Web of hate

Charlie Lawrence recently got a full, bitter taste of the hate and fear that runs right through the middle of our public discussion.

And all he did was go to the Internet and pass along some thoughtful images provided on the Web site of an Alabama teenager.

“Why don’t you go live with the Taliban,” was one of the responses.

“It was just the most hateful, hateful things,” says Lawrence, who lives in Johnston, R.I., and is occasionally heard on talk radio.

I can relate. One of the fascinating things about the Internet is the ease with which any one of us can tap into the ugly tangle of hate, fear and suspicion that seems to shape so much of our national standoff.

Say, for example, I write a column questioning the competence of our president. And the column gets syndicated. In what seems no time at all, I can hear from people in Florida, Oregon, Ohio, California, questioning my patriotism, intelligence, manhood, military background, parentage and educational credentials.

Sure, some people say “right on” and others try to rationally refute my opinion. But the overwhelming response is from those who, like Charlie Lawrence’s correspondents, react with a desperate, venomous, online bomb toss.

What makes Charlie’s experience so weird and twisted, though, is what prompted the harsh, hateful response. It was not a review of George W. Bush. It was the images on the Web site peacetakescourage.com.

The images, presented to a musical background, include military funerals _ sons and daughters, mothers and fathers and wives and husbands reacting to the ultimate price of war. In other words, they are the images our government has worked so hard to keep from public view.

“I just wanted to put it out there and ask people to think about it and maybe discuss it,” says Lawrence.

Not a chance. Not here, not now. Think about it? Discuss it? Surely, you jest.

Even the young girl who created the site has reportedly felt the sting of angry people who simply don’t want to see or hear anything that threatens their rock solid hold on what’s really American.

“Keep this (expletive) to yourself,” was one of the more punchy reactions that Lawrence received.

“You need psychiatric help,” was another.

One woman identified herself as a Christian and pointed out that those in the coffins had volunteered to serve. So, I guess the Christian view here is: You sign your name, you take your chances, so don’t bother us with those sobbing kids at their parents’ graveside.

“It’s ignorance and fear,” says Lawrence. “People don’t want to confront the face of what we’re doing.”

It’s become a national exercise. It might be an anonymous phone call, an anonymous letter, an obscenity-laced e-mail with all that comfortable distance between sender and receiver.

It might be a call to one of those radio shows that continues to thrive on rib-jabbing revivals of Chappaquiddick and Hanoi Jane.

It’s not going to get better. A new age of enlightenment is not close at hand.

People are hunkering down, covering their eyes and ears. They’re definitely not checking in with peacetakescourage.com.

At the end of all those heart-wrenching scenes of grief and sorrow on the Web site, these words come on the screen:

“We’ll never forget their courage and patriotism.

“We will not rest until our troops are brought home.”

Those are words to think about _ if you really want to.

(Bob Kerr is a columnist for The Providence Journal. E-mail bkerr(at)projo.com.)