Friday, March 4, 2022

Soundtracks of Chaos: There's Nothing Good About War

I can see we are going to keep doing this. This whole war thing. A thing that is truly, completely and ineffably outrageous, but that is so much part of our history that we just seem to accept it as part of the human condition.

The curse of it all is that war is not only something people accept as inevitable, but it is something that can bring about the best in individuals: their courage; their heroism; their selflessness. Movies about war move us for a good reason -- things like Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Glory... 

And there is nothing as beautiful as the idea of one person laying down his or her life for another. It's powerful. Even the Bible agrees. 

In Ukraine, right now, we see heartbreakingly beautiful grandmothers shouting-down Russian soldiers in full kit. We see businesses who used to manufacture mundane, everyday items making anti-tank "hedgehogs" instead, throwing aside their usual purpose of making a profit. 

We see a laudible President Zelensky brushing aside offers for "rides" and asking for "ammunition" instead.

I think of my dear-departed Uncle Vince, a little Italian-American welder from New Jersey who signed up for World War II and landed with his "band of brothers" on the beach at Normandy, praying for God's protection as the bullets thudded down, sending up small geysers of blinding sand. I think of him, and I am deeply proud. I love his memory all the more for his courage: a regular guy (a simple welder) who was willing to sacrifice everything for freedom. 

At some point, however, we will need to rinse that stuff out of our minds. Life is hard and it affords us plenty of opportunities to be heroic. We don't need war to bring out those scattered stories of inspiration. They will happen. There are plenty of bad-actors in everyday life; we don't need to set a stage with tanks and bombs and guns and soundtracks of chaos. We don't need to pretend it is okay to decide when to send boys and girls to their deaths, because it simply is not.  

I will say it again: war is an outrage. It's worse than Steinbeck's famously proclaimed "failure as a thinking animal." It's worse because it is deliberate and it is done in the interest of those in power with disregard for the people they are supposed to serve. In the case of Putin, a dictator -- and a bullying, self-serving, egomaniacal piece of filth -- has decided he wants another country and he is simply going to take it. There is no concern for the children he is sending into battle -- and they are and always have been children. Every time we have a war, we send kids to their deaths. (Again -- the outrage in that statement is so obvious, but...we just let it remain the case... We accept the inevitablity of war.)

By all accounts, Ukraine's problem isn't that they don't have a good military. It's that Russia has so many more boys to send to their deaths. Think about that. An outrage

What are we supposed to do? Do we start a world war? Are the sanctions enough? Do we unleash the nukes?

I'll tell you what we do: we just hope we survive this one and that the surface of the planet does not get wiped clean of our angry, petty, arrogant faces and their grand plans. 

And then, we start a worldwide campaign of subversion. 

We start teaching our children that there is nothing good about war. There is no glory in it. There is no payoff. I know, I know -- you are thinking about honoring those who sacrificed themselves. I am too. How can we not teach about them? -- honor them? But I am going to guess they'd be on my side. I'm going to guess my Uncle Vince would not want any more boys (or girls, now) to go through the torture and the lifelong pain he had to endure. 

We need to teach our kids that war is an outrage, conceptually. More that that, we need to make them feel it. Think of how far we have shifted other things social perspectives. Look at how we have changed perceptions of things like, say, interracial marriage. In my lifetime, I have seen it go from hush-hush scandal to a thing that goes almost unnoticed (except by the last holdouts of racist ignorance). 

A long time ago, Carl Sandburg said: "Sometime they will give a war and nobody will come." It is possible, I suppose, though I do doubt it. It would have to be that every parent around the world would have to be part of the subversion; that every young man and woman alive would say: "Invade who? No, I don't think so, old man. You invade."

I know it is an implausible solution, but it really is the only one: We need to change how we teach our kids about war. Will we? I doubt it. But a solution is a solution, no matter how hard it might be. Or maybe even how impossible it might be. And even if we don't manage to get everyone to accept that war is an outrage, maybe we will, at least, raise a generation of politicians who think it is. 

Yeah, I know this essay is worth nothing, but, at least I can say I tried. 


  1. I agree with everything you say. The wanton destruction and casual disregard for people is obscene. I only hope that Putin's own people will do something about him.

    1. Yeah, it may be that the only hope of stopping him is from within. And the way thingsa are there, it's a slim hope. I have a Russian-American friend who talked to a friend of hers bweck home. The general feeling is that COVID was more pleasant than what they are going through now, watching what their "leader" is doing. But they have no voice.

  2. I agree. Even reading some of the articles about the war, some Russian soldiers are reeling that they are even instructed to do this. Kudos to Ukraine for humanely taking Russian soldiers as prisoners but also offering the young soldiers to call their family to let them know they are ok.

    It is ruthless what Putin is doing and knowing how NATO is condemning the war, he continues to flex his muscles by arming the nukes. If anyone interferes, they are in danger of having catastrophic repercussions - as if Putin has no desire - as he shows in Ukraine- to give a damn about families and children in his own country let alone Ukraine or anywhere else. He would fire those nukes in an instant and thats what makes this entire war worrisome. War is absolutely an outrage, and I really feel for Ukraine as they are battling this alone and there appears to be no end in sight. The bravery to stand up and fight for every inch of your country knowing it could fall - the world backs Ukraine and are praying for the best - but millions are displaced from their homes - walking on foot in the bitter cold with children and babies and the elderly - saying goodbye to a place they called home and may never return. All the upkeep and building of this beautiful country is now in ruins.

    When I come home from work, I take a good look at my wife, my kids and our home and my heart legit breaks for those that had all that ripped away.

    To be in the 18-60 age range of having to stay in the country to fight - I would do that in a heart beat - but to say good bye to my wife and my children- and even my pet - that would destroy me. I would want to do everything I can to fight but to survive for my wife and my kids. Also going into the unknown of not knowing when or where the end could be.

    1. Thanks for your thorough and insightful comment. Yes, it is hard to process, really. And, as you point out, Putin has us all by the scuff -- that old fear that my generation grew up with: will someone "push the button"? In another time, pre-nukes, I don't think the rest of the world would have hesitated to come down upon him like a storm.