At his Angelus address yesterday, Benedict XVI cautioned against becoming desensitized to the daily roll call of fatalities from comflicts around the world:
“From the numerous conflicts going on in the world,” the Pontiff said, “almost daily tragic news reaches us of both military and civilian victims. These are facts that we must never get used to, and they arouse a profound outcry and perplex societies that have the good of peace and civil coexistence at heart.”
I continue to find the daily tally of military casualties broadcast, in silence, at the end of the “Newshour” on PBS terribly moving, and I think it is a real service. I don’t watch the program every night, though I wish I could, and I am always grateful for the reminder. Journalism (and other comunications arts) can focus on the particular to prevent us from becoming inured by the general onslaught of events.
Lawrence Downes, whose writing, usually in the “Editorial Observer” section of the NYT’s opinion pages, I like very much, performed this task to great effect the other day in a short piece called “Remembering Sergeant Monti.” It is a meditation on the great gestures by ordinary folk that take place every day:
Staff Sgt. Jared Monti could have stayed where he was.
Under ferocious attack from about 50 Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan and taking cover behind rocks with his badly outnumbered patrol, he could have waited for artillery and airstrikes to beat back the enemy.
But only yards away, on open ground, one of his men, a private, lay dying. Sergeant Monti dashed out to bring him to safety. Enemy fire forced him to retreat. He ran out again. More bullets and shrapnel forced him back. The enemy was so close that the patrol members could hear voices; the gunfire was so withering that one soldier had a rifle blown from his hands.
The third time Sergeant Monti tried, he was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He died within minutes.
It’s impossible to pinpoint where Sergeant Monti, of the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y., got his courage and selflessness. Maybe from his parents, a nurse and a teacher, or from the Army, where sacrifice and service are part of the drill. Maybe he had those virtues all along.
Whatever their source, they came out in full force on that desperate night in June 2006. When President Obama presented Sergeant Monti’s Medal of Honor to his parents, Janet and Paul, at the White House on Thursday, he retold the stunning act of valor. He repeated the sergeant’s words, which made it a simple matter of duty: “No, he is my soldier. I’m going to get him.”
The kicker is powerful. Read on.