Monday, March 22, 2010

I Try to Justify My Lack of Attention to Things Like the War

(This is turning out to be another one of those interminable posts to write that I am going to have to cut off in the middle in move on, and which reveals clearly that the main reason I don't write about the war, or health care, say, is because I don't actually have anything to say about those things. As far as I can see there are three primary reasons people fight succesful wars: the prospect of really improving your position in an exciting way if you win, consequences too severe to be borne if you lose, or in the defense or expression of religious fervor. Doing right by humanity is perhaps the noblest motive, but I am not sure how much of a motivator it is on a large scale over a long period. In short, I don't think that seven and going on nine years on in the conflicts, that any of these enthusiasms are much in play for the American army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the situations there merit being properly designated as 'wars' any longer, in spite of the violence and ongoing military activity. But if the purpose of our being there is to impose certain unconditional concrete objectives, and we for whatever reason cannot or will do it after seven years so as to end the war phase of the operation utterly and begin the occupation or exploitation or whatever is the object, it is really impossible to me to see how this is ever going to end the way it is supposed to.)

When your last name is "Surrender", you don't have a lot of credibility as a commentator on war and the lives of professional soldiers. At the same time I feel that there is a certain amount of demand from various sides on the war debate for me to declare or acknowledge publicly from time to time where exactly I stand on the matter, mainly I suspect so that those who are much more invested in it in their day to day lives know whether they are dealing with an enemy or not. The other day I received, from a person whom I have fairly well for some years, a forwarded e-mail of the "Remember the Troops" variety of which I did not like tone. This person has at least two grandchildren, one of whom is female, in Iraq with the armed forces at the moment, so this was not something that was simply done to provoke me, though it did anyway, because, though this sort of thing is not unusual in grueling and endless conflicts like these in which our nation is currently involved, its combination of inanity and hostility towards the recipient was much more inspiring of revulsion than the shame or even the sympathy and thousand-times-over-gratefulness towards the men in combat that I am guessing was its intention. I will type it out below just to give the idea:

'Your cell phone is in your pocket.
He clutches the cross hanging on his chain next to his dog tags.
He knows he may not see some of his buddies again.
You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.
He patrols the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.
He's told he will be held over an extra two months.
You call your girlfriend and set a date for tonight.
He waits for the mail to see if there is a letter from home.
You hug and kiss your girlfriend, like you do, everyday.
He holds his letter close and smell his love's perfume.
You roll your eyes as a baby cries.
He gets a letter with pictures of his new child, and wonders if they'll ever meet.
You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything.
He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.
You hear the jokes about the war, and make fun of men like him.
He hears the gunfire, bombs and screams of the wounded.
You see only what the media wants you to see.
He sees the broken bodies lying around him.
You are asked to do something by your parents. You don't.
He does exactly what he is told even if it puts his life in danger.
You stay at home and watch TV.
He takes whatever time he is given to call, write home, sleep and eat.
You crawl into your soft bed, with down pillows, and get comfortable.
He tries to sleep but gets woken by mortars and helicopters all night long.'

I know it is an easy target, but this is just terrible. First of all, I am a forty year old quasi-adult, with four children, who would probably get arrested if I even tried staring at the pretty girls on the beach, who also has an (I hope) at least slightly higher than 9th grade education level, so why send me this kind of claptrap in the first place? And whatever people think about the war, who is making fun of the soldiers? Anybody who is is only going to be egged on further by this kind of missive. Look, I do feel for those young people in harm's way, especially those who--despite what the propagandists tell us--have at best a vague idea of where they are or what they are doing there, 'patrolling the streets at night, searching for insurgents and terrorists' and 'You only see what the media wants you to see' aside. I'm all in favor of getting them out of there, where, by most accounts by the way, they are considerably more of a threat to the local population in most instances than the locals are to them. I will leave alone the circumstance that our armed services are volunteer and professional force with a long history of active engagement that many people believe is one of the few organizations with a truly positive influence on the lives and characters of young men and women left in our society--i.e., the upside of military service is so great as to in many ways counterbalance its extreme downside, a quality that is even hinted at in the little piece I have copied above. I am not sure how much I believe this, but it is not to be doubted that one meets plenty people who attribute various of their outstanding personal qualities to their stint in the military. Many people are very adamant about the extent to which we would be beset by endless danger and insecurity if not for the tireless vigilance and skill of our military, quoting Kipling ('makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep') and all that. Well, for one thing, I'm not sure that guarding and invading countries on the other side of the world with a million men can be reconciled as more or less the same thing quite that easily. I need to go into this whole concept more too sometime, but I have to move on from this post.

There is a scene in the movie, and I presume also the book All Quiet on the Western Front where the main character goes home on leave and finds his father and the other middle aged men of the town down at the local beerhall with the battle maps spread out over all the tables aching to be young again in order to be able to get a piece of the French themselves. This was presented in the film as disgusting, but I often feel when I get sent something like this that it is the kind of sentiment the writer expects people to have. Among the many odious actions of the Bush White House in hyping this war was the insistence that everybody--the government, the media and the people--ought to be behaving as if it were 1942 again, which was incredibly offensive on about a hundred levels beyond the fact that it was a lie...

I am sorry. I hope someday to have more time to hammer out some of my feelings about the pummeling and ever-increasing disgrace the collective persona and intellect of the American body politic has been subjected and subjected itself to over the course of my lifetime. It's 2:21 am. I started this a week ago, and I'm going to leave it as a work in progress...

No comments: