Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

War and the Denial of Loss

(This post is part of a series on war, and a smaller set of posts for Armistice Day 2009.)

Nations wage unnecessary wars because their leaders lack wisdom or conscience, and the checks to force them to act wisely and conscientiously are tragically wanting. However, wars also start – and persist - because of the denial of loss.

Scoundrels and fools in positions of power and influence can urge splendid, glorious war in large part because it's unlikely they'll pay the terrible costs. Soldiers, civilians and their loved ones bear those, as always. The fashionably hawkish and zealously belligerent will blithely lie to the populace (and sometimes themselves) about the necessity of war and its consequences.

However, those who bear the greatest costs of war can lie to themselves, too. Ironically, horribly, the victims and survivors can inadvertently perpetuate and sharpen the cruel tragedies of war.

Few works capture this dynamic as well as Luigi Pirandello's short story, "War." (Feel free to read the whole thing first if you'd like; I'll look at it in three parts.) Here's the beginning:

The passengers who had left Rome by the night express had had to stop until dawn at the small station of Fabriano in order to continue their journey by the small old-fashioned local joining the main line with Sulmona.

At dawn, in a stuffy and smoky second-class carriage in which five people had already spent the night, a bulky woman in deep mourning was hosted in - almost like a shapeless bundle. Behind her - puffing and moaning, followed her husband - a tiny man; thin and weakly, his face death-white, his eyes small and bright and looking shy and uneasy.

Having at last taken a seat he politely thanked the passengers who had helped his wife and who had made room for her; then he turned round to the woman trying to pull down the collar of her coat and politely inquired:

"Are you all right, dear?"

The wife, instead of answering, pulled up her collar again to her eyes, so as to hide her face.

"Nasty world," muttered the husband with a sad smile.

And he felt it his duty to explain to his traveling companions that the poor woman was to be pitied for the war was taking away from her her only son, a boy of twenty to whom both had devoted their entire life, even breaking up their home at Sulmona to follow him to Rome, where he had to go as a student, then allowing him to volunteer for war with an assurance, however, that at least six months he would not be sent to the front and now, all of a sudden, receiving a wire saying that he was due to leave in three days' time and asking them to go and see him off.

The woman under the big coat was twisting and wriggling, at times growling like a wild animal, feeling certain that all those explanations would not have aroused even a shadow of sympathy from those people who - most likely - were in the same plight as herself. One of them, who had been listening with particular attention, said:

"You should thank God that your son is only leaving now for the front. Mine was sent there the first day of the war. He has already come back twice wounded and been sent back again to the front."

"What about me? I have two sons and three nephews at the front," said another passenger.

"Maybe, but in our case it is our only son," ventured the husband.

"What difference can it make? You may spoil your only son by excessive attentions, but you cannot love him more than you would all your other children if you had any. Parental love is not like bread that can be broken to pieces and split amongst the children in equal shares. A father gives all his love to each one of his children without discrimination, whether it be one or ten, and if I am suffering now for my two sons, I am not suffering half for each of them but double..."

"True...true..." sighed the embarrassed husband, "but suppose (of course we all hope it will never be your case) a father has two sons at the front and he loses one of them, there is still one left to console him...while..."

"Yes," answered the other, getting cross, "a son left to console him but also a son left for whom he must survive, while in the case of the father of an only son if the son dies the father can die too and put an end to his distress. Which of the two positions is worse? Don 't you see how my case would be worse than yours?"


Pirandello's characters often feel the need to justify themselves. This is dark, absurd comedy – it's competitive grief, or actually pre-emptive competitive grief, competitive sympathy, competitive suffering.

In Man's Search for Meaning, Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl commented on both a sense of humor and suffering:

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.


To compare suffering like the passengers do, competing for sympathy as a zero-sum game, is silly. However, it's also very, very human.

Let's return to the story:

"True...true..." sighed the embarrassed husband, "but suppose (of course we all hope it will never be your case) a father has two sons at the front and he loses one of them, there is still one left to console him...while..."

"Yes," answered the other, getting cross, "a son left to console him but also a son left for whom he must survive, while in the case of the father of an only son if the son dies the father can die too and put an end to his distress. Which of the two positions is worse? Don 't you see how my case would be worse than yours?"

"Nonsense," interrupted another traveler, a fat, red-faced man with bloodshot eyes of the palest gray.

He was panting. From his bulging eyes seemed to spurt inner violence of an uncontrolled vitality which his weakened body could hardly contain.

"Nonsense," he repeated, trying to cover his mouth with his hand so as to hide the two missing front teeth. "Nonsense. Do we give life to our own children for our own benefit?"

The other travelers stared at him in distress. The one who had had his son at the front since the first day of the war sighed: "You are right. Our children do not belong to us, they belong to the country..."

"Bosh," retorted the fat traveler. "Do we think of the country when we give life to our children? Our sons are born because... well, because they must be born and when they come to life they take our own life with them. This is the truth. We belong to them but they never belong to us. And when they reach twenty they are exactly what we were at their age. We too had a father and mother, but there were so many other things as well... girls, cigarettes, illusions, new ties... and the Country, of course, whose call we would have answered - when we were twenty - even if father and mother had said no. Now, at our age, the love of our Country is still great, of course, but stronger than it is the love of our children. Is there any one of us here who wouldn't gladly take his son's place at the front if he could?"

There was a silence all round, everybody nodding as to approve.

"Why then," continued the fat man, "should we consider the feelings of our children when they are twenty? Isn't it natural that at their age they should consider the love for their Country (I am speaking of decent boys, of course) even greater than the love for us? Isn't it natural that it should be so, as after all they must look upon us as upon old boys who cannot move any more and must sit at home? If Country is a natural necessity like bread of which each of us must eat in order not to die of hunger, somebody must go to defend it. And our sons go, when they are twenty, and they don't want tears, because if they die, they die inflamed and happy (I am speaking, of course, of decent boys). Now, if one dies young and happy, without having the ugly sides of life, the boredom of it, the pettiness, the bitterness of disillusion... what more can we ask for him? Everyone should stop crying; everyone should laugh, as I do... or at least thank God - as I do - because my son, before dying, sent me a message saying that he was dying satisfied at having ended his life in the best way he could have wished. That is why, as you see, I do not even wear mourning..."

He shook his light fawn coat as to show it; his livid lip over his missing teeth was trembling, his eyes were watery and motionless, and soon after he ended with a shrill laugh which might well have been a sob.

"Quite so... quite so..." agreed the others.


Most of the passengers deal with their anxiety by competing with each other for sympathy, but the fat man claims to be above this game. He presents his perspective as a broader, wiser, more cosmic view. The notion of a 'good death,' especially in warfare, in service of one's country, is nothing new. Nor is the idea new that those who die young are spared life's many later disappointments. The third stanza of A.E. Houseman's poem "To an Athlete Dying Young" captures this:

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.


This sentiment sometimes takes a more aggressive, less reflective form, as in the letter to the editor from a WWI British "Little Mother" who taunts "pacifists" (examined in more depth in a previous post). The "Little Mother" has lost her son in the war, and she is insistent that "The blood of the dead and the dying, the blood of the 'common soldier' from his 'slight wounds' will not cry to us in vain." She takes the sentiment of the fat man's words further, insisting that the best way to serve British soldiers ("Tommy") is to face grief with militant stoicism:

Women are created for the purpose of giving life, and men to take it. Now we are giving it in a double sense. It's not likely we are going to fail Tommy. We shall not flinch one iota, but when the war is over he must not grudge us, when we hear the bugle call of 'Lights out', a brief, very brief, space of time to withdraw into our secret chambers and share with Rachel the Silent the lonely anguish of a bereft heart, and to look once more on the college cap, before we emerge stronger women to carry on the glorious work our men's memories have handed down to us for now and all eternity.


Of the many responses to the letter (printed by Robert Graves in Good-Bye to All That, covered in the previous post), the one that has always stuck with me is:

'I have lost my two dear boys, but since I was shown the "Little Mother's" beautiful letter a resignation too perfect to describe has calmed all my aching sorrow, and I would now gladly give my sons twice over.' A Bereaved Mother.


Now, to accompany the passengers' competitive suffering, we have competitive stoicism. In a sense the fat man was doing just this – and changing the game in the carriage. The words of "A Bereaved Mother" may well be hyperbole. Likely the letter of the "Little Mother" gave the "Bereaved Mother" some comfort and consolation. And that form of "comfort" and personal reconciliation is one that means that - however fleetingly - she will accept her sons being killed in combat. She would even choose it. Likely she will support (probably zealously) the war and more mothers' sons being killed in combat - exactly as hers were.

Let's return to the story, and its ending:

"Quite so... quite so..." agreed the others.

The woman who, bundled in a corner under her coat, had been sitting and listening had - for the last three months - tried to find in the words of her husband and her friends something to console her in her deep sorrow, something that might show her how a mother should resign herself to send her son not even to death but to a probable danger of life. Yet not a word had she found amongst the many that had been said...and her grief had been greater in seeing that nobody - as she thought - could share her feelings.

But now the words of the traveler amazed and almost stunned her. She suddenly realized that it wasn't the others who were wrong and could not understand her but herself who could not rise up to the same height of those fathers and mothers willing to resign themselves, without crying, not only to the departure of their sons but even to their death.

She lifted her head, she bent over from her corner trying to listen with great attention to the details which the fat man was giving to his companions about the way his son had fallen as a hero, for his King and his Country, happy and without regrets. It seemed to her that she had stumbled into a world she had never dreamt of, a world so far unknown to her, and she was so pleased to hear everyone joining in congratulating that brave father who could so stoically speak of his child 's death.

Then suddenly, just as if she had heard nothing of what had been said and almost as if waking up from a dream, she turned to the old man, asking him:

"Then... is your son really dead?"

Everyone stared at her. The old man, too, turned to look at her, fixing his great, bulging, horribly watery light gray eyes, deep in her face. For some time he tried to answer, but words failed him. He looked and looked at her, almost as if only then - at that silly, incongruous question - he had suddenly realized at last that his son was really dead - gone for ever - forever. His face contracted, became horribly distorted, then he snatched in haste a handkerchief from his pocket and, to the amazement of everyone, broke into harrowing, heart-breaking, uncontrollable sobs.


This is the reality, and it comes crashing in. He told himself a tale to deal with a terrible loss, but when he told the same tale to the other passengers, the façade unexpectedly crumpled.

It's hard not to be sympathetic to the fat man. He didn't choose for his son to die. He might not have sent him to the front, he might not have recruited him, and he didn't give any military orders. Most likely, like most civilians in war, he was relatively powerless to prevent his loved one's death. He can only react to this cataclysm to his entire world. And he constructs a reason, a rationale, an excuse - that countless others have constructed before - to cope with a tragedy that might be unbearable if faced directly.

There's a Zen tale about a monk who's asked by a man to write a blessing for his newly born grandson. He writes, "Father dies, son dies, grandson dies." The family is outraged initially, but the monk explains that this is the natural order, and that, for instance, the father would be devastated if his son died before him. The family comes to understand. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows how painful it can be. Losing a friend or family member is horrible. Losing a parent is devastating enough, but losing a child is supposedly almost unbearable. In a sense, it's silly to "compare" grief, loss and suffering, as Frankl points out. (Sharing it is another matter.) So let us say instead that these deaths are important, because these lives were, are, important. Attention must be paid.

Scoundrels and fools in power often tell lies to start wars. They lie about the costs; they deny that there will be death and loss. The victims and survivors, like the fat man, are left to cope as best they can. But their coping mechanisms can amount to lying of a different sort. The fat man was in a sense lying to himself about his own pain, and denying his own loss. It's hard to fault him on a personal level. However, his coping mechanism can interfere with others' coping mechanisms. Even worse, his stance, just as with the Bereaved Mother responding to the Little Mother, could lead to other parents feeling the same horrible loss he feels. It's highly unlikely he would consciously choose to inflict that pain on anyone else, certainly not on any of the other passengers. And yet, ironically, horribly, by preaching the virtues of dying 'young, inflamed and happy' he may contribute to precisely that outcome.

Even if we suppose that some wars are necessary, is there any doubt that these dynamics of grief, loss and denial occur? Are they healthy? Should war policy be decided on these emotions?

As we've looked at in earlier posts, psychological issues do play a major role in war policy. Some leaders perpetuate wars with a sincere double-down mentality, while others might cynically play on the grief of survivors in a further act of exploitation.

On the human level, rather than competing with each other for sympathy, the (civilian) passengers could choose to support one another. Are there other means of coping the fat man and those in his horrible situation could choose?

Some, when confronted with the death of a loved one, may be religious, and find comfort in thinking of a better afterlife for the person who died. If that works for them, I wouldn't want to dissuade them. I've seen this be powerful, and vital for going on. But personally, it just makes me think of an exchange from late in the play The Elephant Man, where a bishop is left stunned by a deeply despairing Doctor Treves:

Bishop: I do wish I understood you, sir. But as for consolation, there is in Christ's church consolation.

Treves: I am sure we were not born for mere consolation.


Religion, or something similar, might help some. But it won't help everyone. And even then, in the case of war, it will only help some people deal with a violent, sudden loss in their lives – it will not prevent further loss, or prevent it altogether in the first place.

Numbing one's self can be a conscious, necessary, even courageous choice. Seasoned WWII vet E.B. Sledge (featured in an earlier post) told Studs Terkel about a Wilfred Owen poem, "Insensibility":

I
Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers.
But they are troops who fade, not flowers,
For poets' tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling:
Losses, who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.

II
And some cease feeling
Even themselves or for themselves.
Dullness best solves
The tease and doubt of shelling,
And Chance's strange arithmetic
Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keep no check on armies' decimation.


There's more. But Sledge felt Owen, also a combat vet, really captured what it was like to be on the front lines.

Faith, of a very secular sort, can also be a conscious choice. The most powerful installment of the NPR series "This I Believe" I've heard is probably "My Husband Will Call Me Tomorrow," recorded by Becky Herz in 2007. Her husband was serving in Iraq at the time:

I believe that my husband will call me tomorrow.

Tonight I'll say, "Have a great day," and "I love you" to my husband, who is 11 time zones away in Iraq. Then I'll hang up the phone. I'll fall asleep as I did last night, next to our baby daughter. We'll sleep in the guest bedroom downstairs — it's less lonely to sleep there for now.

First, I'll pet and talk to our dogs. I weaned them from sleeping with me a few months ago, but they still seem a bit disappointed when I go off to bed without them. I'll promise them a long walk tomorrow, and I'll make good.

In bed, I'll lay my hand on our daughter's chest several times before I fall asleep, just to make sure that she is breathing. I'll curl up in two blankets: one from Guatemala, one from Peru. I'll allow these souvenirs of past travels to warm the empty space in the bed. I'll get up three times during the night to feed our baby. Each of those times I'll tell her that she has a beautiful life to look forward to. I can say this because I believe that my husband will call me tomorrow.

In the morning after my cup of coffee, I'll change diapers and move around loads of laundry. I'll pour dog food, eat cereal, get dressed, and do the dishes — all with one hand, holding our baby in the other. I'll do the shopping, pay the bills, and stop in at work to see how my employees are getting by. Every three hours I'll stop what I'm doing to feed, change and play with our daughter. I'll make good on the promised walk with our baby strapped to my chest and a dog-leash in each hand. When people say, "Looks like you have your hands full," I'll smile and acknowledge that it's true, but I make the best of it because I believe that my husband will call me tomorrow.

If there is a letter addressed to me from the military, I'll open it because I believe that my husband will call me tomorrow. If there is a knock at the door, I'll answer it, because I believe that my husband will call me tomorrow.

And when he does, I'll talk to him and tell him again that I love him. I'll be able to hang up the phone, keeping my fear at bay, because I believe — I must believe — that my husband will call me tomorrow.


Jeff Leonard's "Did we do everything we could?" hits the same basic pang. And then there's this astounding piece by Minstrel Boy. Or consider Ewa Klonowski's story:

The grim reality of exhumation is something they don't have to deal with. One of the forensic scientists, a Polish woman by the name of Ewa Klonowski, who is usually the first to go down into a mass grave, speaks of what she found in the newly opened one near Prijedor. "I was digging with the knowledge that I'd found some children," she says.

It's all the same to me whether I dig up a child or an old person. Bones are bones. With the one difference that children have more small bones; they are less durable. And I came upon some small bones of the kind I was expecting to find. And a toy next to them - a Superman doll. I had to put it in a plastic bag. I couldn't do it. I was holding it in my hand, and the child's father was there above me. I felt as if I could no longer cope. I was about to start crying. I rationalized it to myself by thinking, "Ewa, someone has to work here. Bones are bones. This is a toy found next to some bones. You must put it in the plastic bag and get on with the next body."


Unlike the fat man in "War," Ewa Klonowski has a good sense of what has happened. But like the fat man, the reality and weight of what has occurred comes crashing in on her unexpectedly.

There is great courage in facing loss and tragedy of this depth. In contrast, it takes absolutely no courage, just cowardice and fecklessness, to inflict this level of pain on another human being.

The political rhetoric of "good deaths," and the emotional struggle to deal with loss, have very real consequences. The "we must keep going, so that their deaths will not have been in vain," argument is one that some feel very sincerely. In fact, it often appears on the national stage. Consider the tale of the dueling bracelets from the first presidential debate between McCain and Obama on September 26th, 2008:

McCain: So I have a record. I have a record of being involved in these national security issues, which involve the highest responsibility and the toughest decisions that any president can make, and that is to send our young men and women into harm's way.

And I'll tell you, I had a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and a woman stood up and she said, "Senator McCain, I want you to do me the honor of wearing a bracelet with my son's name on it."

He was 22 years old and he was killed in combat outside of Baghdad, Matthew Stanley, before Christmas last year. This was last August, a year ago. And I said, "I will -- I will wear his bracelet with honor."

And this was August, a year ago. And then she said, "But, Senator McCain, I want you to do everything -- promise me one thing, that you'll do everything in your power to make sure that my son's death was not in vain."

That means that that mission succeeds, just like those young people who re-enlisted in Baghdad, just like the mother I met at the airport the other day whose son was killed. And they all say to me that we don't want defeat.

A war that I was in, where we had an Army, that it wasn't through any fault of their own, but they were defeated. And I know how hard it is for that -- for an Army and a military to recover from that. And it did and we will win this one and we won't come home in defeat and dishonor and probably have to go back if we fail.

Obama: Jim, let me just make a point. I've got a bracelet, too, from Sergeant - from the mother of Sergeant Ryan David Jopeck, given to me in Green Bay. She asked me, can you please make sure another mother is not going through what I'm going through.

No U.S. soldier ever dies in vain because they're carrying out the missions of their commander in chief. And we honor all the service that they've provided. Our troops have performed brilliantly. The question is for the next president, are we making good judgments about how to keep America safe precisely because sending our military into battle is such an enormous step.

And the point that I originally made is that we took our eye off Afghanistan, we took our eye off the folks who perpetrated 9/11, they are still sending out videotapes and Senator McCain, nobody is talking about defeat in Iraq, but I have to say we are having enormous problems in Afghanistan because of that decision.

And it is not true you have consistently been concerned about what happened in Afghanistan. At one point, while you were focused on Iraq, you said well, we can "muddle through" Afghanistan. You don't muddle through the central front on terror and you don't muddle through going after bin Laden. You don't muddle through stamping out the Taliban.

I think that is something we have to take seriously. And when I'm president, I will.


(And we shall see about that.)

Gary Trudeau satirized the "not die in vain" mentality superbly in a 2005 Sunday cartoon, which includes this line from his Bush: "Again, we'll stay the course. We cannot dishonor the upcoming sacrifice of those who have yet to die." (Read the whole thing.) I commented in a 2007 post on it:

The stupidity of leaders or the pointlessness of a mission do not diminish the heroism of the troops themselves. Troops only die in vain if we are too stupid to learn from our mistakes or face our own vanities. Having the courage to admit someone acted heroically, but died unnecessarily, can be essential for preventing more unnecessary deaths. No one should die for pride and image alone, and the pain of facing the harsh truth of a given mistake is as nothing to the pain of actually dying or the pain of mourning a loved one. To pretend otherwise is dreadful, deadly vanity.


Or (to quote an earlier post in this cycle), consider Pat Tillman, killed by "friendly fire." Clearly his service was honorable, but just as clearly, his death was unnecessary. One could say, of so many dead in senseless wars: They were honorable but the mission was flawed. They did not die for nothing. Or one could say: They died for nothing. But they will not have died in vain if you fight to prevent others from dying for nothing. Their deaths were meaningless only if you learn nothing from them, and let this needless, horrible waste continue.

But these are rational considerations, and ones that also requiring an enormous emotional courage. It is normally a long process to deal with a loss that acute. Grief drowns everything else out. It may never truly subside. As Walt Whitman wrote, "I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring."

Once again, the Little Mother:

To the man who pathetically calls himself a 'common soldier', may I say we women, who demand to be heard, will tolerate no such cry as "Peace! Peace!' where there is no peace. The corn that will wave over land watered by the blood was not split in vain. We only need that force of character behind all motives to see this monstrous world tragedy brought to a victorious ending. The blood of the dead and the dying, the blood of the 'common soldier' from his 'slight wounds' will not cry to us in vain. They have all done their share, and we, as women, will do ours without murmuring and without complaint.


And once again, Pirandello:

Everyone stared at her. The old man, too, turned to look at her, fixing his great, bulging, horribly watery light gray eyes, deep in her face. For some time he tried to answer, but words failed him. He looked and looked at her, almost as if only then - at that silly, incongruous question - he had suddenly realized at last that his son was really dead - gone for ever - forever. His face contracted, became horribly distorted, then he snatched in haste a handkerchief from his pocket and, to the amazement of everyone, broke into harrowing, heart-breaking, uncontrollable sobs.


One of the last exchanges in Kurosawa's epic tragedy Ran comes when one character (Kyoami the fool) yells at the gods for being cruel. Tango (the Kent figure) replies that it's not that the gods are cruel; they weep. But they cannot save humans from themselves, and their seeming love of chaos and self-inflicted tragedy.

Starting and stopping wars is a political battle. Anyone who has spoken out to stop an unnecessary war knows this all too well. When the powerful urge an unnecessary war, it may be due to corruption, greed, or imperialist ambitions. For politicians and pundits, urging war is often quite a stew: a failure of memory, rationality, decision-making, reflection, compassion and accountability. Sadly, hubris and vanity are almost always in fashion up high. But on another level, personal or societal, the continuation of war depends on the denial of loss, of grief, of mortality, and our own humanity.

To return to an earlier piece in this cycle, War is Hell. It's a moral imperative to remember this. No normal person who truly understands this, and the pain of great loss - understands this in their bones - would choose it lightly, or choose to inflict it on another human being. It's essential to understand these things not only rationally, but emotionally, and above all to really see. Attention must be paid. Luigi Pirandello understood this, as did Wilfred Owen, Walt Whitman, and many others featured above. So, to close, did Auschwitz survivor Charlotte Delbo:

Marie

Her father, her mother, her brothers and sisters were all gassed on arrival.
Her parents were too old, the children too young.
She says, "She was beautiful, my little sister.
You can't imagine how beautiful she was.
They mustn't have looked at her.
If they had, they would never have killed her.
They couldn't have."

4 comments:

LarryE said...

I wanted to say thanks for the comment on my 11/11 post. Yours here is rather too long for me to spend the necessary time on it now but I promise I will come back and read it in full.

aimai said...

Battochio,
I, too, wanted to thank you for the link and the comment on my Veterans day post. But I'm just sort of breathless and pondering this wonderful post instead. One of the gruesome things, for me, right at the start of the post 9/11 era was the rapid, forced march through emotions like grief, loss, rage, and fear straight to war like belligerence and then to war itself.

Watching Bush and his team whip themselves and everyone else up into a righteous fury of hate and anger was like watching a very familiar movie with the sound way up and subtitles too. The voices of sanity--and there were many in my neck of the woods--were submerged. People who could think past the pomp and glory to the deaths and the many private moments of grief and loss that were to come were ignored, or even attacked.

To say pre-emptively "we will be sorry when our sons and daughters have killed their sons and daughters and when the bodies come back to dover, or are exhumed some day" was seen as harshing everyone's mellow or shirking a national duty. And yet we have ended up full circle, just where the nay sayers and the anti war freaks and the cassandras said we would.

And once again we have to pick up the pieces of the broken china figurines that were the lives of our friends, neighbors, sons and daughters. That's the image I had in my head the entire of the Bush years. The pro-war crowd were like children who threw a precious china figure against the wall and then screamed and raged because you couldn't put it back together again just like before.

Great post, Battochio, really great.

Oh, I wanted to recommend this wonderful book: Not So Quiet on the Western Front.http://www.amazon.com/Not-So-Quiet-Stepdaughters-Women/dp/093531282X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258209495&sr=8-2

It is near contemporary feminist take on WWI. It poses as being truly autobiographical but I don't think it is. But its searingly anti the whole "good mother" sacrificial woman thing.

aimai

Batocchio said...

Thanks very much for the rec, aimai, and the kind words. Honestly, I've been kicking around a few of these posts in my head for a couple of years now, so it was nice to get them done - and this post is easily my favorite of the group. "Women are created for the purpose of giving life, and men to take it" is stunning.

I actually wrote my old high school teacher since I realized that not only did I read "War" in his English 11 class, but he passed on the Frankl and Delbo books to me. I suppose it's further proof of the ways we're interconnected with people in our lives, and why eagerly allowing those bonds to be shattered is such madness.

Suzan said...

I just read this in full.

What a noble deed you have done for us all.

Thank you, friend.

My day (all coming days actually) is much fuller now.

And now I'm interconnected with you.

S