Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wartime Reflections—and a Poem

From the very beginning, in the latter days of 2002, there were influential voices warning that a war in Iraq was neither justified nor smart. There were doubts about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and repudiations of the Saddam-al Qaeda connection. Progressives and some Democrats consistently said it was the wrong war at the wrong time. A majority who spoke out against it, including many in anti-war groups, argued that it diverted attention and resources from the more important Global War on Terrorism.

Thus, the “forgotten war” in Afghanistan became a theme among critics of the Iraq fiasco, as if Bush should at least have finished that one before starting another. “Where is bin Laden?” these people frequently asked, reminding their ever more-sympathetic audiences that Bush has not even managed to bring the (alleged) perpetrator of the 9-11 attacks to justice.

Very few, either in 2001 or since, have dared to suggest that attacking Afghanistan was itself a remarkable blunder.

But now, with the front in Afghanistan heating up again and so much obviously having gone wrong in Iraq, attention has come to focus on mistakes, with numerous investigations underway in the new Democratic Congress to find out who’s to blame for the mismanagement, corruption, and abuse of power that has brought us into this quagmire overseas and crisis of constitutional authority at home, as critics predicted would happen in the first place.

Especially in the spot light now is the burden the war is placing on the troops and their families, including the shocking neglect of the wounded, in what seems to be a case of classic hubris, with too little forethought given to an undertaking rooted in blind ambition.

Curiously, though, while blame intensifies and proposals for correction abound, no one among the vast majority of squabbling politicians and the journalists who report on them is questioning War itself. The very few who do, who argue for an energetic Peace effort—funded at even a fraction of the Department of Defense budget for a year—are simply disregarded in discussions carried on in the echo chambers of power.

Yet how many millennia of history do we have to experience before we come to recognize that War is a self-perpetuating state of mind?

How long before the realization dawns that by accepting War as an option we commit to War as a way of life?

How many stories of people dying in battle or coping with mutilations must be reported before we question the cause of the suffering?

How long before we recognize that so much of poverty, disease, and ignorance in the world is the inevitable consequence of concentrating most of our energy on arming ourselves against perceived enemies?

Yet surely the greatest enemy is the one in our hearts, who chooses—whether consciously or unconsciously—to accept enemies in the first place. I have come to believe that enemy can be reformed, but without support from the culture it will only happen through repeated negative experiences over a long period of time.

Here is a poem on this subject I wrote recently and perform on occasion at spoken word events. Its inspiration comes from a memorable dream I had when I was a little boy, though it reaches well beyond that dream to allude to much in my life since. It represents my attempt to penetrate the uneasiness which follows every young man—and, now, woman, too—of “fighting age” in a planetary civilization which, I dare say, suffers from a severe addiction to the dead-end drug of War.

Life After War

I have always been a soldier,
I have always gone to war
and considered nothing bolder
to satisfy my young man’s ardor
than to strap a weapon to my shoulder
and report for duty, one time more.

In lifetime after lifetime, then,
no sooner do I come of age
than here’s the call for all good men
some foreign insult to avenge
or domestic treasure to defend
by rising up in righteous rage

and joining battle, I with my mates,
my closest comrades, my sworn brothers,
without loyalty so much to state
as to each other, and to the hate
we bear enemies who dare berate
our way of life, learned from our mothers.

O shit!
I’m hit! I’m hit!
Do I fall down?
Help me!
I am agony!
I can’t sustain!
My stomach spilled upon the ground!
My brain disrupted!
Bomb blast of pain!

Life? Yes!
I remember now!
Oh, no!

And down the dark gullet of death I am swallowed
as the last throbs of shock and pain surcease.
Yet even in Earth’s fertile womb I am followed
by instincts deep-rooted and solemnly hallowed
to obey orders first, never to wallow
in regrets about war or longings for peace

but to rise to the call, get in line for rebirth.
“The next war is coming, up and at ‘em, my boys!
This one will give you your money’s worth!
All aboard to return to the history of Earth!”
I resuscitate, though I feel no mirth.
Asking no questions, I prepare to deploy.

Because, strange as it is to have to say,
I’ve never really been awake—
never felt my life in an eternal way,
extending like an endless ray—
but for those brief moments in a war-torn day
when death illuminates the life I make.

Yet after death by club and stone,
by arrow, spear, broad axe, and sword,
by bullet, bomb, even robotic clone,
who nuked me with a cellular phone;
after drowning at sea far from home,
burnt like bacon, hacked, and gored,

a new thought slowly dawns on me
like sunshine sneaking through black thunder.
When terminal pain proves a fantasy,
sidelining me only temporarily,
death is not really a remedy.
So...the pursuit of war must be a blunder!

I thought this at the age of eight,
long before recruiters came to call,
which gave me time to incubate
a plan to save my soul from war,
until, with officers at my front door,
I slipped away through an upstairs hall,

down a flight of servants’ stairs,
out a window behind the kitchen,
up a shaky scaffold of garden chairs,
and over the wall beyond the pairs
of opposites—of joys versus cares,
of an enlightened age versus this one.

When I look back now on all my deaths,
I see no honor, just earth soaked in blood,
and marvel at how I was so compressed
that the only way I could express
the storm of passion in my breast
was, over and over, to die in the mud.

Not that I regret my past.
Destruction, at least, is negatively creative
when souls who more easily fight than dance
kill the bird song of life with mortar blast.
But it’s the bird who’s the true iconoclast,
singing songs from the silence to steer home a native.


At 1:28 AM , Anonymous lou in lancaster said...

hi d,
i've been visiting regularly and i must say i look forward to each new post.
the latest on the concept of "war" hit me. your insights are at once revelatory and affirmative. i've been thinking a lot lately about what a world without a concept of "evil" would be like. so by extension, the what ifs of a world without the concept of "war" intrigue me. i believe you're right when you say that when we even entertain "war" as a possibly viable alternative we program ourselves to live a life of "war".
your poem is moving and fresh and on the mark. i love the way you've always reminded me of deeper truths that i know i already know but have somehow forgotten or ignored... thank you.

At 11:54 AM , Blogger Delaney said...

Thanks, Lou! I've been ruminating on the concept of evil, too. Many people--maybe most people--insist on it. Trouble is, evil is usually something you generally see in someone else. Maybe that's the key to understanding what it is and how it gets such a popular rating.

Anyway, instinctively, I don't believe in evil, or, rather, I tend to think it's an illusory concept, like a shadow cast by a light when you're standing with your back to the source. It's a poor or inadequate interpretation of the data. The best advice I ever got on the subject came from an early mentor I met long ago, Ammon Hennacy from the Catholic Worker. He said people aren't evil but what they say and do is often evil. In that sense, I think you can say war is evil but not soldiers or commanders or politicians. I find that to be the truest thing I've come across yet on the subject and I also think it best describes how I feel.


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