Monday, March 19, 2007

Unhappy Anniversary

Four years ago today George W. Bush, mouthpiece for the neo-cons, announced the invasion of Iraq. Last night, to recognize and mourn that date and the lives lost since then -- American and “coalition” troops and Iraqi troops and civilians as well -- about 30 of us gathered together at a local church. We held a short service in the church, but before that began we gathered in a candlelight vigil at the curb out front alongside the busy street, some talking quietly to one another, others in silent reflection, all thinking and speaking of the tragedy of loss of life and property in this war.

Mournful thoughts passed through my mind; thoughts of the many young people our nation has sent to have their sanity strained by the horrors of the experience, the many young people we have sent to have their physical health forever impaired by the weaponry they must handle and face in their daily lives; and finally, those we have sent to their deaths; ostensibly in the cause of “freedom”, but actually under the yoke of a hegemonic ideology to which the U.S. government does not give voice, because so few would follow them into war if their real ambitions were given as the reason to go.

As we stood there at the curb a young woman leaned far out the window of a passing car and shouted at us, “You’re all traitors.” Faces all around me reflected the same emotions. Our thoughts were on those young lives lost. We were collectively in mourning; gathered to honor those who, however falsely motivated, chose to put their lives on the line in behalf of their country. Among us were parents of children now serving in the military. Among us were several military veterans who had "served their country" in their own time. Among us were people who have devoted a great deal of their lives to the cause of peace in the hope that no more of our nation’s children would have to give their arms, their legs, their lives or their souls as grist to the war machine.

And this child, passing in her car, had the shallowness of perspective to hurl such an invective at those patriotic souls mourning not only the lives lost, but the honor our nation has lost through this completely unnecessary release of the dogs of war.

Later as part of the service, we each took a pinch of salt on our tongue; a reminder of the bitterness of war and the fact that we each should be discomfited by the very thought of such negativity. Mixing salt with water, our speaker reminded us of the need for all people, like dissolving salt joining with water, to seek union with all other people because in spite of our differences each of us has the same basic needs and because we are all inextricably linked whether or not we recognize it personally.

Finally, he referred to the woman in the car -- using her reaction to ask a question most of us in this little group have discussed together at one point or another in the course of our protests over the past four and a half years -- “Why is there such a strong negative reaction to those of us who try to speak of peace?” War, he said, is seen by people as a bastion of courage; the means by which one can demonstrate his or her love of country; a place to be brave and heroic; and a way to protect our freedom from threat. Peace, he said, is seen as a position of weakness; a failure to “defend” the nation and the nation’s honor.

Sadly, he’s right, but even more sadly, the common perception is totally wrong. Part of the problem is that peace holds no romantic allure. Those of us marching for peace don’t have our own flag, marching bands, bright shiny buttons or guns to carry on our shoulders like a chip to show how strong we are. We don’t offer fields of mortal danger against which the young can test their mettle. Part of the problem, too, is that there is no common history among peoples that proclaims the nobility of those who have exercised the courage of their convictions by standing in opposition to popular beliefs.

Yes we have our histories that include stories of Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi – even Christ. But for most folks the strength displayed is those stories pales beside the heroics of George Washington, Daniel Boone, Sam Houston, Sgt. York, George Patton, Douglas McArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

If some German citizen had been possessed of the strength of a Gandhi, there might have come a time when she stood out in some incident as starkly as did Gandhi in his resistance to harsh British rule or the unknown Chinese man who blocked the tanks in Tiananmen Square; when she might have stood in some Berlin street and called the world’s attention to Hitler’s having gone too far in stealing the freedom of his own people and in persecuting so many others. Then perhaps that war would have been short circuited and the world might have known peace instead of the horrible havoc that ensued. But had that been the case, would the world then have held parades each year thereafter to recognize her huge courage; her symbolic act that saved the world so much pain?

Not a chance. We can’t celebrate the avoidance of catastrophe because we can’t grasp the gravity of what has not happened. But we can wave our flags, and we can march, and we can blow our bugles and proclaim our victories when, after much horror and bloodshed, we drag ourselves home, weary from the rigors of war and proud to have once again saved freedom from the scourge of tyranny.

Too bad that tyranny only waits behind the next flag and too bad that the bugle that blows last always calls “Taps”.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M.K. Gandhi

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