The dichotomous marriage of....war & belief
Someone pointed out a quote from the book the other day...just a random chord that was struck in another mind. That of course being the whole purpose of literature in all its many forms. As I have said in the past, this isn't just an occasionally funny book about raising racehorses in a mad, mad world. It is really two stories. The first is about hiding out, the second is what happens when you are finally brave enough to stick your head above your well-defended trench. Yeah, the view is not exactly what you expected.
"She was the only one who stuck around. Played the sidelines. Delusional it seemed, at least to me. Not willing to give up on her youngest son -- or the greater truth of his son and his daughter dematerialized by a lie. Wars do that though -- they corrode the foundation of hope in those poor souls unwilling to live inside the facade. They don't see killing as the necessity of war, just the killing. Semantics. The difference between a casualty and a victim? None. They're both dead. Those left animate inhabit the shadows of what was, or perhaps never was, in a constant, almost frantic re-enactment of a single moment. And those who love them stand outside the circle -- seen and heard, but never really acknowledged. And the mothers and grandmothers of those shipwrecked children memorialize the evasion under the selfish guise of saving the wounded, when they should have really been saving themselves."
Wars do not end with the laying down of arms. They continue for generations, much like the slow radioactive decay of a uranium isotope -- still deadly 10,000 years after its creation. Yes, the woman was my grandmother, her son my father -- a corpsman in western Europe during World War II. I was already a teenager before their presence was known to me. The grandmother stood at a distance, the father having long since vanished into the forests of the terminally wounded, where death seems to take forever...and is forever.
And why is this? Nobody ever seems to address that question. We like to say, "Oh, he has PTSD, you know." "He drinks to forget." "He was wounded and got addicted to morphine." "His best friend was killed...horribly it seemed." "He's weak, that's all."
We take young men and women, at a time of their awakening maturity and we teach them to be great warriors, to kill the enemies that lurk just beyond the horizon. They are told great tales of duty, honor, devotion to country and cause...tell them God is on their side. We've educated them you know...history and social studies during the week, the Ten Commandments every Sunday. Follow God's word...unless it doesn't seem to be working. Then, just feel free to kill that other unknown bastard who just received the news that God was really on his side. Hmm. Kind of like football, only nobody ever scores a touchdown or really regains what was left of their sanity.
To conduct warfare at its best (or worst), one either needs absolute morality or none at all. Those on the cusp will forever relive the lie as justification for their actions. That is because most religions paint a portrait of duality -- right and wrong contained in a fundamental belief. These institutions cannot exist, or for that matter embrace the mantel of faith through ambiguity. So, "thou shalt not kill" is an absolute. "Thou shalt not kill Tuesdays, between 11:00 and 2:00 o'clock" won't fly. Neither will the "rules of engagement," the "Geneva Convention," or "crimes against humanity." We are talking about war. The whole purpose of warfare is to be more willing than the opposition. To destroy, to maim, to kill until the other side is exhausted by the fight. Right or wrong went out the window right after the first shot was fired. It is now a game of survival for the participants -- and flag, country, agendas...causes -- no longer matter. If you happen to win, you can hang all the so-called criminals you want, but you better save a length of rope for yourself.
America itself has always seemed to have a good supply of willingness, but not much sustainability to back it up. We tend to like our war conducted from a distance. We get all huffy about something, wave the flag around and then try really hard not to notice the body bags piling up. So, we jump into conflict fast, get burned and sneak back home after the 11:00 news broadcasts. And of course, we're always right. Just ask the idiots that sent our young folks into harm's way under the inventive banners of "Shock and Awe" "Operation: Desert Shield..." Why not, "We're Gonna Piss Down Your Throat," and simply add a country's name at the end. At least it would be honest and we wouldn't have to be excusing our bad behavior when the whole mess is finally concluded.
But perhaps the biggest contributor to America's rather skewed interpretation of war lies in the fact that this country has never experienced all-out warfare on the home turf. Not modern warfare, conducted in the streets, school yards or the parking lot at Costco. Where everything and everyone is fair game in a grotesque carnival of absolute madness. Where all infrastructure, resources, security and protection -- all knowns are bartered in exchange for mere survival. Where ordinary people are forced to make heroic, as well as horrific choices. From the Epilogue:
"She was raised in Nazi Germany, in the very vortex of a world war, where the vulgar intentions of ordinary people carried the plague of uncertainty, depravity and annihilation to the front steps of your house. If you had a house. And perhaps that is where the truth really haunts the facade, for war is an erratic and disturbing canvas, and all that is supposedly real or deemed sacred or held closest to the heart is declared false or capricious and violently swept away. And what intangibles are offered for sacrifice when one person has nothing left to lose and the maelstrom asks for more? Perhaps it is here, at just such a point, that the soul tries to stand alone, and for once, falters at the task. It is by chance the crossroads where God and humanity no longer have anything in common."
Just a few thoughts for a Tuesday.