I’m used to the surprising questions of 5-year olds, but Zadie took me aback when she asked, “What is war?”
Imagine the beautiful innocence of not knowing that word. She’s already worried about police shooting her Dad, but she knows nothing of that most tragically consistent human phenomena we call war. What to say to her?
I’d like to tell her that war is our failure to live up to our better selves, our brute animal instinct married to our deluded warped mind that entices and invites and requires us to create unbearable suffering and wreak havoc in the name of some deceived notion of God, country, truth and promise of a glorious future. It is not our nature, but the miscarriages of our nature. In my simple world, most wars would be avoided by an education in thought that burns through false promises, an education of the heart that can’t bear to demonize the other, an education of soul that finds power in beauty and one’s own spiritual force and can’t imagine harming another beautiful soul. It’s an education in the aikido moves of taking the frustrations, angers, disappointments, betrayals that are, yes, inherent in human relationships and playing them out through sports or music or shared work, things that harness our fighting instinct and the thrill of battle and play them out in benign forms.
I know the evidence is overwhelmingly against these ideas. I have been blessed to—so far—avoid the personal experience of war in my home territory. But in my lifetime, wars have not slowed down—from the Korean War to Vietnam to Chile to Kosovo to Nicaragua and El Salvador to Kuwait to Iraq to Afghanistan, just some of the wars with U.S. involvement and many more without—war has been constant in the world theater. It’s not a play any sane person would choose to buy tickets to, but the shows keep running on and on and the ticket line is around the block.
I just finished Anthony Doer’s magnificent novel, All the Light We Cannot See and it confirms what every book or movie on the subject leads me to. This is not right. This is inhuman. Yes, people rise to glorious moments of tenderness and bravery in the midst of horror, but why do we keep signing up for the horror?
Turns out that Zadie went on to other things in the conversation and my answer was saved for some future date. But if I had to answer her simply and honestly, I think General Sherman summed it up.
“War is hell.”
I prefer heaven. And you?
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