by Martin Murie
(Swans - January 1, 2007) A few days ago a veteran posted a Letter to the Editor of the Plattsburgh Press Republican adamantly opposing war. One of his sentences struck me as a well-cut gem: "War is the handful of the few who direct the many to slaughter in the name of patriotism and salvation." The power behind this sentence was his experience on battlefields, where the bodies lie, the bodies of dead of both sides, civilians and soldiers.
Last night, Alison and I talked about the centuries of war wrought by empires in their reckless pursuit of grandeur as masters of the world. I thought of the young George Washington, riding with Braddock to defeat, suffering agonizing hemorrhoidal pain, padding his behind with a pillow; Wolfe with a severe urinary tract problem, reckless, seeking glory, secretly leading part of his army up Anse au Foulon to the Plains of Abraham (named after a French farmer, not Biblical); General Abercromby at Fort Ticonderoga, without even seeing for himself the French line of battle above a criss-cross of falled trees, ordered the Scottish Black Watch regiment to form ranks and take the ridge. They died in the hundreds, and the wounded agonized in the wilderness. Alexander the Great marching and fighting alongside ordinary "enlisted men" in his reach for empire; Churchill who did not become Prime Minister to preside over the demise of the British Empire, who came up with the clever idea of attacking the "soft underbelly of Europe" that put British and American infantry in desperate foxhole battles inching their way up the spine of Italy.
In all these ventures glory and commercial advantage were so closely tied that any historian who writes about only one or the other is bound to be putting on paper half-truths, or worse.
This absurd glamour and glory propaganda is wearing thin; was meant for home consumption from the beginning. Even the Iliad has a verse or two or three that back off from combat frenzy to take a broader view. My hope for the New Year is that we Americans will see through this co-optation scheme, centuries old, changing drapery from time to time, its aim always: "Support the Troops, Stay the Course," no matter what. The Donkey party is falling for it; the reasons are obvious, have been dissected on Swans, no reason to repeat.
In fact, all of the above is known to those who follow their own mindful researches, but I want to add that it is desperately urgent to rip to tatters the remaining shreds of this demon that infests our culture, all of us, this combat glory thing. To do this we will be obliged to shed remnants of awe or satisfaction at being a part of it, complicit in our own God Bless American Empire.
And by the way, a reminder: the Earth and its creatures, our home, is not about to wait for us. Evolution marches on, with us or without us. We are animals who have built cultures, amazing feats. It's time to rebuild. The turn will have to be approximately 180 degrees left of Bush north.
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