Monday, May 26, 2008

Two Different Wars

Years ago, when World War II ended, in August, 1945, everyone in the little town of Geneva, Illinois, where I lived, went down to the center of town. I think we all felt an instinctive need to gather with other people and share our excitement. It made it real to talk about it. Our town was so small, many of us just walked down town. I remember feeling so happy I could almost float instead of walking..

World War II was not like the present one. In today's war, you can keep living a normal life, and remain pretty much untouched by it all, unless you have someone serving in the military. In World War II, that was impossible.

Gasoline was severely rationed, so we had to think before we drove anywhere. Butter and cooking oil were rationed, and those of us who had always turned up our noses at the very thought of margarine were happy to get it if we could. Meat was rationed, which tested the ingenuity of housewives everywhere. Cigarettes weren't rationed, but were in extremely short supply. Those of us who smoked were constantly looking and asking, trying to find new sources.

We rolled bandages and knit socks and sweaters for the troops. With every pair of olive drab socks I knit, my mind would be full of thoughts about the soldier whose feet those socks would keep warm, and in my heart I would be wishing and hoping that he would stay safe.

We sent boxes and letters overseas to those we knew and to those we didn't know. Everyone was involved in comforting the troops in any way we could. The death toll was high, and by the end, hundreds of thousands of men were killed in battle, in contrast to the 4,000 plus we have lost in this even longer, and still not ended, war.

As I watch how people I see from day to day react, or don't react, to today's war, I am struck by how little most people are affected by it, except when someone they love is overseas. It is not part of the fabric of everyday life as it was in World War II.

I was horrified when, after 9-11, President Bush told us all to "go shopping." What a contrast to President Roosevelt who challenged us by enumerating the many things we could do to help the war effort! We were inspired by being asked to help, and it made us feel better to pitch in and have something useful to do.

Also, that war seemed necessary. We had to stop Hitler from overrunning the world, which was what he intended to do. In newsreels, we watched as panzer units rolled across Europe, easily going around the famed Maginot Line in France, which had long been thought to be a real protection against possible German aggression. We saw V-bombs, or rockets, fall on England, and the English be unable to stop them. They packed into bomb shelters during the endless air raids, emerging time after time, when the all-clear sounded, to view the new damage, which was usually extensive.

We saw books being burned, windows of Jewish-owned businesses being smashed, and Jews being persecuted in every way, until they began to disappear into the loathsome concentration camps and the gas chambers.

Hitler covered Europe, threatened England, marched across North Africa, and went all the way to Stalingrad before he was stopped at all.

In the Pacific, the war went on against the Japanese over a wide area, starting from Hawaii, where the Japanese first attacked us, and moving on from island to island in the South Pacific, to the Phillippines, and finally Japan. The threats in that war were real and world wide. Our way of life and democracy were, for a while, in grave danger. It makes me angry to think we embarked on a preemptive war based on lies and misrepresentation. The reasons given for it were untrue, and those wanting the war knew they were untrue. It is a crime to cause soldiers to lose their lives for concocted reasons. How can it be defended, in the light of what it means to each soldier who falls or dies?

On that August afternoon, we all hugged and laughed and cried and were full of a heady exhilaration. We kept saying to each other, "It's over, it's over!" and hugged each other again. Finally, we all began to wander back to our homes, or gathered at someone else's home, to celebrate.

At my mother's house, several old friends gathered in her large screened veranda and sat together in the fading light to talk. "War is so awful," one said, "I wonder if human beings will ever get beyond it, or if we will go on fighting bigger and bigger wars until we just blow ourselves off the planet?" Everyone nodded. We all seemed to be wondering the same thing. "I feel as if we could avoid it, but only if we all wanted to, and worked together to prevent it," said my mother. Our next door neighbor, who was a colonel in the army, said "That would only work if people wanted to abandon war all over the world. No country could do it alone." I said, "I wish all countries could organize together to stop war," and my stepfather said, "Yes, all nations united together. I wonder if that will ever happen." We all hoped so, and as night fell, we grew quiet, listened to the crickets, and hoped for the future of the human race.

In World War II, we were ready to make sacrifices and put in our efforts, working together to help in any way we could. In today's war, we are not asked to do anything, and I am still insulted by the suggestion that the best thing we can do in time of trouble is "go shopping."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

War Should Be Our Last Resort

I wonder if it has ever struck anyone else as strange that we take such pains to protect the red-legged frog, yet send our young people to war. Granted, young human beings are not in danger of becoming extinct, but why have we sent them to fight a nonsensical unnecessary war? Why didn't we keep the Al Quaeda busy in Afghanistan, as we started to do, so they wouldn't have gone to Iraq to give us trouble there?

I am not in favor of war as a means of settling things, but at least going to Afghanistan made some sense, since the perpetrators of 9-11 were trained there, and were committed to the intentions of Osama bin Laden.

If we care about our own young, we should never rush to war as a way of getting what we want for our country. War should be absolutely the last resort, and should not be used until every other method has been tried. We should use diplomacy first, and be imaginative and persistent in our efforts to reach understanding and agreement. There is no excuse for using lies, propaganda, and fear to take our country to war. Nor is there a good excuse for refusing to talk to countries with whom we disagree, and whose ideas we disapprove of.

We are already at peace with our friends; we can only make peace with our enemies. This requires communication. Refusing to talk to them will not cause them to change their ways--why should they? We should find any areas of agreement and mutual need that may exist, and use them as a starting point to build from.

Unless and until we have exhausted every possible way to stay out of a war, we have no right to start one. And until we have exhausted those possibilities, we should be ashamed to send our sons and daughters into harm's way. It's an awful thing to do. Especially for a lie.

When Jesus said, "Love thine enemies," he probably meant we shouldn't kill them.

Think about it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I got so sick of either hearing Rev. Wright expostulating, or hearing about him, or hearing TV journalists ask talking heads, "Has Barack Obama's campaign been derailed by Rev. Wright?" After the first three or four times, I couldn't bear to listen to their speculations any more. They didn't know. I didn't know. But the constant attention to the effect of Rev. Wright, and the questions about it, were far more likely to affect the campaign adversely than the actual things that happened in the first place. Enough already!

Now that North Carolina and Indiana are behind us, I guess that outworn question will be replaced by something new. Thank God for that, but I hope the next obsession won't be even worse.

Ted Turner had a good idea when he started CNN, and I'm sorry he no longer runs it. Now it has become less of a news channel, and more of a place for gossip and opinion instead of straight news. That's what distresses me about all the so-called news channels--all of them lapse at times into the kind of reporting that used to be relegated to the tabloids. Is it too much to hope for good journalism without innuendo and smarmy questions?