December 22, 2006

Abu Ghraib "Whistleblower" Can Never Go Home Again

Sorry I wasn't more on top of this.  I didn't catch the 60 Minutes interview with Joseph Darby, the Army specialist who received the now infamous Abu Ghraib abuse photos from his friend Charles Graner and decided that the actions portrayed in the photos "had to stop."

This from Nat Hentoff's editorial on Darby:

When [Joseph Darby] arrived at Dover Air Force base, with his wife there to meet him, the Army told Darby it wasn't safe for him to go back to Cumberland, adding: "You can probably never go home." And, indeed, reported Anderson Cooper, "the Army's security assessment had concluded: "The overall threat of criminal activity to the Darbys is imminent. A person could fire into the residence from the roadway."

Darby, who left the Army recently misses his home, as does his wife. Their current residence is secret. "It's not fair," Bernadette Darby told the New York Daily News (Dec. 8). "We're being punished for (him) doing the right thing."

December 19, 2006

U.S. Inquiry Falters on Civilians Accused of Abusing Detainees

December 13, 2006

Brett Yasko: Design Stud

As some of you know, Brett Yasko ( is an extraordinary Pittsburgh-based graphic designer and artist.  He is the designer of my book, A Good War is Hard to Find.

Anyway, he's featured in this month's issue of Communication Arts, the leading trade journal for visual communications.

Please visit his site and marvel at his work.


December 10, 2006

Failures of Imagination

A GREAT piece in the Sept/Oct issue of the Columbia Review of Journalism by Eric Umansky on the way the American press covered stories relating to torture in Iraq.

If I were a journalist I would be very very pissed that I didn't write this piece.  As it is, I'm just pissed.

He spends the beginning discussing the death of two Afghan men at Bagram Airforce base, a story I deal with in considerable detail in my book.

Please, please check out this article:

New Issue of The Sign of Peace now On-line

Some of you may know, but many probably not, that I'm an associate editor with a journal called The Sign of Peace, the official publication of the Catholic Peace Fellowship (an organization dedicated to raising a "mighty league of conscientious objectors.")  Their Website is a wonderful resourse for anyone interested in pacifism and conscientious objection.

I have a brief backpage piece in the latest issue.  It's a spin-off of the chapter in my book on Hiroshima.  Check it here: 

December 07, 2006

Great Review in the Pittsburgh City Paper

Thanks to Bill O'Driscoll for his review.  He really captures the essence of the book (if I do say so myself), which is difficult considering I'm all over the place.

Check it out here:

My favorite part is the last three paragraphs:

...Griffith was in Pittsburgh recently to lead a seminar at the 412 Creative Nonfiction Festival. Now 31, and back at Notre Dame as a teacher, he's tall, sandy-haired and unassuming. As with any good essayist, you can hear him thinking on the page; yet in print as in person, the boyish Griffith exudes the humility not necessarily of a trombonist (which he was in Pittsburgh with Johnsons Big Band) but of someone who has some pretty good ideas about the world but is asking your help to work through them.
A Good War is Griffith's first book; it grew out of a shorter, self-published version by he and Yasko that Yasko submitted to Soft Skull. Drawing a line between the news on our TV screens and the movies on our theater screens is an old endeavor. Griffith says he hopes to move the conversation beyond vengeance, rage and insensibility.
"My belief is forgiveness is going to trump everything," he says. "If you're going to radically reform culture, there has to be reconciliation. Changing not just minds but hearts."

December 04, 2006

Job Search Driving Me Crazy

Don't want to name names (that would be unethical), but this job hunting stuff is making me paranoid.  I keep having dreams that my cover letters all have typos and that I sent the wrong letters of recommendation to the wrong school, etc. ect. etc.

My wife is feeling it too.  We were driving in the car today and she said, "I just had an image pop into my head of a sandwich being cut with a pair of scissors."

November 30, 2006

A Refreshing Word About Suffering

Sorry for the ironic headline.  It seems that's the only way to get people to think about suffering.

The link below is to a great little article by James F. Keenan, S.J. in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.  I came across this while doing some research for upcoming job talks (presuming I get interviews at MLA and then get invited for a campus visit).  My book draws upon some premises in Elain Scarry's The Body in Pain, a real doozy of a book dealing generally with pain and its effects on humans and specifically with torture.

Anyway, Father Keenan's emphasis is on the importance of listening to those who have endured suffering, instead of trying to intepret their pain for them--explain it away using theological interpretation.  Victims are denied voice, as Scarry discusses at length in terms of the way pain stifles the voice, or at least makes it incoherent, and they must be allowed to voice their own story freely.

Keenan feels he needs to raise this caution because many Christians try to interpret suffering and what its purpose might mean for those who have suffered, for example Catholics trying to improve Christian-Jewish relations by trying to make sense of the suffering Jews endured during the Holocaust.

Keenan admonishes, quoting Marcel Sarot, instead of asking how can we make sense of this suffering we must ask, "How can we prevent that Christianity ever again can provide fertile soil for anti-semitism and kindred movements?"

November 27, 2006

Peace on Earth?  Not in Our Subdivision!


November 19, 2006

Standing up to "Bully"

elow is a link to a brief article concerning the latest violent video game sensation, "Bully," in which you are enrolled in a tony Northeastern boarding school and must fend of upper-crust bullies through violent means.

Darcia Narvaez, Assoc. Prof of Psychology at Notre Dame says of the game:

One might think that standing up to bullies makes a good game, but not if you are using violence to stand up to them,” said Darcia Narvaez, a University of Notre Dame psychologist who researches moral development in children and the effects of violent video games on them.

The most powerful effect of violence on users is the hero using violence to meet a goal, especially if it is humorous. This type of violence is more likely to be imitated when seen, and particularly when practiced repeatedly.”

Though “Bully” doesn’t involve any blood or killing, fist fighting in the game is almost constant, with one test-gamer reporting that he engaged in 400 fights by the halfway point of the game.

“With violent video game play, children learn to associate violence with pleasure when they are rewarded for hurting another character, and this undermines moral sensitivity,” said Narvaez , director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethical Education.

November 12, 2006

60 Abu Ghraib Photos Leaked to Sydney Paper

November 06, 2006

Photograph with the Enemy

University of Pennsylvania's president, Amy Gutmann, hosted a Halloween party at her home and was put upon to take a photo with a student dressed as a suicide bomber.  The student, Saad Saadi, wore camo pants, a package of fake dynamite strapped to his chest and carried a toy gun, which he used, according to the story, to stage mock executions around campus.  The photos are circulating through cyberspace on Facebook and have gotten president Gutmann in hot water.

Those of you who have read my book will immediately grasp the relevance of this story.  In a middle chapter of my book (which is excerpted at Killing the Buddha I write about attending a Halloween party and encountering an aquaintance--a guy I had a class with once--dressed as Charles Graner, so-called ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.  He wore rubber golves, glasses, had trimmed his mustache to approximate Graner's and carried a sandbag and a Polaroid camera.  (Check out the excerpt to see how the situation played out for me.)

Let me reflect on the U Penn situation via my own experience. 

First of all, it's important to point out that at the party I attended, now two years past, no one recognized the costume for what it was.  There was no discussion among the party-goers about the tastefulness of the costume.  There was no whispering behind his back or nervous laughter, at least that I saw.  Not that lack of  recognition on the part of party-goers absolves either Saad Saadi or Graner for their poor taste, BUT the root of the problem here is the photographic record of the decision--both the student's decision to wear the costume and president Gutmann's decision to allow her picture to be taken with him. Deciding whether or not a picture of the moment is worth making is an interesting moral conversation in and of itself. John Berger, in his essay "Understanding a Photograph" agrees that a photo, the actual thing itself, is a statement:
"I believe this moment is worth capturing." Therefore, a photo is a reflection of our moral vision.

BUT is it inherently immoral to take such a photo when it is clear that the intent is to create a memento, a conversation piece to show others? Unsure? Well, what about when it is probable that the photo will be widely disseminated to potentially millions of 18-22 year olds via Facebook, a faddish yet extensive online social network as integral to college lifestyle as a cell phone, IM screenname and wireless laptop? Now we're getting closer to the line, and closer to the reality of picture taking today. If you want to become infamous, just take a photo or a video of yourself doing something tasteless, idiotic, pornographic, or all three, and put it on your Facebook/MySpace account or YouTube. Within days your deed will have circled the globe several times over. But, again, is such behavior immoral?

The short and long answer is "No."

The photographs taken of Saad Saadi create moments that are meant to be seen as transgressive in that they resemble or mimics other images we have seen, images of actual militants brandishing weapons and actual executions. This similarity creates a moment of reckoning for the viewer, a moment where the awfulness of the original image is commented on by the reinactment. In the case of Saad Saadi's costume the suicide bomber is ridiculed, made to look like a fool now he is seen in the absurd context of a Halloween party standing next to the president of Penn, who is dressed a a princess, or fairy, or whatever she is sypposed be. The ultimate effect of scary costuming is thus achieved: All of a sudden the bogeyman isn't so scary anymore now that we've seen him for ourselves and we realize that he has no power over us.

Be this as it may, such an explanation does not negate the fact that many may be wounded by such images, especially the images that depict execution style killings, in particular the one in which Saadi appears to be reading the Koran (although it looks suspiciously like the green-covered New Testaments campus preachers distribute) while another party-goer kneels before him as though waiting to be shot. Clearly, the Islamic faith is being indicted. Saadi may honestly (however, naively) believe that he has not impugned Islam, but this reveals his ignorance of how religious people of all Abrahamic faiths feel about how they are represented in popular culture. This sensitivity toward religious peoples is rejected because of the perceived damage and destruction religion reaps--such a corrupt institution does not deserve reverence. But, again, Saadi would probably deny such a blatant attack.

A quick glance at Saad Saadi's website reveals the kind of intellect we're dealing with, an intellect that despite his Ivy-League pedigree is woefully common among young men these days. One link on his page takes you to YouTube and dozens of clips of an amateur "Fight Clubs," in which scrawny kids in boxing gloves try to beat one another up. Another link takes you to video footage Saad took himself. The majority feature him in different settings make masturbatory hand gestures.

With this in mind, it's difficult to give him any credit for putting together a "transgresssive" costume. He just desires to be contrary, which is irresponsible, though not immoral, given the current global climate.

What should be the punishment of idiocy and irresponsibility? Having being part of a similar situation--although I am not president of a university--I would say that these moments catch you by surprise. You want to believe that what you are doing has very little consequences. However, I found that the consequences were, for me, personal and caused me to reflect on my own complicity not just in this kind of Halloween shenanigans but how actual images of pain and suffering change us.

November 05, 2006

A Great Quote from Thomas Merton

I'm writing this review for the Merton Seasonal, a little journal put out by the International Thomas Merton Society, and I really want to incude the above quote but just can't find the room, so I give it to you.

In a letter to Fr. Dan Berrigan:

In the beginning I was all pre-contemplation because I was
against trivial and meaningless activism. 
But now I have been told that I am destroying the image of the
contemplative vocation, when I write about peace.
  In a word, it is all right for the monk to break his ass
putting out packages of cheese for the old monastery, but as to doing anything
that is really fruitful, that is another matter altogether.

October 30, 2006

Killing the Buddha

Killing the Buddha, the "religion magazine for people made nervous by churches," has published an excerpt from Good War.  Check it out and make sure you stay to read their other high-quality articles and essays.

Thanks to Peter Manseau, the editor of KtB, and author of Vows and coauthor of Killing the Buddha with Jeff Sharlet, editor of The Revealer,

Check out this blog

Very interesting blog run by Jim Johnson titled "(Notes On) Politics, Theory and Photography"--right up my alley. 

He wrote and called my attention to a post he wrote on my book.

Thanks, Jim

He writes:

I find Griffith's stance in many ways persuasive, but also remain deeply skeptical. He repeatedly chastises Americans for mis-understanding or mis-interpreting what it means to inhabit a "Christian Nation." He at several points calls attention to the literal ignorance of American Chirstians, many of whom when questioned cannot, for instance, name the ten commandments. But I find this narrative of authentic Christianity despoiled by those who are inattentive to or ignorant of its teachings too easy. Here is Griffith: "Nations cannot be Christian, only individuals. And while it may be true that all those who believe in Christ are united in one body, they quickly find themselves at odds with one another, divided by those things that belong to Caesar." The problem for me is that the differences in political and social outlook among various sorts of American Christian cannot be attrbuted simply to the distractions of this world - as though there would not be differences in interpretation and doctrine absent such factors. Any cultural system (of which a religion is one variety) will be contested and contestable for all sorts of internal reasons. Such differences, it seems to me, invariably will play themselves out in politics.

I disagree that religion is just "any cultural system," but I take his point and appreciate it very much. 

October 28, 2006

Nice mention on the National Book Critics Circle Blog

October 26, 2006

War is Love....War is Porn

A fascinating review of Clint Eastwood's latest, Flag of Our Fathers at

I haven't yet seen the film, but the trailers I've seen on prime-time TV make it seem that this is another shallow glorification of the Greatest Generation's sacrifices.  Robert Nylan, the reviewer, and a veteran, seems to think this film transcends such ultimately damaging pap by "telling it like it is."

But the line from the review that makes me want to see the film is: 

"Maybe there's no such thing as an anti-war movie. On some basic level, it's all war porn." 

October 23, 2006

Reason and Faith at Harvard

Coincidentally, this op-ed appeared in today's Washington Post by Father John Jenkins, president of the U. of Notre Dame and Thomas Burrish, the university's provost.

The op-ed draws attention to a recent decision by the Harvard curriculum committee to begin offering more classes that explore the "role of religion in contemporary, historical or future events--personal, cultural, national or international," in order to point out that the ways that Notre Dame is already doing so and invite secular scholars into dialogue with scholars of faith.

The Fragmentation of the American University

This just in... A very interesting essay by Alistair MacIntyre, prof of philosophy at Notre Dame, on the ways that American Universities (even Catholic ones) are failing to address the important questions pertinent to human beings due to specialization amongst academics. 

Such specialization, he argues, obscures the connections between disciplines, places that need to be studied and understood in order to adquately address the rifts between positions and cultures.

October 19, 2006

Review in TimeOut Chicago

Below is the link for the first print review of my book.

From the review:

...Asking key questions about the state of our country’s faith and humanity without the crutch of an agenda, this book is a massively forceful piece of criticism.

5 out of 6 stars.

October 17, 2006

Abu Ghraib More About Porn than Torture

Republican Rep. from Conn, Christopher Shays,  said in a Wednesday debate against his Democratic opponent Diane Farrell, that he believed what happened at Abu Ghraib was not torture, but the actions of a "sex ring"--more about porn that torture.

However, when pressed about his remarks Shays captiulated:  "I was maybe not as expansive as I needed to be," he said. "Of course, the degrading of anyone is torture. We need to deal with it."

General Says Abu Ghraib Officer Lied

Not a big shock, but the lack of attention the story is getting on the major news outlets is astounding.

Good Question: To What Extent Does Art Help to Change Political Realities?


Abu Ghraib in Paint

An Article on a traveling exhibition of Columbian artist Fernando Botero's series of paintings based on the Abu Ghraib prison photos. 

From the article:

Naked figures writhe in an eerie darkness. Vicious beasts bare their teeth and snarl. The faces of lost souls cry out in unimaginable agony, forced into strange and contorted positions reminiscent of crucifixion.
Such a vision evokes a scene of the apocalypse typical of 15th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. But no, these paintings by Colombian artist Fernando Botero are depictions of real events. Despite their hellish subject matter, they are all meticulously based on photographs and press accounts of the torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003.
It seems hard to credit, but Mr. Botero says the pictures, which many will undoubtedly view as a scathing indictment of American foreign policy, are not meant to convey a political message.
Although he admits that President Bush "is not my favorite president," Mr. Botero says art has no effect on political realities, adding that his work is merely a relic to be looked upon by future generations as evidence of events past.
"You just leave a testimony," he said. "It's something that comes from the heart. It's something immortal that moves you to do your work."

October 13, 2006

Soldier Hoped to Do Good But Was Chaged By War

Check out this article in the New York Times.

A born-again Christian from Washington  who claims to have gone to Iraq to serve his country and God and began to doubt if he was serving either.

From the article: 

He said he saw American soldiers shoot and kill an unarmed Iraqi teenager, and rode in an Army Humvee that sideswiped Iraqi cars and shot an old man’s sheep for fun — both incidents Sergeant Clousing reported to superiors. He said his work as an interrogator led him to conclude that the occupation was creating a cycle of anti-American resentment and violence. After months of soul-searching on his return to Fort Bragg, Sergeant Clousing, 24, failed to report for duty one day.

October 01, 2006

Flannery O'Connor in the Age of Terrorism

I'll be giving a paper at a conference this weekend in Grand Rapids, MI at Grand Valley State U.  The conference is uncannily titled, "Flannery O'Connor in the Age of Terrorism"  Fits right in with what I've been writing about.

Tonight I sat down to make sure I know what I'm going to say.  As usual, I started reading another book instead: Archbishop of Cantebury, Rowan Williams' book of essays, Grace and Necessity.  His chapter on Flannery O'Connor is perhaps the best thing I've ever read concerning her work that treats her Catholicity as the reason for her consistently soul shaking brilliance, instead of pointing to it as her tragic flaw.

Williams points out that the irony famously associated with her work can hardly be helped.  The irony in her work is the greatest irony: Humans made in the image and likeness of God yet tend toward evil.

I'll be talking about this irony and its relationship to Grace--the notion that God extends invitations to deeper intimacy with Him through unexpected encounters.  Because it is inevitable that Humans tend toward evil, irony, although unhinging, should not be looked to as an end in itself, but as a surface indication of a deeper spiritual disturbance--a starting point rather than impasse.  

This is what it means for art to empower depth of sight.

Today is Good War's Official Release....I Promise More Posts!

October 1st.  

This is the official release date of the book.  Let the reviews begin...I hope.  

It seems that Good War will be reviewed in the New York Times Book Review.  No idea when.  That's just the hunch at Soft Skull Press because the Review asked for a finished copy.  

Time Out Chicago is reviewing it sometime in the next week or so.

I just downloaded this gadget for my Mac that lets me post to the blog without going to the site  and logging on.  This should lead to more posts.  So keep it tuned here.

September 21, 2006

Flattering Words from Lo-Fi Tribe

An excerpt from a review at Lo-Fi Tribe (, a hip blog dedicated to religion and theology maintained by Shawn Anthony. He's a seminarian studying to be a minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church:

David Griffith has produced one of the deepest critiques of contemporary American culture I have read to date. He did so in less than 200 pages....I was moved by the author’s ability to totally avoid the familiar rhetoric and party lines owned and wielded by the twin sides of a culture war whose participants miss the big picture entirely. This is especially impressive considering the inspiration of the book: Abu Ghraib. Griffith, however, holds up Abu Ghraib as a mirror in which we can honestly see our state as a nation of collected and individual selves.

Click on the title of this post to see the entire review.

Thanks, Shawn.

September 08, 2006

Abu Ghraib: the Last Great American Movie

The other day, Peter Manseau, editor of Killing the Buddha sent me an email with this quote from author Michael Tolkin's interview in the New York Times:

"I don't think America's had a good movie made since Abu Ghraib," Tolkin said, before clarifying that he's talking about big movies, not the minuscule ones that have met the industry's quotas for unembarrassing award nominees. "I think it showed that a generation that had been raised on those heroic movies was torturing. National myths die, I don't think they return. And our national myth is finished, except in a kind of belligerent way."

It's difficult to know whtat exactly he means by this, but I'm taking it as a statement about the provocative nature of the images and the way the images call the audience to reflect on not only the character of the American military but their own character, their own response to such images. Let's face it, very seldom do American films provide such a critique. "Boys Don't Cry," the fim that dramatized the life and death of Tina Brandon comes to mind, but I can't think of others off the top of my head.

This got me thinking about ground that I wanted to cover in my book (A Good War is Hard to Find) but just didn't have the space or the time. Might there be a connection between a national cinema that boldly deals with issues of pain, suffering, war and peace in earnest (unironic) ways and the peacefulness of that nation's people? I'm going to need some help from international film experts on this, but my instincts are leading me to think that there might be some truth in this.

The absolute dearth of American films critquing violence as a means of conflict resolution leads me to ask:

Is it plausible that American cinema is responsible for the degradation of a culture's moral imagination, its movement from a nation (prior to WWI) that looked upon war as a barbaric solution to a nation that largely supports violence as a means of achieving what is in the nation's "best interest"?

It's hard to know exactly which films Tolkin is critquing in his statement, but let's take a look the 1980s, since that was when I was doing my first movie-watching. Consider Rambo (especially part 2) Friday the 13th (and its interminable sequels and imitators) and Indiana Jones; in each, violence and identity stand in interesting relation.

Rambo II: Rambo wants to get even with American policy-makers who botched the Vietnam War by sending the cartoonish Army-of-One, Sly Stallone back into Vietnam to kick some Vietcong ass. Pauline Kael's review is a hilarious read as she skewers the film not only for the its crude appeals to the barely pubescent (Arrows tipped with explosive charges blowing up helicoptors) but also the disgruntled vets with not-so-subtle Christ imagery and troubling lines such as, "In order to survive in war you have to become like war." In effect, the film celebrates vigilante justice, critiques American foreign policy makers but, ultimately, further projects the myth that America's strength lies in its rugged individualism. Thus, we see the logic of the U.S. Army's current "Army-of-One" ad campaign: Entice a generation of young people cagey about authority to enlist in the military, a decision that signs away your civilian rights, by telling them that they will become "somebody"--the ultimate fighting machine.

Friday the 13th: Although intended as cheap thrills for teens, through the lens of Tolkin's comments, becomes a series of films that shows us teen on teen sex through the eye holes of a hockey-masked (he was badly burned as a child) serial killer who's pissed off because he's badly deformed and his mother is dead. This formula continues to be bankable, so much so that contemporary American culture is inundated with similar plots and images. There is an odd sickness in American male culture that makes us interested in the violent assault of beautiful woman. Men both revere and wish to protect beautiful women but also punish them for being so beautiful and therefore beyond attainment. Violence becomes associated with the sexual urge to both love and conquer at the same time. (Brett Easton Ellis' "American Pscyho" most recently and infamously explored this issue.)

Indiana Jones: While the most dear to my heart is, nonetheless, a film that portrays bearded men in turbans (Muslims) and men with sinister German accents and monocles (Nazis) teaming up to use the Ark of the Convenant, one of THE most powerfully holy relics to Judeo/Christian thinking, to, ostensibly, wipe out the Jews and the Americans. Hmmm.

What do these films have to do with Abu Ghraib, torture, and the American public's authorization of violence? Well, based on the research done by sociologists and psychologists on what motivates torturers, such films aren't necessarily creating torturers. On the whole, torturers see what they do as a job, a job that would be unncessary if only the subject would talk. Though this may be the case, it seems that Abu Ghraib is not so much about state mandated torture (although the boundaries of what is what is not torture do seem to have been intentionally blurry), it is about young people whose moral consciences did not cause them to balk and a citizenry that failed the same test.

Film studies folks have been thinking about the roots of misrepresentating the "other," and "problematically" totalizing the complexity of cultural identity, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. through the deployment of a subtle visual rhetoric, some of which is conscious and some of which is, arguably, subconscious. These scholars hold that film can call attention to such problems. Just look at countries along cultural fault lines, such as Irish and Mexican film: both deal quite literally with borders and the violence that erupts as a result of the tension between perspectives. In these films the violence is understood as symptomatic of deep social undercurrents.

The explication above is just a beginning, but I think it starts to get at the sinister undercurrents in American culture: how sex, violence, nationalism and religion are connected in the American psyche. The Abu Ghraib seem to be a nexus point for thinking about these connections in the American subconscious and how the connection influences the American mind.

August 22, 2006

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts

I just got done watching Spike Lee's new HBO documentary, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." My wife, who was born and raised in Slidell, just across the lake from New Orleans, a community equally hard hit by Katrina, had to get up and leave the room because she thought she might have a panic attack. That's how striking this documentary is. And I'm pleased to report that Lee achieves this without taking any of Michael Moore's effective yet impudent (adj 1: marked by casual disrespect; "a flip answer to serious question") tone. Moore's brand of mock naivete and sass isn't appropriate here. And why not? I kept wondering as I watched. Why isn't Spike narrating over top of these images? I kept waiting for his now iconic voice--that kid-trying-to-be-cool voice that I first heard in Air Jordan commercials back in the late 80s--to come in with that hip-hop politico swagger, but he restrained himself. And what a difference it makes.

Although there are some moments where the nice is twisted, particularly at the beginning when Louis Armstrong sings "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?" over top of stock news footage of the inundated city. For me, this is the big question that the documentary is asking me to grapple with. The photos and news footage gathered from CNN and other networks ask us to review the evidence and ask: Can you fathom this? How could this happen? Human beings left for four or five days without food or water at the New Orleans Convention Center and on interstate overpasses. Armed mobs blocking the Crescent City bridge so that inner-city New Orleanians cannot seek shelter in their white enclave.

What results truly is a requiem, a solemn service to the dead. In short, Lee has done this right. He has jazz musician and composer Terrance Blanchard as a talking head and a contributor of original music for the soundtrack--one that doesn't just--again, like Moore--ironize, but that rounds off the sharpness, the sting of the photos in such a way that doesn't feel sentimental, very much anti-CNN. After all, sentimentality, according to Flannery O'Connor is "an early arrival at a mock state of innocence," a condition that leads to obscenity rather than actual grief.

It is grief that a requiem, in its very structure and solemn pageantry, is meant to provide a proper outlet. It is is meant to affirm the gift of life even amidst doubt and darkness. Without having seen the second part, which airs tonight on HBO, it's too soon to say where Lee will leave us off, but I suspect we won't be let off easy.

Lee's documentary reminds me of a classic of the genre, Harlan County, USA, in which poor white coal miners and their families eek out an existence in a place that looks like a Sebastio Salgado photograph. Similarly, "When the Levees Broke" shows America to be not so different than your typical despot-ruled third world country: concerned primarily with wealth and war.

August 12, 2006

Book is Out, Apparently

Well, it seems that the book is out. Finally, after many delays and false alarms and sabotage attempts--no lie--by disgruntled employees of at the printer in Montreal, the book is, apparently, in warehouses all across the country. I say apparently because has changed the status of the book's availbilty from "We have no fricking clue. Good Luck!" to "In Stock."

And,also apparently, the book is selling. As of this morning, tells me, there are "only 3 left in stock" at their warehouse. I'm hoping that this means hundreds of copies have been shipped to the four corners of the earth; although, I suspect that several dozen are heading for Perrysburg, Ohio--where my parents live.

The next step is to place some excerpts from the book in various places to promote more sales. So far I have leads with Killing the Buddha , the award-winning online website for those who aren't exactly atheists but aren't exactly believers either and The Huffington Post, the online political and cultural news clearing-house. This last lead has an interesting wrinkle in that the editor I've been working with is passing my book on to John Cusack, who, she told me, expressed interest in the premise of my book. Apparently, she was talking with John at a party at Arianna Huffington's house one evening and mentioned my book to him and he--who has just finished shooting a film in which he plays a guy whose wife is killed in the line of duty while serving her country in Iraq--apparently--said, "I'd liked to check it out."

Weird. Wonderful.

July 08, 2006

Review in the National Post of Canda

Randy Boyagoda, author of the forthcoming novel "The Governor of the Nothern Province" (Penguin Canada, September 2006), chose Good War for his Hot Summer Reading list. Below are his kind words:

A Good War is Hard to Find by David Griffith (Soft Skull). This slim study of violence and visual culture in America explores the cultural conditions that prepared the way for the Abu Ghraib photograph scandal. Two elements rescue the book from banal American self-hatred and soft lefty self-righteousness: first, Griffith's idiosyncratic involvement of Catholic social teachings in his approach to cultural critique; second, his first-person reckoning with the wider problems that the Abu Ghraib images signal, which admits a personal culpability in their creation as much as it accepts a personal responsibility for their correction.

Thanks, Randy! I highly recommend his novel. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of it recently. It is that rare breed of book that begins as ambitiously as it ends, not shying away or taking the easy way out when confronting the complex issues of racial prejudice, assimilation, local politics and the manners of an entire nation.

May 03, 2006

Final Blurb for Book Compares Good War to Merton

Got the last blurb for the book just before the "drop-dead" date--the point of no return in publishing lingo--from Greg Wolfe, editor of Image, the only literary journal dedicated to Judeo-Christian art and artists. Click on the title of this post and check out Image's Web site.

Here's what he said:

David Griffith is a writer to watch--politically engaged and bitingly funny, but never shrill. His passion for social justice is grounded in his understanding of art and religion-two forms of vision that, rightly understood, increase our awareness of irony and ambiguity rather than stifle them. This combination of talents and interests is rare indeed: Griffith is working the same territory as Thomas Merton in books like Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander and Seeds of Destruction. In short, this is cultural criticism with a soul.

Highest Ranking Abu Ghraib Officer to Date to be Charged

Amnesty Says Abuse in U.S. Detention Facilities 'Widespread' Despite Denials

March 28, 2006

Sr. Helen Gets Standing "O" at Valpo

Went to see Sr. Helen Prejean last night at Valparaiso University. Man, she's a force of nature. I definitely was on the verge of tears a couple times. I picked up her new book, The Death of Innocents, and had her sign it. I also thanked her for blurbing my book. More later....

March 27, 2006

Toronto-Based "This Magazine" Gives Good Review

The first review of my book is out from This Magazine, a well-known and long running Toronto-based alternative magazine of politics and culture. Below is the review by Brian Joseph Davis.

The Jam once ambivalently sang, "A smash of glass and the rumble of boots, an electric train and a ripped up phone booth, paint splattered walls and the cry of a tom cat, lights going out and a kick in the balls ... that's entertainment." It's a sentiment also echoed in Davis Griffith's first person essay, A Good War Is Hard to Find.

Focusing mostly on the strangeness of the Abu Ghraib torture photos and '90s-style transgressive culture, Griffith's thesis is that society is suffering a disconnect between its feelings and the images we produce. As a subjective essay, A Good War takes its time in saying what it wants to say, but Griffith's impassioned and always-questioning mind makes the journey worthwhile. Even if you disagree with him (as I do), take comfort that someone is asking uncomfortable questions about what makes what worthy of humour, or disgust.

Not bad, huh? "Impassioned and always questioning mind"--I can live with that. I'm happy that he's honest in his disagreement of the thesis. Go to This' Website by clicking the title of this post.

March 15, 2006

Haunting Photograph: Abu Ghraib Icon or Political Opportunist? is reporting that the New York Times got the wrong man in its front page feature on the alleged man-behind-the- hood in the now iconic photo from Abu Ghraib prison (see the orginal article here: Click the title of this link for the Salon account.

It seems fitting that the identity of this man is hard to pinpoint. I don't know why I think that. I guess it's as though that this man--whoever he is--is a sort of bogeyman, an apparition that embodies the horror of the Iraq war. Just as the tomb of the unknown soldier in any country touched by war inspires mournful respect and reflection, the photo of the unknown torture victim inspires frustration and anger. As Donald Rumsfeld said: "Those pictures never should have gotten out." It's safe to say that Susan Sontag was right: "Photographs haunt."

March 13, 2006

Death of a Christian Peacemaker a "Wake Up Call"?

The Catholic Peace Fellowship ( has a
number of wonderful posts up at the moment. Check out the lovely post about
the death of Tom Fox, a member of the Chrisitian Peacemaker team that was
kidknapped months ago. The post takes on pundits who believe the murder of Fox is a wake-up call for "naive peaceniks" who feel they can make a difference by going to Iraq--or wherever strife exists--and acting as an instrument of Christ's
peace. Also check out the CPF's posts on the ROTC debacle at Marquette University.

March 04, 2006

Times Op-Ed: Use of Dogs at Abu Ghraib Understood as "Legal"

An Op-Ed by ex-Army interrogator ANTHONY LAGOURANIS published in the February 28, 2006 NYT discusses how confusion among soldiers, and double-speak on the part of top brass, as to how detainees at Abu Ghraib should be considered (POW? Enemy Combatant? Insurgent?) lead to following through with orders that are clear violations of the Geneva Conventions.

March 01, 2006

What It Takes to Be a Conscientious Objector

The Catholic Peace Fellowship has a great story (click on the title of this post for the story) about a soldier who applied for Conscientious Objector staus, got it, and then was Honorably Discharged from the Army. Now the Army is trying to change his discharge status to "General," which would deprive him of many benefits, like the GI Bill. Click on the link at the bottom of the story to see excerpts from his statement of conscience, which is needed in order to make a successful bid for CO status.

Which gets me thinking: Wouldn't it be great to gather together statements of conscience and put them together in a big book? What would you say in your statement of conscience?

Gay Porn Used in Guantanamo Interrogations

The Nation's blog is reporting on an ACLU report in which FBI agents conducting interrogations at Gitmo witnessed the use of Gay pornographic films as an interrogation tool. Click on the title of this post for the whole story.

Since the beginning of the war we have been hearing allegations that the military's plan of attack against the "Islamic male" is rooted in an understanding of Middle Eastern culture's sense of shame, specifically when it comes to sexuality. The Abu Ghraib photos seem to support such allegations of a systematized approach to "softening up" detainees.

However, the fact that the ACLU is breaking this story doesn't bode well for its acceptance as "fact." In my experience, here in the middle west, the ACLU is given no more cred than a grocery store tabloid.

How do we combat such prejudice?

February 23, 2006

Radical Nun Big On Book

Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, which was made into a film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, is the first to offer a blurb for my forthcoming book.

Below is the email she sent me.

Dear Dave,

We need your book.

All the best...

Sister Helen


Griffith offers gripping personal testimony to the difficulties of living out the Christian imperatives of love and forgiveness amid a culture that legitimizes government violence as the only "real" way to establish social order.

Short and to the point. Punchy. I hope my book lives up to it.

Click on the title of this post to see her website, in which she argues persuasively for the abolition of capital punishment. And while you're at it buy Dead Man Walking:

February 21, 2006

Here's a number to remember: 14,000 reports that there are over 14,000 Iraqis incarcerated in U.S. military prisons.

Perform For Us All that We Love and Hate

The title of this post is phrase I wrote in the margins of Susan Sontag's "Regarding the Pain of Others" while researching my book. It just sort of popped into my head. I think it came about from thinking about this passage from Sontag:

"All images that display the violation of an attractive body are, to a certain degree, pornographic. But images of the repulsive can also allure. Everyone knows that what slows down highway traffic going past a horrendous car crash is not only curiosity. It is also, for many, the wish to see something gruesome. Calling such wishes "morbid" suggests a rare aberration, but the attraction to such sights is not rare, and is a perennial source of inner torment."

While I take issue with Sontag's thesis from her New York Times Magazine article, "Regarding the Torture of Others," that what happened at Abu Ghraib was due to America's porn addiction, there is an aspect of the abuse that is related to the experience of porn. This is where I think the title of the post comes in. The allure of images that show a violated body, especially images of sodomy and rape, comes from a deep desire to participate in such acts but knowing that they are morally and culturally wrong. As a result, we have men like Charles Graner using detainees as proxies to act out these pornographic fantasies. So the photos allow for a "safe" gratification of these urges while debasing and punishing the detainees.

Bagram Airbase Case Being Tanked

Tim Golden, the New York Times Pulitzer-winning journalist who has been covering this Bagram Airbase story, must be pissed. He's been reporting on this well-documented, seemingly open and shut case of abuses (and, frankly, murders) at an airbase in Afghanistan that happened in December 2002, before the Abu Ghraib abuse ocurred.

The linked article, which came out last week, reports that every one involved is getting off with either a slap on the wrist or time served. Check out this interview with Golden: First With "New" Abu Ghraib Photos

Well, first an Australian news service puts out some never-before-seen (by the public at least) Abu Ghraib photos and now

The implication in the new photos, as far as I can tell, is that the use of nakedness and sexual humiliation is/was/is systematic and is/was/is communicated from the top down.

Investigators from the Army revealed "a total of 1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse, 93 video files of suspected detainee abuse, 660 images of adult pornography, 546 images of suspected dead Iraqi detainees, 29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts, 20 images of a soldier with a Swastika drawn between his eyes, 37 images of Military Working dogs being used in abuse of detainees and 125 images of questionable acts."

This is a heck of alot more images than I imagined existed. The implication here is that early allegations might be right: photographically documenting the abuses was part of a systemic regimen of psychological tactics designed to wear down the "Arab male." It just seems like way too many images and videos to be the work of some sadistic shutterbugs with a lot time on their hands.

I still stand by assessment, which appears in my forthcoming book in a chapter titled "City of Lost Souls," that the actual taking of such photos constituted an act of power and control over the detainees that reestablished the guards' sense of just-world thinking. This is one of the tactics torture states use to retain their torturers--they find ways of demonizing and dehumanizing the enemy so that the torturers feel they are carrying out necessary work against an evil foe. Peter Suedfeld's "Psychology and Torture," a source book on the Psychological dimension of torture and torturing, is a must for anyone trying to understand this phenomena on a more clinical level. It contains articles by several of the most prominent thinkers in this field.

January 04, 2006

In the Same Breath as John Stewart?: Book's Cover one of the 50 Best

I got this email from the designer of my forthcoming book, Brett Yasko ( )

Hi David

We went to New York City to see our book in AIGA’s “50 Books, 50 Covers” exhibition.

At the beginning of the exhibit was a “Chair Statement” from Cheryl Towler Weese and I wanted to send you the final paragraphs of it:

“Four politically activist works are of particular note, and others pepper the group, representing the full range of production values: America (The Book), A Good War is Hard to Find, NorthSouthEastWest, and the opulent Something Lived, Something Dreamed. Books like these, in particular, are an encouraging reflection of contemporary American culture – the way we live, work and think – as well as the state of American designers’ ambitions and ethics. To paraphrase the artist and critic Johanna Drucker, there’s a critical question these designers have asked themselves in taking on these projects: ‘Who are we designing for, and to what ends?’

“What we design reflects what we deem important – and the doggedly persistent flourishing of the book industry and book design leaves me optimistic.”

A Room of One's Own

Here's a shot of my "office." I'm doing this as a test. I got a digital camera for Christmas, and I'm trying to figure out how to upload photos.

Let me narrate: The bulletin board bears a few motivational images. The first is a photo roster of my students, which reminds me that they're counting on me to know what the hell I'm doing. The second is a black and white photo (maybe by Richard Avedon) of my man John Cheever sitting on a set of stone steps looking haggard. It reminds me that drinking and writing are a dangerous mix. The last is a Polaroid of Flannery O'Connor's grave stone in Milledgeville, GA. (My wife and I went there last Christmas on our way to visit her folks in Louisiana.) Kind of morbrid, but she's still my biggest literary crush.

"Visionary" Soft Skull Publisher Richard Nash Wins Indie Publishing Award

On December 22nd the Association of American Publishers awarded Richard Nash, publisher of Soft Skull Press, the Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Indie Publishing.

From the citation:

A judging committee representing a cross-section of the publishing industry selected Mr. Nash based on his tireless and visionary work at Soft Skull Press. Mr. Nash single-handedly took a struggling company and turned it into one that has become synonymous with excellence in literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Mr. Nash has demonstrated a remarkable ability to find and publish exciting and challenging new works as well as skill and creativity in getting his titles noticed, reviewed and publicized. Soft Skull titles have been featured and reviewed by national publications including The New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly and Vanity Fair, and on television programs such as “The Today Show,” “20/20” and “48 Hours.” The Neighborhood Story Project, a community documentary program in New Orleans, garnered national attention as well when Mr. Nash and other printers donated printing services and published books by four young authors.

“I think of an award like this as a symbol of something much larger than the individual recipient. It's a celebration of the remarkable ecology that is independent publishing and it is an honor to be, for a moment, representative of that beautiful ecology,” Mr. Nash said of the honor. Jed Lyons, President of Rowman & Littlefield commented, “Miriam Bass loved creativity in people, especially when it was in service to the book business. Miriam would have heartily approved of the selection of Richard Nash who is one of the most talented and audacious people in our industry.”

A bit of transparency necessary: Richard and Soft Skull are publishing my book A Good War is Hard to Find early in this new year (April 15th or there abouts).

Congrats to Richard and the crew at Soft Skull. Check them out at Be sure to browse their blog as well.