We are sad to report that Michael Kelly, The Atlantic Monthly's editor at large and former editor, was killed Thursday night in Iraq. The magazine will release a full statement shortly.
This is up on the Atlantic's site. It's the first I'd seen of it. I'm sure most of you have read Kelly's pieces; I certainly have read a lot of them. He was a good writer and reporter and he talked a lot of sense. It's a damn shame he's dead.
This is going to sound puerile, but Kelly's death sort of personalizes the war for me. I can't pretend to love every individual person in the world; that would be impossible. I sincerely hope that all the billions of people I don't know will have a chance to live and try to be happy, but it's hard to deal with people in the abstract, like, say, the number of people killed in the Yemeni civil war (5000-15,000) that they had a few years ago. Now, that's half the people in Leawood, Kansas. That's a lot of people. But I didn't know any of them and while I'm sorry they're dead, I can't say that that one particular horrible episode is keeping me awake at night.
But I know Michael Kelly. I've been reading his stuff for years. He's always been one of the guys from those middlebrow political magazines, you know, Gregg Easterbrook, Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan, Robert Kaplan, Mark Steyn, whom I would read anything by, even if it was titled Save the Nuclear Drug-Free Manatees. I've probably read at least one Michael Kelly piece a month for I don't remember how long.
Well, that's something I won't be doing anymore. Now, I never met Kelly, and he never heard of me, of course. Still, though, celebrity deaths affect us because they change our individual lives. When John Belushi died I, selfishly, was devastated because it would mean no more funny John Belushi stuff. Same with John Lennon. Those guys made up part of my life, just like my friend Jim from across the alley and my grandma and my idiot cousin Robbie. (Robbie leads the world in getting himself somehow stuck without a car. Either it's broken-down out on the Interstate or he's run out of gas or he's been picked up by the cops again or it's been towed away or he got drunk and forgot where he left it. All this Robbie-vehicle mess has probably cost his parents ten thousand bucks.) Undoubtedly the Princess Diana frenzy was partly caused by her daily appearances in the national press, which denuded her psychologically to the degree that most folks probably knew her better than they did their own husbands or moms or kids. Losing her took a big chunk of their lives.
Now, of course, Michael Kelly did not occupy the same place in my heart that Princess Di occupied in the hearts of millions, but I'll never read any new stuff by him again. A small piece of my life is gone. My perspective on the war is different because I now know somebody who got killed. It makes me think of all the people who volunteered to go out and get shot at and maybe die. I hope they all come out all right, and I hope we don't kill any more innocent Iraqi people. I think the Anglo-American leaders, both political and military, have done an admirable job in limiting the number of dead innocents; this is the first time a blitzkrieg--and this drive on the enemy capital, bypassing surrounded enemy units and cities with armored attacks and total control of the air while infantry moves up behind and secures the rear areas, is pure blitzkrieg--has been fought with the conscious objective of minimizing casualties to innocents. I hope that our leaders will continue with this policy, and that they will choose the manner of taking Baghdad that will do the least damage to the civilians. (I'm no expert, but I vote we try to hold the Republican Guard out on the plain south of Baghdad if Saddam is dumb enough to keep throwing them at us and kill them there rather than within the city, which is exactly where we do not want to fight.) Let's don't kill anybody innocent on purpose, OK? We're trying our best not to, and I think we've done a very good job so far. But every single one of these people who are killed leaves a hole in other people's lives much bigger than the one Michael Kelly leaves in mine. Got to keep those holes in people's lives to a minimum, OK, guys?