Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is 30 years too long to remember?

I used to have a sign in my office that said the average adult attention span was 8 seconds.  I put it up as a joke, but it is frighteningly real.  Even though in the time it takes to walk from my computer to the kitchen, I have often forgotten what I wanted and stick my head in the refrigerator looking for inspiration, I did not want to believe the little sign. 

I decided to check my second favorite site for inspiration, the Internet.  According to Statistic Brain website ( the average attention span is indeed 8 seconds.  This number is confirmed by  They also say the average attention span of a gold fish is 9 seconds.  I don’t know about you, but I find that insulting.

The good news is that there are different types of attention spans.  After 8 seconds we do not go wandering around in confused bewilderment, but go back to the task after a momentary thought of something else.  All right, so we don’t wipe the slate of our minds clean every 8 seconds, because attention and memory are not the same things.

That is something that mainstream media seems to forget.  They tell us about a news item, and we seldom get to see how it ends.  What were the repercussions?  Who was affected?  Did they catch the bad guys?  We get our 8 second sound bite and the camera moves on, seldom to return.

How long is memory?  Thankfully, longer than attention span, but still not very long—especially for unpleasant things that happened to someone else.  After a certain (or uncertain) number of years many of people who actually remember the worst events that happen in our world begin to disappear, and the events themselves blur into romantic celluloid [does anyone even remember what that word means?] quasi-remembrances that have lost the horror and terror, rather like ghost stories told around a campfire.  That’s fine for events like the sack of Rome, or the hordes of Khengis Khan thundering across Europe, or what happened to Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted, but I don’t want it to happen with things that I remember so vividly that reading about them still brings tears to my eyes. 

Thirty years ago this month as many as 3.500 civilians were massacred in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila located in Lebanon.  Unspeakable atrocities were committed and an Israeli investigation concluded that the then defense minister and later prime minister Ariel Sharon bore “personal responsibility” for failing to prevent them.

These deaths should not be forgotten so easily.  The men and women who believed they were under the protection of greater forces deserve better.  The babies who will never reach adulthood because they were victims of the massacre deserve better.  The orphans of this tragedy, many of whom are still in the first flush of adulthood, deserve better.  They still have images burned into their minds that will never fade—and so do many of the journalists and health workers who were there. 

Robert Fisk, one of those reporters, said, “Massacres are difficult to forget when you’ve seen the corpses.”  There are at least 583 videos on YouTube that come up when you search “Sabra and Shatila.”  These links: and show two of the milder videos. It is possible that all of these videos show shots of corpses—real human beings destroyed by other human beings.  Yet the images on the screen are almost as devoid of horror as they are of odor.  In one of them (not linked here), you can hear the reporter gagging as he walks through the streets counting bodies. 

No, thirty years is not so long.  “For anyone who was there, the memories are as fresh as if the killings happened yesterday,” said Robert Fisk.  How many of the children of Sabra and Shatila still wake up screaming in the night as adults?  Some things should never be forgotten.

You’ve never heard of Sabra and Shatila?  Why am I not surprised? Learn more about the facts at  The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs has more information   along with a touching letter from my friend Ellen Siegel to the IDF soldiers who were at Sabra and Shatila, published in Haaretz, Sept. 15, 2012.  Ellen was working as a nurse at a hospital in the Sabra camp at the time.  She will never forget either.


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