in the name of art or in the name of art

Contrasts.

I saw something this morning that moved me. To tears, to write. It was a segment of CBS Sunday Morning, about the ballet that a mother has created and is performing in honor and memory of her son who died in action in Iraq. You can see and read it here. If you look at the video, you may come across the part that really got to me–his grave.

Here’s a photo from another source, insidenova.

Amy Wolfe at Colin's garve

Yes, he was Jewish.

The CBS narrative does not allude to that at all, perhaps because it was not part of the story that they wanted to tell.

But Amy Wolfe, the mother, did make it part of her story. This is from the insidenova report:

The ballet, created by Amy Wolfe, tells the story of Colin’s short life — from playing with his mother, childhood friends and his sister, learning Sabbath prayers and studying ballet, to deciding on Sept. 11, 2001, at the age of 14, he wanted to become a Marine.

It touches on a family trip to Paris and then Normandy where Colin expressed his deep appreciation for what the Allied Forces did to save the Jews during World War II. Colin wanted to help save the Iraqis, his mother said.

Obviously, people can have more than one reason for action. In the CBS version, Colin enlisted because of 9/11. But here is more of what Amy says is her motivation for writing and performing this ballet, again, from insidenova.

“This ballet is reaching out to all the families who have lost a loved one in combat. It’s reaching out to all the military themselves who have been over there and have lost their brothers in combat and come back and have felt guilty ever since because they are alive and their friend is not,” she said.

“It’s also reaching out to people who have experienced loss. Although the ballet is about a Marine, you can also see it is about boys playing. I am so glad that I put in the scene of little Colin. It’s every family. It’s every mother. It’s every son.”

And yet…

I must go on record to keep that analogy from extending to the recent piece of [art]work called The Death of Klinghoffer. After seeing this blog post Romancing Atrocity, it hit me that I needed to contrast the two pieces. In the blog, Paul Mirbach astutely notes:

First off, the title: It is The Death of Klinghoffer, not The Murder of Klinghoffer. This suggests that his death was a result of some inadvertent occurrence, not a wilful act perpetrated by another person. The result is, by subliminal suggestion, to dilute the natural revulsion one feels towards a murder.

And further on, he notes:

…Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old wheelchair bound retiree, is portrayed as loud mouthed and argumentative, so that when they eventually shoot him and throw him overboard, you almost sympathise with the terrorists. They just couldn’t take any more of his whining, so they had to get rid of him. In this way, Adams and Sellars created a subliminal case of extenuating circumstances for the commission of this barbaric act. Without overtly saying so, they suggest that the decision to single out Klinghoffer for execution, had nothing to do with him being Jewish.

So, CBS downplays the Jewish angle, but plays up the united front of mankind. Fair enough. This opera seems to downplay the Jewishness in order to dismiss the Jewish connection to Israel.

Not every article about him downplays his Jewish connection. Here’s another article about Colin, from the Washington Post back in July.

To her, Colin was a dancer, not a warrior. She’d taught him to be an athletic, technically sound ballet dancer.

Turns out that made him quite a Marine. Wolfe heard stories of Colin killing it in basic training, standing tall with his pack on after every one flopped on the ground after a 15-mile run. He had the uncanny agility and endurance that come from dancing until your shoes are bleeding, then dancing some more.

“I had no idea he did that. None of us did,” Hill told Colin’s mom. Telling the guys in his company — after they knocked back some beers and smoked some cigs — that he was a dancer wouldn’t have gone over well.

But he did tell everyone about being Jewish and wore his Judaism proudly.

“He had it right there, on his dog tags, ‘Jewish.’ Going into Iraq,” Hill said, shaking his head. “Something about that kid. He was something special. Everybody liked him. He was like everyone’s little brother.”

This is a story worthwhile telling, whether in ballet or in print.

The other? Not so much. Paul Mirbach sums up this way:

In my opinion, this is not an opera with a story to tell. This is a politically biased narrative, exploiting the medium of opera. This opera is not a tragedy, but a travesty, and it should be thrown overboard.

I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to see the ballet, or if I would go out of my way to see it. But I hope I can honor the memory of Colin Wolfe and other true freedom fighters in as many ways as I can.

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