Saturday, September 09, 2006

Saturday in the Park

Wilfred Owen, known to some as the "greatest war poet in the English language," said among other things two things I will quote.

I hate washy pacificsts (October 1917)


If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory
The old lie:
dulce et decorum est
pro patria morire

---from "Dulce et Decorum Est"

Many Europeans, and the Japanese, and others, have
come to a place where pacifism seems to be the only thing that makes sense. The Germans and the Japanese, our former implacable enemies, are now both committed to the attempt at non-violent conflict resolution whenever conflict occurs. The following comes from a blog called Mid East Web Gateway; it is written by someone who calls him or herself a European who has lived in Israel and Lebanon.

The following has decided to shout in a huge font, I don't know why. It wasn't my choice.

I see two peoples, having lived side by side for so many decades and yet being ignorant of one another. How many Israeli civilians have experienced the charm of downtown Beirut, its busy streets and the joyful bustle at the beach, young people, yearning for life after so many years of destructive war? And how many Lebanese can imagine the sparkling life of the Tel Aviv promenade at a mild summer night? -- I see two peoples, both longing for peace, stuck together like the two sides of a coin, and yet -- complete strangers, deprived of the slightest glimpse of one another. What the Lebanese really know about Israel is air planes, tanks, devastation. And for many Israelis their picture of Lebanon is that of yes, a beautiful country, but inhabited by fanatic, Katyusha-launching Jihadists wearing explosive belts. It seems to be true that the behavior of humans is influenced not so much by reality as it is, as by their image of it. Disputes between nations are somehow a war of shadows; each side fights the image of his rival, the way he pictures him. As long as the enemy doesnt have a face, a voice, a smile, he is not human and his death does not mean anything to me. "Terrorist" has become such a convenient term.

I don't know the name of the author of the blog. Blows my mind how easy it would be to plagiarize or steal people's ideas.

At the beginning of the Bhavagad Gita two armies are about to clash and one of the would-be fighters gets all upset thinking about how kinsmen will be fighting and killing kinsmen, etc. etc.
so just knowing your enemy isn't enough to insure you won't blow him away. But it does seem that Arab and Jew have a willful ignorance about each other. Then there are certain facts about Islam, and facts about Judaism that are found to be off-putting to the other side. Jews can't fathom why Muslim women would want to be so "oppressed," and Muslims have trouble with the Jewish claim to chosenness. Just to name one example on each side. There's a long long list of reasons why Arabs and Jews can't hit it off.

However there is no reason or set of reasons to give up on the pursuit of peaceful resolution.
Just because I become irritated about some minor detail of my daily living, just because I can make a list of reasons I am not Perfectly Happy, there is no one reason or set of reasons why I should abandon the quest for inner peace and harmonious relations with my fellows.

The fact that bloody nd destructive wars can be fought in this century may indicate that humans have not evolved. Or it may indicate that there will always be humans who were born to fight and die or at least fight and possibly earn great honors--too bad about the PTSD that afflicts some--they simply don't have strong constitutions.

Everything I'm saying has been said by so many in so many ways since humans developed language. However, I don't subscribe to the "war is inevitable" camp. I think the Germans and the Japanese are more evolved than we are, or maybe they've just been through too darn much to want to put the killing machine into action again which would mean to become a victim as well. Why do some people say wars cannot be won? Some people will say wherever there's a loser there's no winner. Only one state, Rhode Island, used to celebrate V-J, or Victory Over Japan Day. Yeah, we stopped that war, but we didn't get away without feeling a little guilty. It is not a victory we can gloat over.

Weapons are the tools of violence
all decent men detest them

Weapons are the tools of fear
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint
Peace is his highest value
If the peace has been shattered
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons
but human beings like himself
He doesn't wish them personal harm
Nor does her rejoice in victory
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely
with sorrow and with great compassion
as if he were attending a funeral.

from the Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation

Can anyone read such an ancient text and get away without feeling a little



Anonymous Rae Cobbs said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Harriet. I have heard these same words in many different contexts, but not seen them set down for everyday use this way. I also recomment the website of Riverbend, a young Iraqi woman who has written about the American invasion of Iraq for the last three years. It is a beautifully written account of how the war has affected individuals living in and around Baghdad, from soldiers' and politicians' misconceptions about citizen trying to stabilize their own neighborhoods to the greedy inflation of rebuiling projects by American corporations, overlooking the ability and desire of Iraqis to accomplish the same for themselves. Her writing has been compiled into a boo, _Baghdad Burning_, which won the Booker Prize, I believe. Her work certainly deserves attention and praise--as do you, my dear, for stating the feelings that so many of us share, but fail to record. Thank you! Rae

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Rae Cobbs said...

It was a book, not a boo. I don't have my glasses on, and missed the typo. Rae

1:44 AM  
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