by Gilles d'Aymery
With a Poem by Marie Rennard
A ces mômes qui partent aujourd'hui
To Chris, and all those who will leave today.
Some dawns must have a different smell
The heat of the airplane
Steel fire and fear
Tears in the hearts of those who remain on this side
Lives seem weightless - although so worth living
Our thoughts stand by you, till you all come back safe
When your pain becomes too heavy
Play your dreamland music inside
We'll hear you.
—Marie Rennard, Annecy, France; March 19, 2007
"What does it really mean to be a leftist in the early part of the 21st century? What are we really talking about? And I can just be very candid with you. It means to have a certain kind of temperament, to make certain kinds of political and ethical choices, and to exercise certain analytical focuses in targeting on the catastrophic and the monstrous, the scandalous, the traumatic, that are often hidden and concealed in the deodorized and manicured discourses of the mainstream. That's what it means to be a leftist. So let's just be clear about it."
—Cornel West, March 2007 Left Forum, New York
(Swans - March 26, 2007) On the day of the fourth anniversary of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, March 19, 2007, Lance Corporal Chris Baughman of the US Marine Corps left the U.S. with his fellow Marines to be deployed in the Anbar Province. Jan Baughman, Swans co-editor, learned the sad news one week earlier in an evening phone conversation with Chris's father, her brother Mark. The next morning she called me from the San Francisco airport as she was departing on a day trip to San Diego. She was devastated and I could hear the sob in her voice, but could not comfort her, take her in my arms, console her. How can one console the inconsolable anyway?
Brother Mark apparently tried to reassure her by telling her that Chris was highly trained, ready to go; that he was looking forward to the deployment; that she should not worry because the Marines had excellent equipment and were better prepared than the other services. When she wished that Chris would reconsider, that he would not go shed blood and be bloodied for the control of the black golden spigot, Mark countered with Chris's sentiment that he has a job to do, and asked, what about the terrorists?
The following evening, Jan spoke with her older sister Carol. She too wanted to be re-assuring. Chris was ready; he was excited; he had a job to do... Carol had talked to other soldiers who'd been there and "things" were improving in Iraq, she said. Things were much better than what was shown on TV, they were telling her. Chris has a job to do, she repeated. When Jan tried to express her concerns, Carol concluded that they had different opinions, and that was that.
From the day last December when we found out that Chris would be deployed in March, we hunkered down, hoping against all hopes that time would stand still and that day would never dawn, and we pursued our modest efforts to alert people on the real reasons for this war using Swans as a forum. Jan wrote to her representatives. We sent e-mails galore pleading for the end of this catastrophe. To no avail. Time does not stand still.
When Jan asked me what I thought she could say to get through to them, I responded I was not sure there was anything she could. They were amicable enough to tolerate us. At least they had not ostracized us; we have not become estranged. Knowing that chances were slim that any of them read our work, I suggested that she might want to print her January article and my Blips #46, as well as her "Appeal To Antiwar Advocates To Fight The Right Battle" and my "Deceitful Solutions To America's Energy Dependence," and mail them. She chose otherwise. Too many families are torn apart by these fundamental differences -- and they are not "opinions," they are deep cultural, political, philosophical, ethical, and moral divisions -- as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon. They accept war as an instrument of domination, or so-called self-defense, or a necessary evil. They see war as a win-lose construct.
For Jan and I, war is a lose-lose proposition. Wars cannot be won. Their very existence is a sign of loss of human imagination, creativity, and spirit.
These are irreconcilable differences.
What purpose would it serve then to tell Mark how fundamentally misinformed he is? Terrorism has increased by more than 400 percent since this unjustifiable war was launched four years ago. "Marines are paying the highest toll in Iraq," wrote Samuel H. Preston and Emily Buzzell in "Service in Iraq: Just How Risky?" (Washington Post, August 26, 2006, A21). "Their death rate," the authors continue, citing figures from the Pentagon, "is more than double that of the Army, 10 times higher than that of the Navy and 20 times higher than for the Air Force." But Mark or Carol would rather not hear disturbing facts that contradict their beliefs, which in turn have become their reality. (Perhaps somewhere out of emotional necessity?) Furthermore, I would venture, they consider these facts suspicious, or at least tainted, since they originate from two individuals who are fiercely opposed to the war, any wars...any wars.
I am reminded of the letter that Scott Nearing wrote to a couple -- old friends of his -- upon the loss of their son in yet another forsaken war (WWII) that was a loss for humanity. Nearing published that letter in his 1972 political autobiography, The Making of a Radical. It was a harsh letter, lacking empathy and compassion, a letter I could not write myself, but a very real letter. In it he wrote, "I think we live in a community built on lies, robbery, butchery and murder. There is no dodging the issue. I also think that the lying, robbery, butchery and murder will continue till we face the facts, turn about and reshape our lives. Again there is no dodging." And, "we live in a grim world where millions of young victims are paying with their lives for ignorance, stupidity, greed, hypocrisy and connivance." (p. 281)
I can only hope that Chris will not kill and will not be killed or maimed, but the war he is fighting has all to do with "lies, robbery, butchery and murder" and he is just one of the "millions of young victims [who] are [or may be] paying with their lives for ignorance, stupidity, greed, hypocrisy and connivance."
Let's hope too that neither Mark nor Carol, nor any other siblings, have to learn the lesson the hard way. Both Jan and I love Chris very much and wish him well. He must understand though that the actions he is undertaking should not mean that they are taken in our names. They aren't and never will be. That is, at the end of the day, the message I'd pass on if I were Jan.
There ARE no right wars.
Note: The author wishes to thank Guido Monte for reminding him that "there are no right wars." Additionally, the author owes a ton of gratitude to Marie Rennard for having written this poem and for giving him permission to reproduce it in this space.
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