few years ago, a psychiatrist friend told me of a conference he
attended in Europe, at which an elderly Inuit man had been a speaker.
This man made one of the most succinct assessments of Western culture
in declaring: "your children yell and scream; you lie to
culture is so embedded in lies that truth-telling has become a subversive
act. All institutions are affected by this virus to varying degrees,
but none more so than our political systems. In America, governments
plunder – via taxation – some forty-five percent of the
wealth produced annually. On a worldwide basis, state-run wars and
genocides kill an average of two million persons each year. Thus,
the very nature of political systems belies their stated purpose
of protecting our lives and property.
we do not like to admit our gullibility in being lied to — particularly
when it involves the behavior of systems we have learned to revere.
We prefer other explanations for political wrongdoing that will
not reveal our dupery. We eagerly swallow the party line that the
tortures at Abu Ghraib were but the perversions of lowly privates
and corporals; that President Bush's lies were occasioned by a faulty
intelligence system; and that news reports of political corruption
and deceit only illustrate journalistic sensationalism and the dangers
of an unregulated Internet! Peaceful protestors at political conventions
are instantly transformed into "destructive anarchists,"
against whom courageous, outnumbered, and embattled police officers
must struggle to maintain order in the community.
propensities for metabolizing lies are so well-established within
most of us that we insist our children be inoculated against the
forces of truth. We send them to government schools for the same
indoctrination that produced our confused and contradictory state,
and condemn — as "elitists" — those who homeschool their
children or send them to private schools. Perhaps most of us believe
that our normally neurotic state is simply "human nature,"
the inevitable "way things are," and that the best we
can do for our children is help them learn to conform to the same
regimented, lockstep lifestyles that we have learned to endure.
the explanation, the reality is that, for the purpose of preserving
our squalid, institutionally-defined self-image, many of us are
no more desirous of protecting our children from the destructiveness
of the state than ourselves. In a word, far too many of us seem
to love the nation-state more than we do our children, and are prepared
to offer their lives in sacrifice to political interests. How else
can one explain the sense of shame expressed by so many World War
II and Korean War veterans when their sons refused to serve in Vietnam?
What other meaning is to be attributed to the proud words of so
many parents of modern soldiers stationed — or killed — in Iraq?
years ago, I read other words — whose author I do not recall, although
I believe it to have been either John Locke or John Stuart Mill
— the essence of which was that a man had a moral duty not to allow
his children to live under tyranny. We have done far worse than
fail in this duty; most of us have energized our ignorance to insist
upon the aggrandizement of the tyranny that continues to destroy
our children and grandchildren.
culture sanctifies war, offering images of glory, heroism, and noble
purposes to induce young people into becoming participants. With
college costs increasingly beyond the reach of lower-income families
— which was not the case in my youth — the state enrolls young people
into its ranks with promises of college tuition and the learning
of marketable skills. "Be all you can be," says the U.S.
Army, with no mention of the risk of death or great bodily harm
that might ensue.
do we not require, of the military enterprise, the same kinds of
warning labels that socially-responsible people insist be included
on far safer products such as cigarettes and alcohol? For the sake
of "truth in advertising" that so agitates people in other
settings, why not include the following at the end of commercials
on behalf of military service: "WARNING: service in the military
could be hazardous to your health. You could be seriously wounded,
maimed, or blown to pieces in a foreign land"? At the very
least, mention could be made of the fact that college tuitions will
not be forthcoming should the soldier not be alive to enroll in
warnings, however, are the responsibilities of loving parents, not
of the state that exploits their children. The parental record,
in this regard, is a mixed one. When conscription was in place during
the Vietnam War, many parents assisted their children in leaving
the country or going into hiding. When military service became purely
voluntary, and when military campaigns were more limited in scope
and frequency, too many parents failed to see a significant threat
to their children's lives in enlisting. When war is considered only
as an abstraction, with no immediate threat to ourselves or our
children, many of us see no cost associated with flag-waving or
condemning peace activists. We fail to understand the long-term
implications of immediate rhetoric or policies. But when one's child
is sent into combat, war is no longer an abstract proposition. At
this point, many parents are forced to confront the harsh consequences
of their contradictions.
have spoken to, or seen interviewed on television, parents whose
children are in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are not
possessed of the depraved bloodlusts one hears from the Bill O'Reilly's;
nor have they the same indifference to the deaths of others so readily
expressed by George W. Bush and his neocon advisors, men who were
quick to shield their own lives from combat during the Vietnam War.
In 1998, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared that
the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, occasioned by Clinton-era
sanctions against that country, was a "price [that] is worth
it." American parents who might have shared Albright's view,
when directed against Iraqi children, would be less prepared
to defend such a vicious proposition when their children
were the objects of sacrifice.
of soldiers are worried for the lives of their sons and daughters.
Like their soldier-children, they are not interested in ramming
some humbug system of "democracy" down the throats of
other people, or making the world safe from politically-concocted
"threats." Soldiers may rationalize their participation
in state butchery, . . . but only long after they have safely returned
to their homes. While in combat, almost all soldiers have but one
abiding motive: to stay alive for one more day and to protect their
hath no fury like a non-combatant," said Charles Edward Montague.
George Bush and his depraved warlords and media drum-beaters exemplify
this characteristic. While they continue to shriek their bellicosity
from the comfort of their parlors, the tired and frightened soldiers
only want to go home. This is a truth that should be remembered
by the veterans of earlier wars who, decades later, sit around in
VFW halls, wearing uniforms that no longer fit them, and condemn
those who oppose the war system that now gives them their sense
I stated in an earlier article, war is far more destructive of the
lives of people and of social systems than we are accustomed to
acknowledging. Jose Narosky observed that "in war, there are
no unwounded soldiers." A friend of mine, who served in the
Marines during the first Gulf War, gives a very vivid account of
his experiences. The constant thundering of bombs and artillery;
and the swirling of such concentrations of sand and dust that he
often didn't know whether it was daytime or night, have left a permanent
imprint upon his very being. Despite his not having been wounded
— nor, to his knowledge, having killed anyone — he still has nightmares
that awaken him. Some of the worst wounds of war do not draw blood.
we love our children sufficiently to protect them from wars and
warlike thinking, we must stop lying to ourselves and to them. Rudyard
Kipling discovered the truth of this the hard way, observing that:
If any question
why we died
them, because our fathers lied.
must confront our own thinking, and understand the destructiveness
implicit in conflicts over "right" and "wrong,"
or "good" and "evil." Can we move beyond the
divisive, politicized thinking by which we see others as nothing
more than resources to be exploited for our narrow purposes; or
can we learn to love and respect the lives of others? Such a transformation
is not a simplistic choice between "love" and "hate."
Our social conflicts — be they in the form of wars, genocide, or
less bloody efforts to regulate the lives of others — are driven
not by a hatred of others, but by such an intense
love of our group that we are prepared to destroy those who
do not share our identity.
love that precludes wars derives from a love for life itself. It
is the expression of an integrated wholeness, rather than a special
privilege to be conferred upon some and denied to others. To live
otherwise is but to extend our destructive divisiveness into the
next generation. We need to understand that the obverse side of
the patriot's proposition "America: love it or leave it"
is, as it has always been, "Iraq: bomb it back to the stone
must continue to remind ourselves that the deaths of your children
and mine are implicit in every war. The events of 9/11 should have
awakened us to the fact that we cannot love and protect our own
children while we attack the children of others. Madeleine Albright's
assessment of the "price" of her government's war against
Iraqi children confirms what any intelligent person knows about
political calculation: the benefits are always exaggerated; while
the costs are always underestimated, and paid by others.