It was the poet Shelley who wrote that "the poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world." Not much has changed since he wrote those words nearly three hundred years ago.
But, after watching among the most captivating minutes of video, one may certainly walk away with the sense that not merely by their words, but by their example poets change the world. "Every War Has Two Losers" is a documentary based on the journals of midwestern poet William Stafford who declared himself a conscientious objector to World War II and, from 1942 through 1946, was interned at the Civilian Public Service Camps as a pacifist. The film has already aired on selected PBS stations.
Stafford, who was born in 1914, was the author of some 67 volumes of poetry, winner of the National Book Award in 1963, and a close friend of another legendary American poet, Robert Bly.
It is fair to say there is something in "Every War" for everyone who has either served, known someone who has served, has lost someone on the battlefield, or has had to face losing someone on the battlefield. There is something in this film, too, for anyone who thinks about what it means to do the right thing.
"Armies are the result of obsolete ways," Stafford says, and he is right, but those ways are not obsolete enough. They are still very much with us. Stafford's words resonate even more now, and his recognition that warfare doesn't solve the problem, but only creates more problems. Or, as Robert Bly rightly suggests, many more lives were lost in an attempt to put an end to the murderous agenda of a rogue nation.
Essentially, it is the arbitrary nature of assignations like "enemy" that is at the core of what Stafford examines when he asks whether setting up a country as an adversary means making enemies of all its inhabitants.
One has only to think back to the 2008 presidential debates to remember then candidate Obama's insistence that he is not against war, but only wrong wars. William Stafford asks whether going to war is ever the right thing. His are good questions, and as timely now as they were more than half a century ago.
Apart from the PBS stations listed at this Web site, www.everywar.com, "Every War Has Two Losers" is also available on DVD, and includes an additional delightful feature, a second documentary, "William Stafford and Robert Bly," about the Whitmanic comradery between the two poets. I urge you to see it
Causes Jayne Stahl Supports
Free Speech, human rights, and abolition of the death penalty.