Brian Williams has been criticized for describing the images of missile launches toward Syria as “beautiful” on his MSNBC spot. Not the strike itself. Not the suffering of Syrians. The images of rockets launching.
During an on-air segment, Williams showed video taken from U.S. Navy vessels as they launched missiles that would ultimately strike a Syrian air base in the current administration’s latest action against the country’s government. Williams stated in response to these images:
“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean – I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen – ‘I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.’ And they are beautiful pictures, of fearsome armaments, making what is for them a brief flight over to this airfield.”
Higher quality video of Brian Williams practically creaming himself over video of missle launches pic.twitter.com/7jOaQ3xmrK
— 19th Of Brumaire (@delmoi) April 7, 2017
The quote from Leonard Cohen comes from his hit, First We Take Manhattan:
I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
Let’s set Williams’ reputation and clumsy poetic moment aside; most of this trumped-up, rage-inducing word salad that’s circling around centers on one word, beauty. Now, as far as the choice of that word to describe the images, there may have been a better way to describe the awe that he felt. The footage of the armaments on board the Navy vessels is “fearsome.” The images are powerful. They are awe-inspiring because of that power and fear. Our own national anthem contains that same sense of awe in its lyrics. “And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”
Ultimately, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder; it’s subjective. That’s why it’s easy to drum up rage with subjective headlines (like, “BRIAN WILLIAMS CALLS ATTACK ON SYRIA BEAUTIFUL”). It’s easy to put the devil-horns on their picture and say that they would think the dying screams of babies were like a symphony in their ears. Make no mistake, rage is the goal. It’s one of the easiest ways to get people to engage with content. Subjective emotions, especially negative ones, feed virality like nothing else.
But reality ought to trump virality. So here is the reality: just days ago, it was reported that the Assad regime may have been responsible for another chemical attack on its own people, using Sarin – a formally banned nerve agent. The effects of the gas are horrific. So far, the Syrian government has denied responsibility for these attacks, but they have resulted in even further suffering for the people of Syria. At least 70 people were killed. Children weren’t spared.
Let’s call those actions what they are. They are horrifying. They are intolerable to American values. They are an affront to human rights. That is not subjective. It is a moral observation.
Apply your rage where it ought to go; to destructive actions, not clumsy words.