Friday, December 04, 2009

Finishing my play, the last lap...and listening to the news. The war, the escalation of the war, 30,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan as early as May.

Cooking rice and salmon and brussel sprouts I felt so sad. Not angry--I know there are liberals who are angry at Obama, who feel disappointed that he's the one approving the troop build-up. I voted for him and I don't feel betrayed by him. He never promised perfection and I didn't expect it. He promised an improvement on the Bush regime and he's more than delivered that. And let's not forget that he inherited all these problems, Iraq and Afghanistan and the tanking economy. It's not like he woke up one morning and decided to invade. We were already there.

That said, the war makes me sadder than the recent set-backs for gay rights in New York. That was disappointing and I feel angry about it but not hopeless. Gay marriage is a reality whose time has come, and I feel confident that within the near future, probably five years or so, it will be a nationally legislated fact and everyone will wonder what all the fuss was ever about. So it makes me mad when someplace like New York--whose economy is fueled by gay people, hello?--doesn't get it, but I don't feel hopeless. In fact, maybe anger is a way of expressing hope, because to be angry means you believe things should be different--and that they can be different. And I do, and I do.

With the war, I feel hopeless. I don't know how we're going to get out of this mess. It brings back Vietnam all over again, viscerally, the dying and killing, the endless suffering. And I don't have any easy answers like I do for opponents of gay marriage ("Get over it!") I've come to think that simple pacifism is meaningless unless we can come up with good alternatives.

I've come to see war as so linked to the problems of unemployment--we "only" lost 11,000 jobs in November, the New York Times reports--what are we going to do with all those young men and women who can't find a way to support themselves, who have no meaningful way to launch into adulthood? Why does the Army look attractive to them, despite the horrific injuries people come back with, despite the roadside bombs and the PTSD, despite the mounting casualties, and the horror stories?

I am the daughter of a woman who had a poster declaring "War is not good for children and other living things" taped to her front door for oh, thirty years. It was only taken down after her death and by then it was frayed and the Scotch tape which had held it in place was yellowing and cracked. And here we are again.

I agree with that poster. War is a nightmare for children. The Iraqis have lost a whole generation to low birth weights, to trauma, to disrupted schooling, to collateral damage, to malnutrition and easily preventable diseases. Children there have witnessed atrocities and lived through terrors that would crack the psyches of hardened adults. Their whole lives have been forfeited to this folly. (Note: Go and see Tony Kushner's amazing play, Only We Who Guard the Mystery Will Be Unhappy, featuring Laura Bush reading from The Brothers Karamasov to a group of dead iraqi children. Devastating.) How do we even begin to reckon the cost of these wars? What could be the compensation?

So I'm not saying that I support the war in any way. I'm just saying that the books I've been reading and the movies I've been seeing and the thinking and writing I've been doing have led me to see the soldiers who volunteer to fight in a more complex, nuanced light than I did before. There is such a thing as warrior energy and it must be channeled for good.

When I was 22 I served a year in VISTA and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I think a year of service to one's country for all young people is a good thing--service in the sense of fighting poverty, building schools and homes and hospitals, tackling some of the major problems we face and digging into it. During that year my fellow VISTAS and I lived on $75.00 a week. We were poor but we were young and could share a bedroom and eat beans every night. Meanwhile we were getting invaluable experience.

Maybe such a program wouldn't work for everyone. Certainly there were issues with the administration of it. Some kids dropped out--it wasn't Shangri-La. And, honestly I don't have answers for the greater questions of what to do about terrorism, or Al-Quaeda. I don't know of a non-violent way to meet those threats. Investigating this stuff has left me with more questions than answers. And my heart is heavy with it all tonight.


Leonard Nolt said...


Thanks for your thoughtful post. I appreciate it. I would like to comment on one sentence you wrote; "I've come to think that simple pacifism is meaningless unles we can come up with good alternatives." That comment seems to reflect a common assumption of people, that is a pacifism response to conflict situation means that one does nothing. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. A pacifist is one who refuses to use violence to try to resolve a problem. In the realm of warfare between nations it gets more complicated, of course. However Gene Sharp in "The Politics of Non-Violent Action" documents scores of historically proven peaceful ways of resolving conflict between nations or other factions. Does a peaceful response always "work?" No, it doesn't, but James F. Dunnigen and William Martel in "How to Stop a War," point out that more the half the wars fought never resolve the issues that cause the war. So most of the time violence, including military violence doesn't work either. I think the "good alternatives" you wishfully write about already exist and have tried and proven. We don't use them because corporations don't make money off off them. Those "good alternatives" don't have lobbyists. In reality they may not work if we're using our military to steal resources from other countries, to bully weaker nations, or if we have a president as in G. Bush, who wants to be a war president. But if used in a just manner for defense they're as reliable as a military. I've written about war and peace and other conflicts on my blog "The Cambium Level" at if you want to read more.

Thanks again;

Leonard Nolt
Boise, Idaho

Anonymous said...

Memorial Infinity

During this Holiday Season, please say a quiet prayer for all our service men and women whose lives were lost fighting wars and for all the innocent victims of these struggles. These beings lie in gardens all over the world. Pray for peace and an end to violence. Thank you.

Anonymous said...
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Jessica said...

Hi Alison--I remember Aunt Cari's poster. It was always the first thing you saw when you got to your front door. Thanks for the nostalgic memory, within a poignant post. Love you!