Ken Burns’ 7-part series: “The War.”
I freely admit to having a life-long fascination – morbid perhaps – with the machinations of the world-wide convulsions that tragically and inevitably led to World War II. “Why?” A question you might honestly ask if born of another time, perhaps another place – a separate experience of the heart and mind. Yet the answer lies deeper and travels much further than one war among history’s many. The experience, the absolute horror remains locked within the deepest realms of human perception for decades; perhaps centuries, as a generational warning to those who assume that peace begins at the moment such atrocities end. No. It lingers on the senses, in the rarely visited chambers of what we call our soul, at the ragged outskirts of our intellectual capacity, like some lesion that can only scar, but never completely heal. And quite benignly, we pass the disease on to our children and our children’s children in a never-ending cycle of an oddly perverse affirmation of right and wrong, good and evil…our god or all gods; as if such evil, such loss of our claim to humanity is external and distant from a crime we all readily committed.
And no, it is not a matter of nations, of tribes, of religions. It is much deeper, a much more personal and banal human defection. As in my family, all loyalties were severed under the screaming banners of nationalism; of borders, of a casual dismissal really, where any god’s message of compassion was redefined – usurped – brokered for the comfort and sanity found in the sweet embrace of our uniquely western definition of good and evil – black and white. The duality that excludes by a necessary force, all shades of gray. And it is here, at this point of reckoning that we would much rather welcome this orphan of madness into our home and hearth than to admit that the beast is, and always was, a child of our creation. So we nurture it, educate it in the vile contradictions of our sense of righteousness and godliness and assume, as we too assumed, that God will sort out the filth from the flowers later. And the centuries ceaselessly roll on…and on.
I imagine that I discovered this notion of god around the age of cognizance. Every night I prayed to this ghost and every morning I confirmed his disinterest in my existence. For the now-distant war doggedly waged on in the sanctuary of home…the familiar, the comfortable; more and more the trenches and bulwarks of a spirit under relentless siege. So the child quit praying to this great and disinterested god, for there was no benevolent force in this, my private and purely human world. And so it remained, for no compromise could be found, no peace to be negotiated, far too little strength left to battle the antithesis of a flawed doctrine; so embraced by so many…yet wrapped in the impenetrable veneer of a necessary contradiction.
I often believed that the conduct of war required either the highest pillar of morality or absolutely none at all. This too turned out be a convenient dismissal of a nagging rationale – in a wholly western mind – a denial of my own capacity for moral tyranny under the guise that I could actually distinguish any moral right from a litany of perceived wrongs. For the definition would remain as private property – locked behind those barbed fences of the well-being I had already chose to vigorously defend – at most, if not all costs.
However, later in this life I became a somewhat mediocre observer of the Buddhist philosophy. Not the religion, which like many others merely masks a political agenda in the clothes of social salvation; rather as a way to reconcile a long-simmering internal conflict over the necessity of a god – any such god one wishes to celebrate on a loftier, perhaps more altruistic plain. Do I need a moral compass? Not really. Would an invisible friend lessen or maybe just antagonize my existing antipathy? Most likely, particularly the latter. I already knew well the ramifications of keeping my integrity upright – felt the shallow pangs of the fool – where naiveté and self-delusion erode the high and troubled road of selflessness. But still, in those times where the heart becomes the trampled invalid of honest intentions, I would still seek out the balance desired in karmic reckoning; the currency of my realm, a metaphysical tribunal reserved for those gifted with an enduring and infinite amount of patience. And while masquerading this ploy as humility – chivalry perhaps, the darkness of night would reaffirm the lingering distrust that stood like a sentry guarding what was left of my fragile sanity. A difficult choice in a culture where the hyenas of validation swallow the prey whole and merely defecate the left-over ideals in a shallow, unmarked grave.
I know well that one life-time will not be sufficient to unravel this puzzling enigma known as the animal-human – nor this enduring propensity to continue this cancerous cycle of madness that has infected a millennium or more of human development; somehow driven along this well-trodden path -- destined (or doomed), to finally attain enlightenment, or perhaps more realistically, the deserved extinction of a hopelessly flawed specie. Will the great gods weep at our passing or simply perish with the dementia of time itself? That I do not know. Yet in spite of this greater ignorance of purpose, I have come to accept that the dominoes of apocalypse are highly personal in nature and that just maybe, the true language of enlightenment – the unbridled horses of true human happiness can be found in one simple word: “No.”