Friday, May 30, 2014

Right many a nipperkin!
Or, how quaint and curious war is...

Another Memorial Day has come and gone, and as usual I was saddened by the outpouring of gratitude for those who have "served our country" in the armed forces when the expressions of gratitude accepted war as a matter of course, as something that will never change.

Obviously, a species (humanity) that enjoys warfare so much won't ever change without beginning by thinking about how to change. Rarely do people think about how war can be eradicated; instead, they tend to start with the premise that war is inevitable and then go from there into how they think we "should" conduct ourselves in this state of inevitability.

I can certainly understand the sentiments and pragmatism that lead someone to want to be prepared for things. But I find it troubling when the larger idea is meant only with this insistence on pragmatism that refuses to reject the violence or call a spade a spade.

No one wants to be kidnapped. As a child, I learned about "stranger danger," I was taught not to accept a ride from someone I didn't know, I was taught about safety, my mom knew which friends I was playing with, I had to be home by a certain time,  I knew that I should scream or fight or run or put my bicycle between me and the attacker...all sorts of scenarios were met in my 8- or 9-year-old head with a plan as to what I should do if I met with this imagined potential kidnapper.

No one would have ever been so absurd as to suggest that kidnapping was not completely and totally evil, wrong, immoral, sinful, depraved, wicked, whatever word you want to use. Kidnapping = bad. Kidnapping should not exist.

I don't understand why when I mention that war is evil and should not exist, I am forever met with the argument that war is inevitable, so we should thank the soldiers who fight. It completely fails to address the philosophical issue at hand. Unlike kidnapping, apparently not everyone has yet decided that war is evil, and that is what I'm talking about when I say war is evil.

This happened, as usual, on Memorial Day. From what I can tell, it's nationalism that provokes it, and this may be the largest part of the disconnect. For example, when I post on Facebook about how absurd it is to ask some young man or woman to be slaughtered in order to make rich and powerful business leaders and politicians (especially arms manufacturers, let alone oil magnates) richer and more powerful, even the most "anti-war" touchy feely hippies among my Fb "friends" chime in with arguments about how "our" freedom hasn't been threatened in our lifetimes, that "we" have been the aggressors ever since WWII, etc.  All this does is fixate on the lines in the sand that make up our nation states. (As if only nation states ever engage in warfare.)

When I cite Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum Est," it's meant to remind you that it is a vicious lie to tell someone they should be honored to die for their country. It's a crock of shit to tell someone that being torn apart by bullets or having your life forever scarred by the trauma of battle is glorious because it was for [insert country name here]. When so-called anti-war folk in the U.S. chorus their "agreement" with the idea that "Yeah, no one's really dying for their country! They're dying for oil! We're being the aggressors! They're attacking! Our politics are wrong!" and so forth, there's an implication that it would be OK if we were really sending 18-year-olds to die for their country. Some have even come out and said that: WWII was "necessary," they say, to defend our nation, so in that case our boys were really dying for our freedom! etc.

What this really means is you have zero other ideas for solving problems--and fail to recognize that WWII didn't come out of nowhere. International politics don't happen in a vacuum. Years and years of choices led to WWII, just as with any other war.  And I respectfully disagree that asking anyone to die "for" their country is any better than asking them to die "for" their country's economy, rampaging electric grid, or politicians.

...If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
      -- Wilfred Owen

Is it because people are so easily deceived that those from another nation are so different that they could really be "enemies" by virtue of their passports? There is no nation on Earth that is my "enemy." This has already been covered in poetry, too: if the German and English soldiers met up in a bar, they'd joke and drink and swap stories, but on the battlefield they're expected to shoot each other to death. It's absurd. Why can't everyone see that it's absurd?

In some way, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld trifecta of supreme evil may have at least got this part right; rather than trying the traditional nonsense that this or that nation was the U.S.'s "enemy" they just declared a war on "terror," because they perhaps knew that people in the global economy internet age are, we can only hope, getting to know more and more people from and getting more and more economically involved with other nations, which could lead to them being resistant to suddenly having to shoot and bomb those people to keep Boeing or the Saudi royal family in business. We cannot reach the day soon enough when every nation looks on every other nation with the kind of ironic friendship the U.S. and Canada share; a war between the U.S. and Canada has no place outside of a Saturday Night Live sketch.

The other large part of the disconnect seems to be in my questioning of the way we are constantly asked to revere the so-called "heroes" and the veterans who have served in armed conflict (and/or cruised through a war-zone free stint in the armed forces before going on to have their college/health care/retirement at age 40 paid for).  I can't for the life of me fathom how clapping for them in the airport or offering them a discount on their baseball game tickets or appetizers at some family restaurant is supposed to make up for the evils to which their own government has subjected them. But I can fathom exactly how this "hero" worship leads directly to more and more war. It creates an endless sanctification of the military, endowing returning vets and fighters in battle with a spiritual greatness (rather than acknowledging the real life desperation and adrenaline and fear and courage and physical effort and pain felt in those moments); it creates a culture of way-more-than-pragmatic acceptance of the concept of war; it blesses anyone who decides to join up to "defend freedom" when that is not even remotely what they will be doing; it pressures susceptible minds, minds that refuse to think critically, and even reasonable minds that simply want to do what is right into thinking that if they don't support soldiers, and they don't laud their acts out there (acts that involve war, aggressive military, atomic bombs, drones, the whole kit n' caboodle, if you will), then they the citizens are somehow at fault for daring to say "Hey, veteran -- no f------ way should you have been sent to war!"

Some people like to separate this in their minds. "I don't support the war, but I support the troops," they say, and then they have to fall all over themselves showing their "support" at parades or ball games or wherever.  I'd rather see you support the truth: that "supporting" the troops as people would mean calling off this nonsense immediately, and that supporting the seriously flawed military institutions of superpowers and empires (over the last many thousand years) just leads to more troops and superpowers and empires -- and death. As for war itself, this "ingenious" way humans have come up with of "solving" their problems? Of course that shouldn't be supported. It should be challenged at every turn.

One of the hardest (for me) misinterpretations of my thoughts this year came when someone suggested that I was failing to thank public servants who put their lives on the line because I was missing the reality that lives will be put on the line every day by police, firefighters, and many other professions, in addition to the military.

I would hasten to add: coal miners.

I am grateful every day for police officers and firefighters and other emergency responders. Not one of us who has ever flipped a light switch is grateful enough for coal miners. There is a difference between risking your life in the line of duty and having your life put on the line for you in this ridiculous "game" called war, where no lives are put on any line until the parties join together to enact their pathetic bloodbath. Why can't the world leaders (pretend) just go in a room with the board game Risk and play with green and plastic soldiers instead of wreaking real havoc all over the world with real people, real families, real lives, real torn flesh and real spurting blood?

This isn't about the U.S. military (although I'd love to see such a powerful country set a good example by putting its many resources, financial and human and university-endowed and so on, to good use finding other ways to solve problems on a global scale), nor is it about the skill and achievement of an organized military operation or the ways members of the armed forces can step in when disaster strikes with aid, engineering, transportation, and other help as needed. By all means, let's have a force ready to serve in times of emergency around the world. Let's have people trained to react, strategize, and defend against attack (like a kung fu fighter would also be able to do). Let's deploy ditch-diggers, nurses, teachers, builders, and other workers all over the planet. Let's march boldly toward every child dying of hunger or suffering from abuse and violence (including in our own towns where we live) and try to create solutions to those problems. If the U.S. or any other nation or empire wants to organize its young and able as well as a few old and curmudgeonly (I believe they're called "generals") in squadrons to rescue and create and serve, go for it.

But for god's sake, let's stop with this ridiculous notion that war is ever "okay."

1 comment:

Jerry said...

I just read this quote from Eisenhower and thought you would appreciate it, from a commencement speech he gave at West Point in 1947 - "War is mankind's most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men."