By: pbcmedia

Apr 29 2010

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Flower Photography, PBS, Robert Oppenheimer, Vietnam War


Focal Length:180mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon EOS 5D

“By July 1945, Los Alamos was ready to test its bomb. Oppenheimer sent a cryptic telegram to scientists back at Berkeley: “Any time after the 15th would be a good time for our fishing trip…As we do not have enough sleeping bags to go around, we ask you please do not bring anyone with you.” The test, code-named “Trinity,” took place on July 16. It exploded with a force equivalent of 18,000 tons of TNT. Recalling the scene, Oppenheimer said: “A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. There floated through my mind a line from the “Bhagavad-Gita” in which Krishna is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty: “I am become death: the destroyer of worlds.”

-PBS- Robert Oppenheimer

I watched the above program about Robert Oppenheimer several years ago.  Recently, I watched another PBS program on “Mai Lai”, called “the worst atrocity in American military history”.  The victims:  Vietnamese women, children and elderly in 1968.  It is a part of the always amazing “American Experience” series and I immediately thought of Oppenheimer’s above quote and the exhortations to the Prince to do one’s duty.

The disquiet in my room following this Mai Lai show has not gone away three days later.  I do my daily shooting and find the shadows and fore-shadowings even in flowers and spring.  It is a documentary that is a meditation on people doing their “duty”–One man’s duty, Lt. Calley, another man’s death.  One man’s duty, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson (US helicopter pilot), another man’s savior.

Same war, same side, same human nature: one American soldier (as well as others)  kill Vietnamese women, children and elderly and another American soldier fighting the same war, on the same side, with the same human nature, rescues Vietnamese men, women, and elderly.

How can “duty” be so different?

You can watch it online here.

©Pat Coakley 2010


**Select photographs from this blog and my wider archive can be purchased at www.patcoakley.com

3 comments on “Duty”

  1. If everybody thought for themselves there would be no need ofr “duty”. The fact that populations called be controlled with fear and then sucked into doing bad things in the name of “duty” always amazes me.
    Unfortunately there are always young guys, all around the world, who are willing to be manipulated by old guys by the logic in the poem by Bertolt Brecht below.
    “What if they gave a war and nobody came?
    Why, then, the war would come to you!
    He who stays home when the fight begins
    And lets another fight for his cause
    Should take care:
    He who does not take part
    In the battle will share in the defeat.
    Even avoiding battle will not avoid battle.
    Since not to fight for your own cause
    Really means
    Fighting on behalf of your enemy’s cause.”
    By the way, I’d recommend the movie, “Battle for Haditha”, which explores this issue.

  2. Tulip Dreams. What a stunning photo to illustrate such a sobering topic, but I see the connection. One’s “duty” is a subjective thing, and razzbuffnik is right that those in control often manipulate our understanding of what that duty is.
    If only there were better understanding of how violence begets more violence; and how fighting something often just makes the other stronger. One principle of Newtonian physics is that each action creates an equal but opposite reaction. If we applied that principle to our interpersonal and international relationships, the world might be a very different place with different understandings of “duty”.

  3. Duty seems to fall on both sides of right and wrong for some … for some reason that I don’t think I will ever be able to explain or fathom.

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