understanding war

the idea of the warrior has been very interesting to me in the last few months.

the idea.

this sentence does not mean: for the last few months, i’ve been exciting about becoming a soldier.

on one extreme, there is this image, or platonic ideal, of the noble, principled, disciplined, courageous and hopefully often victorious warrior engaged in the work of defending, protecting and promoting civic good.

on the other extreme, there is the tired, dirty, wounded soldier somewhere out on the foreign soil of afghanistan, a soldier who was, perhaps, seduced by the ideal of the warrior, and now lies there in her blood, wondering how the dickens she got herself into this, and what it’s all for.

in my NaNoWriMo book, my hero’s grandmother, bumbda’a, starts off as one of the famed african amazons of dahomey. she ends up as one of the millions of victims of one of the biggest wars against humanity: the slave trade. the way i portray it, she goes from the ideal – where i talk about her skills, her uniforms, her courage, and her practice of meditating before each battle – to the mundanely horrible.

as i am writing this, i realize that my understanding of war is minimal. all i have are these almost cartoon-like images. i probably read an average of 4 ,5 books a month but try my darndest to stay away from anything war-related. on the internet, i don’t seek out anything about wars, and i’ll avoid even the best movies about war (over 20 years ago, i walked out of deer hunter, which i regret to this day, because it was obvious that it was a very good movie).

i hide from war.

where it comes from is not difficult to guess. the first and second world wars, together with the nazi times, were the biggest shapers of my parents’ and grandparents’, and therefore to a large degree my, history. i grew up with stories of hiding in cellars, of my grandfather riding off on his motorcycle into battle where he worked as a medic, my other grandfather being a POW, my mother finding a burned body on a pleasant little afternoon walk. one of the shapers of my personal history was a documentary film about the nuclear explosion over hiroshima; traumatic for a 9-year-old. so i’m scared of war, and i hide.

and here is a question: as long as i hide from war, can i truly call myself a pacifist? as long as i hide from war, am i not in danger of turning the ideal of the “warrior for peace” into some romantic, disney-like dream with little substance? if i don’t understand what i’m against, how can i intelligently oppose it?

perhaps the first step, today, november 11, will be this: “my” park right outside my doorstep is memorial park, a park dedicated to veterans. remembrance day celebrations will begin in a short while. rather than not going there because i don’t want anything to do with war (as i always have) i can explore it, allow myself to taste the atmosphere.

and in response to a suggestion from a reader, here is another remembrance day song: terry kelly’s pittance of time.

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