, too. It made me feel that in the cacophony of internet “news,” journalism was still important, that truth was still important, and most important of all, that reporters were still important.
It carries the passion of one of its most valuable antecedents, Walt Whitman’s poem “The Wound Dressers,” written about not just our own civil war, but about all wars, the lives they ruin, the pain they deliver, and the compassion people find to help those most deeply affected by the violence.
“Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again.”
This is one story you have to find a way to read.
Of course, people who follow international news read about Ukraine and the Russians every day. But after weeks of war, all the news seems to be the same, typical, and not at all surprising. You can read one massacre and be shocked. But reading about massacres day after day has a numbing effect. There’s something about the way news is presented on TV or in the papers that makes itself a part of the daily schedule, when in the case of Ukraine, I would argue, it should be the first and last thing you think about every day.
These victims are not an abstraction. They are not graphics that show how many have died and where. They are human beings who had lives very much like our own until Vladimir Putin decided to unleash his army on all Ukrainians, military or not.
The New Yorker story tells about what it has been like to be under siege, to hear Russian artillery, to walk through the devastated villages, to see the mass graves with their victims now packed away in black body bags, awaiting identification and investigation into how they died.
It is a reminder of the importance of witness, which is journalism’s first obligation. A record must be presented so people will know, now and forever, what has transpired. This story goes so far beyond the standard jumble of posturing and leaks that define so much of journalism it elevates into a different class.
I don’t feel it would be fair to the New Yorker, or to Mogelson, to reveal much of the story here. There’s a link to find it and I would suggest you take advantage of that. It is important for you to know. It is important for our nation to know.
It is important for humanity to know.