It seems wrong to say “Happy Memorial Day.” Such is not the proposed tenor of the day certainly. It is more a day of sadness for those who recently have lost loved ones, and a day of reflection for the rest of us. It is particularly sobering given the tragedy of Parkersburg yesterday.
Last night the Contrarian and I watched a movie entitled “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and it got me to thinking.
This is probably not better than a B type movie, and so I’ll give you a short synopsis of the plot.
The Emperor Napoleon is exiled on St. Helena, and as history claims, died there. The movie is a “what if” changling wherein we suppose that Napoleon loyalists help foster a duplicate impostor to stay on the isle while the real Napoleon is spirited back to France for a proposed retaking of his throne. Of course things go awry.
The impostor, a Eugene, grows to like his status and privilege as a British captive and refuses to claim his impostorship as required. Bonaparte has made his way to France and is living in the home of a widow of one of his now deceased loyalists. He resurrects her failing business and love blossoms as he waits impatiently to explode back onto the scene as the people’s beloved Emperor. Unexpectedly, Eugene, the false Napoleon dies of excess gluttony and Napoleon sets out to announce who he really is. The widow and none of his new friends believe him, rather they think him mad and set out to show him that the nation is in fact full of crazy people with Napoleon complexes.
Napoleon becomes angry and frustrated. He dresses up in his familiar uniform and presents himself before the widow Pumpkin and bellows, I am Bonaparte. In exasperation at his refusal to “let it go,” she retorts in anguish, “I hate Napoleon, you hear me, I hate him. Paris is filled with widows who have lost husbands and sons to him and his insatiable desires for conquest.”
Truer words were as they say never spoken. I wondered at that moment how many women and men feel that same hatred at George Bush and his monomaniacal desires to out do daddy and make an independent name for himself. Napoleon was a brilliant commander so they say, he just over-stepped. Bush is no commander at all, has never known a day of combat and isn’t even good at surrounding himself with talented men and women warriors. Bush will be nothing but a cipher in history, while we remain intrigued by the likes of Napoleon.
I know there was a time when we were without war. It stands to reason; once survival required the concerted efforts of all in cooperation. But at some point in time we achieved sufficient security to start thinking about what we would “like,” and the concept of war was born. War is nothing but the selfish self-centeredness of the human psyche. For when we want something that someone else has, often the only means of acquiring it that we can see is to take it, whether it be land, possessions or resources.
Yet war is popularly portrayed as the means of ending some threatening behavior of another. And undoubtedly in some contexts it is. In the US we like to think that we never engage in wars of aggression for desires we have. This of course is untrue. From its inception the US has engaged in wars of aggression toward others with better “title,” in the name of “manifest destiny.” We ironically “purchased” a huge chunk of what is now US land from a country which had no ownership rights in the first place, France. And we fought a war against Britain to obtain ownership of land they did not own. Only the Native Peoples seem to have understood that.
War has never ended war, though one war is still referred to as the “war to end all war.” It did not of course, in fact another, and equally devastating one occurred within 30 years. Wars have raged for 100 years and have solved almost nothing, or as little as 6 days and still solved nothing. War doesn’t end war, it just changes who is angry and who wants revenge and who is top dog for a while.
War kills people probably better than any other force in nature. It is almost unfathomable to us today how many died during civil war battles, WWI battles, Iwo Jima, Battle of the Bulge, Guatalcanal, and Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. The numbers are staggering. We usually don’t see numbers of that caliber today, but war remains, nonetheless, horrific in its scope. It’s path of destruction remains broad and largely uncaring of class, age, innocents, gender, or much of anything.
The toll of war on the fighters is slowly beginning to seep into our minds. This is a relatively new thing. I shall never know what formed the strange person who was my father. What had the greater impact, his mother or his war experiences? They say that the veterans of WWII did not talk of what they saw and endured, and that was certainly true of my father. That does not mean they were not deeply and negatively affected by the experience. In days past they called it shell-shock and battle fatigue. Today we know it as PTSD and know that it is a life-long affliction.
The rates of homelessness and suicide among veterans is a dirty little secret that is being told largely through the internet blogosphere. The Vietnam Vets already knew this and could have told us, but we weren’t listening very well then. We couldn’t see why it would be any different for them than those of WWII, and we didn’t hear of those guys suffering upon returning home. We thought, I guess that the Vietnam Vets were whiners or something. Iraq is setting that record straight. We are seeing the damage, both physical and mental and many now fight to bring this to the forefront of the American psyche.
Can we imagine the harm being done to civilians around the world who are caught in the middle of this horror? These are victims in every sense of the word too. Can you imagine facing death just by walking to the market for bread today? They do in Baghdad, Beruit, Darfur, Jerusalem, and a host of other cities around the world. Do you not think that such stress and pressure changes a person inside? Do you not expect damage to the mind of such people? Can you not see that the desire for simple peace and safety can drive people to extremes of thinking and acting? Do you not expect that this impacts in a huge way the way they raise their children?
All this resides at the doorstep of war. All this and much more. The wasting of resources, the loss of economic vitality, the wreckage of a standard of living, and the fomenting of continuing repressive war mongering dictatorships. War brings a heavy price for that momentary “victory” sign we so joyously wave.
I live in a Utopian dream, I admit. I know that someday we will progress beyond this insanity. I know that someday we will actually turn our weapons into plowshares. Some day our collective consciences will awaken and we will look at human history’s affair with war as unspeakably barbaric. We will wonder how our ancestors could have been so backward and so unconscionably evil.
Alas, that is not today, but at least we can ponder these things in our hearts. We can begin to wonder why we claim that a person who broaches the very idea of talking to those we oppose is “dangerous.” We can begin, today to wonder is it not the one saying that who is dangerous? It’s just what I got to thinking about today.