The sky is raining down hard, we expect a “king” tide flood at the time I am supposed to be driving north, and I should be asleep as I type this. I am thinking backward and forward. I will not get back to sleep.
I think about war and how it is wound and stain. I wish I could explain myself better.
During WW2, my father served in France and Germany. He earned a Purple Heart and insisted he would probably have lost his leg if not for penicillin. My mother’s sister served in San Francisco, working with military personnel returning from and leaving for the Pacific theater. My father- and mother-in-law both served in the Southwest. They would marry in Roswell, where some people believe beings from outer space landed. People will believe such tales.
During the second Gulf war, we believed in weapons of mass destruction, even though UN investigators on the ground were quite certain that they did not exist. They didn’t.
During the first Gulf war, we were told babies were being tossed out of incubators in the maternity ward of a hospital in Kuwait. That lie was invented by an American PR firm and testified before Congress by a person with ties to people who had a financial and political interest in leading us to war.
It is always like this. War is great for business. War unites us. War solidifies national pride. It distracts us from what matters most. It gives us an enemy. Korea. WW2. The Great War. Spanish American War. Remember the Main. Rallying cries built on lies.
Some men such as Teddy Roosevelt believe war is ennobling, many believe that a uniform conveys automatic heroism. Such an adrenaline rush! Powerful men are eager to send others off to war because they will profit. Some advance their political futures with the blood of other people’s children. Some look forward with religious zeal to the coming Rapture. (A reminder that these last call themselves Christian.)
“May the best man win.”
The best man win? He won’t. He almost never does. I have heard that line spouted all my life, but it’s true only in the narrowest sense. Fastest on the day in a race (unless he’s using drugs, unless, unless unless), perhaps, but fighting is an irrational determiner of righteousness. War does not determine the “best” of anything, merely the biggest, best armed, luckier.
The allies did not win WW2 because they were righteous, because they were better. They won because of superior firepower. It might have gone the other way. If Hitler had won, would that have made him “best”?
I knew someone who got all the way to Vietnam and realized he was a pacifist, successfully claimed CO status, and got home again without killing anyone. The great poet William Stafford was a CO in WW2. The actions of these men required tremendous courage. Instead of the knee-jerk reaction to praise soldiers, perhaps honor those who refuse to kill on command.
I know, I can hear the “but-what-abouts” hustling up in all our minds. The Nazi war machine was an abomination. But it is not so simple. Life is not about our team versus their team, a sporting event with clear winners. In war everyone loses, except those powerful men making money in the back room. And everyone, weak or strong, win or lose, everyone sins. The Allies also committed atrocities. Warriors always do. Brutality, murder, rape, theft, torture—always in war. War makes us mad. War makes us ruthless. War makes us cruel. We commit unspeakable acts in order to win. We always do. We should admit that. Instead, we make excuses, we praise and hand out medals. We hide truth. We should acknowledge what war means to other people’s children. And to our own.
You cannot trust battle to reward the “best” of anything. War hurts everyone it touches. Those defending their homeland will go beyond what seems possible in acts of sacrifice. Those with bigger bombs will kill them anyway. Superior firepower is not determined by who is better, but it determines who wins. And both winner and loser suffer destruction.
Allow me to say it again: War destroys good people. War is a violent crime. Fighting in any war is damaging. Monstrosity does not happen to everyone, but those who fight are invariably injured even if they come home walking because we ask them to do something deeply immoral: kill other human beings. We struggle afterward to justify killing, to tidy away the inconsistencies, to hide our horror at our actions, to deny our trespasses, to minimize awareness of lingering destruction. (My student’s father came home whole-bodied but forever lost in his mind.) The uniform does not convey heroism to those safe playing music in Utah, recruiting in Seattle, training pilots in Arizona. They are free to pump themselves up for their service. They are safe. No one escapes battle unwounded.
We are all supposed to admire those who “sacrifice” to keep our country safe. But now, late in my life, I want a greater sacrifice. I want us to abandon this ridiculous notion that battle serves justice. I want an end to the pretense that all members of our military are automatically heroes. The lives of those who fight are ruined. I want that ruin recognized, that lasting ruin of those who survive. I want an end to the destruction of people’s children.