war

Get Caught Up in Minutiae or See the Texture

Get Caught Up in Minutiae or See the Texture

"When we get caught up in the minutiae, the details that make us all different, there's two ways of seeing that. You can see the texture of that person, the qualities that make them unique. Or you can go to war about it – say, That person is different from me, I don't like you, so let's battle."

~ Mahershala Ali

The Mighty Strings of Pleasure and Pain

The Mighty Strings of Pleasure and Pain

"The universal war is not limited to the relation between different states, but takes place between villages, between households, and between individuals, and that it takes place even between the different parts of each individual soul."

~ T. K. Seung

The World at Peace

The World at Peace

"The reason that we have the impression that the world is a violent place is that that's what news is about. News is about stuff that happens, not about stuff that doesn't happen, and all the parts of the world that are free of war, that are free of terrorist attacks just don't get reported to us and so we forget about them. We're getting better and better at reporting the violent events that do occur. Something blows up, you can be sure you'll hear about it, but we don't appreciate how much of the world at any given time is at peace."

~ Steven Pinker

 

 

 

Battling Zombies

Excerpt from "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead," by Chuck Klosterman, The New York Times, December 3, 2010:

World War ZWhen we think critically about monsters, we tend to classify them as personifications of what we fear. Frankenstein’s monster illustrated our trepidation about untethered science; Godzilla was spawned from the fear of the atomic age; werewolves feed into an instinctual panic over predation and man’s detachment from nature. Vampires and zombies share an imbedded anxiety about disease. It’s easy to project a symbolic relationship between zombies and rabies (or zombies and the pitfalls of consumerism), just as it’s easy to project a symbolic relationship between vampirism and AIDS (or vampirism and the loss of purity). From a creative standpoint these fear projections are narrative linchpins; they turn creatures into ideas, and that’s the point.

But what if the audience infers an entirely different metaphor?

What if contemporary people are less interested in seeing depictions of their unconscious fears and more attracted to allegories of how their day-to-day existence feels? That would explain why so many people watched that first episode of “The Walking Dead”: They knew they would be able to relate to it.

A lot of modern life is exactly like slaughtering zombies...

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do.

The Internet reminds of us this every day...

This is our collective fear projection: that we will be consumed. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid.

Battling zombies is like battling anything...or everything.

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See also:

Many Things at Once

Excerpt from "Kerry James Evans: From Combat Engineer to Poet," by Dana JenningsThe New York Times: ArtBeat, October 22, 2013: 

Like a combat engineer, a poet is aware of many things at once: narrative, musicality, line length, image, rhythm, syntax, etc. A poet is always looking for a balance of literary elements to keep the poem alive. For example, three long sentences in a row will leave the reader out of breath. Too many polysyllabic words can cause a reader to trip over his or her tongue. However, when a poet finds the right balance with concern to formal technique, the poem’s meaning has a better chance of being understood.

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Barred

by Kerry James Evans, from Five Poems (Narrative Magazine)

 Gary, Indiana

I belly-crawled through rubble
and ash. Sidewalks
shattered against the curb,
and the asphalt
wintered itself like madness
leaving a wolf after the kill,
after the throat bleeds
out onto the ground.

I licked bullets from brick walls,
abandoned the car
at a steel mill. I dropped
from the sky like mortar fire,
like the youth
of this town—sponged
from a five-gallon bucket
and the liquor stores still open.


Kerry James Evans reads his poetry at the Florida State University Warehouse Reading Series.

Evans, K. J. (2013). Bangalore. [Copper Canyon Press, library]

What Humans are Capable of Inflicting

Excerpt from "Witnessing" by Susan Sontag from the introduction to Don McCullin:

"I would suggest that it is a good in itself to acknowledge, to have enlarged, one's sense of how much suffering there is in the world we share with others. I would insist that anyone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to experience disillusionment (even incredulity) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans has not reached moral or psychological adulthood.

No one after a certain age has the right to this kind of innocence, of superficiality, to this degree of ignorance, of amnesia.

We now have a vast repository of images that make it harder to preserve such moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens and cannot encompass all the reality of a people's agony, they still serve an immensely positive function. The image says: keep these events in your memory."

See also: Don McCullin

A Conscious Struggle for Following the Law of Nonviolence

Excerpts from All Men Are Brothers by Mahatma Gandhi:

I have been practicing with scientific precision nonviolence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life -- domestic, institutional, economic, and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed. Where it has seemed sometimes to have failed, I have ascribed it to my imperfections. I claim no perfection for myself. But I do claim to be a passionate seeker after Truth, which is but another name for God. In the course of that search the discovery of nonviolence came to me. Its spread is my life mission. I have no interest in living except for the prosecution of that mission.

...

No man could be actively nonviolent and not rise against social injustice no matter where it occrred.

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Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have use his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence. Hence it was that I took part in the Boer War, the so-called Zulu rebellion, and the late War. Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.

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Perfect nonviolence is impossible so long as we exist physically, for we would want some space at least to occupy. Perfect nonviolence, whilst you are inhabiting the body is only a theory like Euclid's point or straight line, but we have to endeavor every moment of our lives.

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In my opinion nonviolence is not passivity in any shape or form. Nonviolence, as I understand it, is the most active force in the world...Nonviolence is the supreme law. During my half century of experience I have not yet come across a situation when had to say that I was helpless, that I had no remedy in terms of nonviolence.

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Love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable.

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I have found that life persists in the midst of destruction and, therefore, there must be a higher law than that of descruction. Only under that law would a well-ordered society be intelligible and life worth living. And if that is the law of life, we have to work it out in daily life. Whenever there are wars, wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love. In this crude manner I have worked it out in my life. That does not mean that all my difficulties are solved. Only I have found that this law of love has answered as the law of destruction has never done.

It is not that I am incapable of anger, for instance, but I succeed on almost all occasions to keep my feelings under control. Whatever may be the result, there is always in me a conscious struggle for following the law of nonviolence deliberately and ceaselessly. Such a struggle leaves one stronger for it. The more I work at this law, the more I feel the delight in my life, the delight in the scheme of the universe. It gives me a peace and a meaning of the mysteries of nature that I have no power to describe.

The Need to Put the Values of Life above Self-Identity

Excerpts from "The Evolution of Change with Sari Nusseibeh," with Krista Tippett, On Being, September 15, 2011:

I do not see that the Palestinian has qualities that somehow differentiate him or her from being an Israeli or an Egyptian or anything else. Pluralistic by nature — to go back to my own upbringing and the openness of my being both a Muslim and having Christianity right in the middle of my own house at more than one level, my having been brought up in a Christian school, a missionary school that my parents who are Muslims — very Muslim — would send me to, was a reflection of a kind of openness of society that does no longer exist, I'm afraid, at the moment.

I think healing is important. I'm not sure how long it will take. I still feel that hope — not feel — I have a gut sort of faith in the fact that things will somehow right themselves, will eventually come back together. I'm not sure that we will be able to replicate what we had, but I think that with awareness, alertness, to the good things that we lost and the bad things that we've acquired and the ability to distinguish between the good and the bad, eventually we'll be able to create a new future with better, you know, with more things that are good, not necessarily the same.

I think we'd have to find a way to resolve the politics. You know, resolving the politics is something that's not impossible. And I think it's something that's happening anyway. It's not necessarily happening in the way that people assume it is happening. It's not happening in the sense of reading the headlines, that there's a solution and it's been signed by the two parties, but it's happening. It seems to me it's unfolding slowly in the sense that people on both sides are more and more aware of the fact that living in conflict is intolerable and that there is a way that can be found which would allow the two sides to live together.

Now, what way is not clear in my mind. For some time, it was two states. Perhaps in the future, it could be a federation of regions or city-states. I'm not sure how it will look, but I think, in general, people are slowly maturing, if you like, to the need to put life and the values of life as human beings above — not in place of — but above perhaps the more limiting aspects of self-identity and identification of themselves as being Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Arab or from this town or from that and so on and so forth.

In general, if you sort of compare between the attitudes of Israelis and Palestinians towards each other, fifty years ago, say, and today, you'll find we've gone through a sea change. Now, it's not been perceptible on a day-by-day basis, but if you make the comparison between those two periods, you realize that we've covered a long, long, long distance.

And if you ask people on the whole today, for instance, about two-state solution — I think even my mother would tell you — they're happy with a two-state solution, but it would have to be one to which also the other side would agree to. This is my mother's condition. And I think it's the condition that's probably put by most Israelis and most Palestinians. They're happy to come to solution on the condition that the other side is also willing to come to that particular solution.

And I think this attitude is new. I mean, it's open. It's basically saying we are prepared to live at peace. We do not wish to continue living at war, and that's, I think, what's most important.

Listen to the whole conversation...

A Long, Hard Slog

Lessons from General Grant,” by Francis Wilkinson, The Week, November 26, 2010:

I'm a tragically slow reader, so I choose my books carefully. Lately, I've been reading the memoirs of U.S. Grant, albeit at a tortoise pace that makes my typical slow motion look like an Evelyn Wood demo. I've kept the book bedside for a couple years now, and still Appomattox is nowhere in sight. I move through chapters like heavy artillery through mud.

Yet the pace suits me — and the material. The war was a long, hard slog. And Grant's reflections have such resonance that I keep putting the book down to listen to the echoes. The fight against Mexico in 1846, Grant laments, was a "political" war waged on a false premise. Has a contemporary ring, doesn't it? The general who presided over the greatest destruction of American life in history — more than 600,000 soldiers on both sides died — also surprises with compassion. Contemptuous of slavery and committed to crushing the rebellion, Grant nonetheless has an ample soft spot for the enemy, taking risks to protect his foes' dignity. When Grant is ordered to handle rebels "without gloves" — including evicting Southern civilians from their homes and arresting them — he simply ignores the command. In fact, he fails to make a single arrest, having "deemed it better that a few guilty men should escape than that a great many innocent ones should suffer." It’s hard to resist projecting this thoughtful, anguished titan — a civil libertarian up to his epaulets in carnage — into the era of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Grant didn't shrink from violence, but he didn't surrender principle, either. He did his duty, and he won. I peeked at the ending.

A Useful Anyone

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

Cast of Thousands
by Sandra Beasley, from I Was the Jukebox

When they make a movie of this war
I am minute ninety-seven, soot tears
applied with a Q-tip, the one whose roof
collapses on her head before
her pie is done. Look how I look at you—
the apple and the apple’s knife still rolled
into my skirt, eyes wide as gin. The blast,
then ash. The director cried Cut!
More ash, he said, and they bombed me again.
My death is the clip they send to the Academy;
later they will kill me in Spanish, then French.
I will die on mute, on airplanes, row after row
of my tiny, touchscreened dying. My love,
I have joined the cast of thousands: me
and the plucky urchin, the scared infantryman,
me and the woman whose laminated beauty
sells gyros on every Greek storefront—
a useful anyone who advances the story,
then drops away. In your dream
six months from now I’ll make a cameo
as the customer with an unfocused smile,
offering a twenty as the register
begins to shake and smolder under your hands.
The coins will rise and spit silver into the air.
The coins will rise and spit silver into the air.
They buried my village a house at a time,
unable to sort a body holding from a body held,
and in minute ninety-six you can see me raise
my arms as if to keep the sky from falling.

Kirstin O'Carroll in Public Enemies (2009)

Taming Extremism by Promoting Education

Excerpt from “What Oman Can Teach Us,” by Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, October 13, 2010:

oman In short, one of the lessons of Oman is that one of the best and most cost-effective ways to tame extremism is to promote education for all.

Many researchers have found links between rising education and reduced conflict. One study published in 2006, for example, suggested that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country was associated with halving the risk of civil war. Another found that raising the average educational attainment in a country by a single grade could significantly reduce the risk of conflict.

Sorry if this emphasis on education sounds like a cliché. It’s widely acknowledged in theory, and President Obama pledged as a candidate that he would start a $2 billion global education fund. But nothing has come of it. Instead, he’s spending 50 times as much this year alone on American troops in Afghanistan — even though military solutions don’t have as good a record in trouble spots as education does.

The pattern seems widespread: Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it.

Practicing What We Preach

 

Excerpts from Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks at the Annual Ramadan Iftar Dinner at Gracie Mansion, August 24, 2010:

“If we say that a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom. We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam."

“The members of our military are men and women at arms, battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values which have already inspired people around the world. But if we don’t practice those values here at home, if we don’t practice what we preach abroad, if we don’t lead by example, we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.”

“While some of [Feisal Abdul Rauf]’s a lot of attention, I want to read to you something that he said that you may not have heard.

At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and sou, Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad - Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, but I have always been one.’ He then continued to say, ‘If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all my heart, mind, and soul, and to love for my fellow human beings what I love for myself, then I am not only a Christian, but I have always been one.’”

“In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews, and Christians, and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans. Each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off-limit to any religion. And by affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world.”

A Pervasive Sense of Dread and Guilt

Excerpt from “The Publication of ‘Hiroshima’ in The New Yorker,” by Steve Rothman:

New Yorker cover, August 31, 2946 A year after World War II ended, a leading American weekly magazine published a striking description of what life was like for those who survived a nuclear attack. The article, simply titled "Hiroshima," was published by The New Yorker in its August 31, 1946 issue. The thirty-one thousand word article displaced virtually all other editorial matter in the issue.

"Hiroshima" traced the experiences of six residents who survived the blast of August 6, 1945 at 8: 15 am. There was a personnel clerk, Miss Toshiko Sasaki; a physician, Dr. Masakazu Fujii; a tailor's widow with three small children, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura; a German missionary priest, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge; a young surgeon, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki; and a Methodist pastor, the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto. The article told the story of their experiences, starting from when the six woke up that morning, to what they were doing the moment of the blast and the next few hours, continuing through the next several days and then ending with the situations of the six survivors several months later.

The article, written by John Hersey, created a blast of its own in the publishing world. The New Yorker sold out immediately, and requests for reprints poured in from all over the world. Following publication, "Hiroshima" was read on the radio in the United States and abroad. Other magazines reviewed the article and referred their readers to it. The Book-of-the-Month Club sent a copy of the article in book form to its entire membership as a free selection. Later that fall, "Hiroshima" was published as a book by Alfred A. Knopf and has remained in print ever since.

"Hiroshima" was not the first exposure that readers had to the events that took place on August 6. Many articles in the popular press described the destruction of the city, such as a Collier's story published in the spring of 1946 crammed full of details about the power of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ("at a distance of 4,200 feet—about eight tenths of a mile—the pressure was 2,160 pounds a square foot") and anecdotes about the horrific effects of nuclear weapons on human beings ("Men in black-striped shirts were burned in strips. Heat stenciled dress figures onto the bodies of women."). Collier's also included an artist's rendition of the effect of a nuclear blast on downtown Manhattan. But most of these stories steered clear of details that would help readers identify with the dead or the survivors. Usually, "the statistics of devastation and death were simply recited as prefatory to a plea for international control, civil defense, or some other cause. On a canvas whose broadbrush background scenes were already familiar, Hersey etched several vividly realized foreground figures.

The direct effect of "Hiroshima" on the American public is difficult to gauge. No mass movement formed as a result of the article, no laws were passed, and reaction to the piece probably didn't have any specific impact on U.S. military strategy or foreign policy. But certainly the vivid depictions in the book must have been a strong contributor to a pervasive sense of dread (and guilt) about nuclear weaponry felt by many Americans ever since August 1945.

hiroshima-ny

This Cruel Destructive Power

hiroshima-portrait

Atomic Dawn
by Gary Snyder, from Danger on Peaks

The day I first climbed Mt. St. Helens was August 13, 1945.

Spirit Lake was far from the cities of the valley and news came slow.
Though the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima August 6
and the second dropped on Nagasaki August 9, photographs didn't
appear in the Portland Oregonian until August 12. Those papers must
have been driven in to Spirit Lake on the 13th. Early the morning of
the 14th I walked over to the lodge to check the bulletin board. There
were whole pages of the paper pinned up: photos of a blasted city
from the air, the estimate of 150,000 dead in Hiroshima alone, the
American scientist quoted as saying "nothing will grow there again
for seventy years." The morning sun on my shoulders, the fir forest
smell and the big tree shadows; feet in thin moccasins feeling the
ground, and my heart still one with the snowpeak mountain at my
back. Horrified, blaming scientists and politicians and the govern-
ments of the world, I swore a vow to myself, something like, "By
the purity and beauty and permanence of Mt. St. Helens, I will fight
against this cruel destructive power and those who would seek to
use it, for all my life."

An Impatience with Irresolution

“I am saying there is a different drama which is enacting itself in our country right now and it has to do with a failure to acknowledge the necessary moral and imaginative predicate that has become an entirely virtual existence, which is, you know, people spend more than half their waking hours watching television. Just think about that for a second. That has to shape the neural pathways. It creates an impatience, for example, with irresolution. And I'm doing what I can to tell stories which engage those issues in ways which can engage the imagination so that people don't feel threatened by it.”

~ David Milch, from “Television’s Greatest Writer,” an interview with David Simon, MIT (April 20, 2006)

Continuing to Signal

The Signal
by Sharon Olds, from One Secret Thing

When they brought his body back, they told
his wife how he'd died:
the general thought they had taken the beach,
and sent in his last reserves. In the smokescreen,
the boats moved toward shore. Her husband
was the first man in the first boat
to move through the smoke and see the sand
dark with bodies, the tanks burning,
the guns thrown down, the landing craft
wrecked and floored with blood. In the path of the
bullets and shells from the shore, her husband had
put on a pair of white gloves
and turned his back on the enemy,
motioning to the boats behind him
to turn back. After everyone else
on his boat was dead
he continued to signal, then he, too,
was killed, but the other boats had seen him
and turned back. They gave his wife the medal,
and she buried him, and at night floated through
a wall of smoke, and saw him at a distance
standing in a boat, facing her,
the gloves blazing on his hands as he motioned her back.