Hey, how ’bout that War on Terror? And our boys in Afghanistan?
This week a British Member of Parliament said that his Brexit vote-decision is about the hardest thing he has ever had to do in all his years in parliament. The only thing harder, he said, was the decision on whether to put British servicemen in harm’s way. I understand. In a democracy, surely, war should be harsh to contemplate, not easy. Here’s the thing:
On a big American blog some people—the majority—didn’t know why folks would “demonize” the terrorists that their armed servicemen would be shooting and capturing. How could they not understand? To me history is clear, but not to those blog commenters. They weren’t stupid, in fact many were science fiction nerds, but they were uninformed.
My aunts and uncles could speak of history, as they nearly all served in WWII. Back when my father was overseas fighting fascists, he would snarl at “krauts.” Back in the homeland, my mum would not eat “sauerkraut:” she only served liberty cabbage, and she referred to her friend’s “German Shepherd” as an Alsatian. In other words, out of solidarity with my dad plunging a bayonet, Mother would demonize the enemy too.
It goes without saying that war is bad, and therefore temporary, while blessed peacetime is the default. Then it is fine to say, “I only work here,” and “It’s none of my business.” But during a temporary war, in a democracy, the war is everybody’s business. Hence Mum would speak of being a part of “the war effort” and recycling “for the duration.” (of the war) The alternative is grim: To say the war “belongs” to Darth Vader and his storm troopers, while the rest of us as non-citizens say, “I only live here.”
I guess writers would know a little more history than most people—for example, in The Handmaid’s Tale the treatment of women is based on present and past history. (The author said so) Here in Calgary I attend a monthly writer’s group at Owl’s Nest bookstore, among a bunch of sensitive artists that includes at least one police detective, and at least one social worker. I am sure that for even for the scummiest of criminals those two will have contempt but not feel hatred. Instead they stay professional, never needing hatred—but then again, policemen and social workers never need to shout, “Fix bayonets!”
In peacetime over here (unlike in certain non-democracies) we don’t enjoy (or teach) feeling hatred, nor demonizing; to us hatred is unworthy of ladies and gentlemen. In fact, expressing hatred can be a crime.
To me the way out of our discomfort of feeling war-time hatred, the way into feeling temporary permission to demonize, is to think of a judge’s warrant for what would otherwise be a crime: wiretapping.
To underline the gravity of the act, the judge will say no wiretapping before (date) and no wiretapping after (date). Regarding war, the first “date” is the declaration of hostilities. If towns are in flames at midnight— be it only a month, a week, or a day before the blessed date of peace— then to fraternize with the enemy is an awful thing. But the day after the armistice? On that very day the energy of hatred may freely dissipate. (My Mum, although Irish, hasn’t needed to hate the English (when sober) since Ireland became a republic—and no, Brexit will NOT mean North Ireland finally joining the republic, not even to prevent a “hard border”)
To me, the day after after peace is declared, it’s fine to come home with a Japanese bride, as in James Michener’s novel Sayonara. I once flew in a Canadian Armed Forces plane to Germany beside an older German lady who had married a Canadian soldier. As I see it, if a Nazi fighter pilot, the day after peace, is willing to burn his red swastika arm band, then I am willing to have him as a beloved uncle. And have him join the Royal Canadian Legion, too.
As for those strange blog readers who didn’t believe we should demonize terrorists, I don’t suppose they see themselves as social justice warriors or long haired hippies. I think they are simply ignorant that if their government is “of, by and for” the people, then something as grave as war is not the government’s business: It’s the people’s business.
On that blog, commenting to those who, unlike my dear mother, have never tried to walk in the shoes of frightened men wielding bayonets, what I could have said was this:
When our troops kick down Iraqi doors at night and scare families, (a common tactic in the search for the enemy and his weapons) they are perceived by the Arabs as not being justice warriors, but rather, as being storm troopers “recruiting for Al-Quaeda.” Too bad we don’t have civilian women from America, Arabic-speaking, going along as interpreters during those night raids, to talk reassuringly to the families. —But wait! What if my sister were getting her degree in Arabic Studies, and spoke Arabic? Should she quit university? And then grab a long pioneer dress, and go be an interpreter for Americans in Iraq?
After all that effort, surely the Americans would give her free room and board if she volunteered in Iraq. However…
My advice? “Colleen, don’t sacrifice your degree. If the American people can’t be bothered to demonize… if they mouth “war” but stay slumped on their couches, eyes half-closed, leaving things to the civil service and the armed forces, then the American people are unworthy of you.”
~Here’s a link to the facts that inspired The Handmaid’s Tale, such as rulers in Argentina taking babies from fertile women.
~Korea was a “police action”—hence “the forgotten war;” Vietnam was officially a “conflict,”—hence the conflict at home and abroad.
~I would hope that all loving, sensitive, scruffy artists, during temporary wartime, would make propaganda posters that showed the enemy in a very nasty light.
~I suppose anger, too, is like a wiretap warrant: useful only to give energy within narrow dates allowing action in the real world… not for “action” in some past or present fantasy daydream.
~I can imagine some foreign readers looking very, very surprised at the above thought,
Question: “But isn’t hatred good and beautiful?… Especially after what their great-grandfather did to my great-grandfather?”
Answer: I don’t have left-brain words for you, but I can recommend to you some right-brain art…
I, like everyone in the audience one night, was very moved by the stage play, set in no particular time or space, called Death and the Maiden. I presume the movie version, with Sigourney Weaver, is set very precisely in place. Here (link) is what film critic Roger Ebert thought.