Very few people now alive have had the experience of what I think of as “Real War.” Oh, we still use the word “war,” but it doesn’t seem to carry the same sense of dramatic finality that it formerly did. War, and our thinking about war, has gotten soft. Our changing values affect the way we respond to the victors and victims of war.
These days, our wars tend to earn euphemisms such as: border skirmish, police action, regime change, nation building, civil uprising, popular revolution, government standoff, and gorilla opposition. Similarly, killing becomes: targeting, eliminating, taking out, and collateral damage because the idea is too repulsive to be named as what it is without shame. We rarely see Group A attacking Group B with the intent of killing or enslaving everyone and taking all of their land and property. And, of course, Real War only begets more war. Yeah, Real War used to really mean something.
The incomprehensible and unconscionable violence of World War II so scared the crap out of everybody that we all just HAD to find ways to not do THAT again. Now, 60 years and several generations later, we are still feeling good about returning pieces of art to the grandchildren of people who had their homes plundered, and parliaments and presidents are still feeling obliged to make apologies for atrocities committed by their predecessors in other times long, long ago.
Truly, I feel great indignation, revulsion, and grief when I contemplate the consequences of Real War. Great waves of horsemen pounded off the barren steppes to pillage great swathes of quiet villages. European colonizers often summarily claimed whatever they “discovered,” demanding its resources for themselves, and usually were more than rude to its current inhabitants. We try to not remember how recently Indigenous peoples of the American continents were slaughtered or driven off their lands. Although the United States emancipated slaves a century and a half ago, their civil rights have only been properly established under law in my lifetime, and, quite recently, a black man was dragged to death behind a pickup truck not fifty miles from where I lived in East Texas.
Please consider that EVERY town, region, and nation holds a history of injustice and widespread ruthless violence. It happened. More and more, however, it happened TO people we never knew BY people we never knew. Do I somehow owe reparations (other than a warm heart and kindly smile) to my African American neighbors because their ancestors may once have been enslaved by my ancestors? What do I owe to Native American neighbors whose ancestors were given smallpox-contaminated blankets, or confined to “reservations” which were essentially refugee camps on unproductive land?
My point is this: Real War is all about violent conquest, and it produces Victors and The Vanquished. And yes, this is a VERY bad state of affairs. However, Isn’t there some point at which the victors stop oppressing their victims and the vanquished stop seeking revenge? A Real War happened. Somebody won. We have to eventually move on and work together to make life better for all those disenfranchised survivors and restrain those whose greed or hate would create injustice and misery to others.
But, once a Real War has been allowed to happen in some region, how much time is enough time for people to accept the fact that it is over and that they lost? Two generations? Perhaps somebody moved into your grandparents’ old neighborhood and no court will give you the deed or award you compensation for what they lost. What are you going to do? Raise your children in a tin shack slum while waiting for bitterness and hatred to eat your liver and to consume their lives as well?
My petition to fellow Americans is this: Our nation was born in violence and revolution in pursuit of self-evident unalienable rights and the conviction that governments should derive just power from the consent of the governed. To the extent that you appreciate these freedoms in your own life, commit to finding ways to support others who seek similar freedoms for themselves and their children. You must ask of yourself, as others will, if your ignorance or indifference may be interpreted as complicity.
I also appeal to all people: If you find yourself in situations lacking dignity, justice, and security, start by picking up your own mantle of dignity. Dignity is not something you are given, it is in the nature of your character and self-respect. If you are weak, biting at ankles can never win you the favorable consideration of the bitten or their friends. You must submit your petition for justice to everyone who can be made to hear. You must present yourself as someone who will not squander their assistance in bitterness or hate. You must raise your voice in a united community of such seekers. You must persist.
Our world is changing, growing, developing, and maturing. The general tolerance of Real War is evaporating. We are increasingly beginning to respond with brotherly consideration and liberal compassion for others. Our sense of community continues to expand from family, to village, to tribe, to nation, to humanity, to all life on this earth. Why not truly commit yourself and your energies to peace on earth and good will to men?
Copyright 2011, David Satterlee
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