I’ve been thinking a lot about “peace” lately. I’m publishing my first poetry chapbook called In the War about how my father’s war related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affected his life and our family—and I’m supposed to start lining up readings, getting reviews and stuff. But, the title worries me. What if someone asks me about it? I guess I can refer to my pitch, fall back on the carefully crafted pitch I sent my publisher, where I said it’s about something like “the pervasiveness of war on subsequent generations, and how urban living is like a kind of emotional warfront living…”
But after reading any of these poems aloud I’m rangled, verklempt, dizzied, stutterered. Can’t articulate. How can I “perform” these works, or talk about “the overarching theme” in a writerly way when I’m still pissed that my father, though living, has been absent for the whole of my life because of PTSD and alcoholism and circumstantially developed schizophrenia. I’m still pissed at my mom for procreating with such a troubled man, for launching us into monetary and spiritual poverty. Pissed at America the place the dream, and at the American government that chose at that time to perpetrate and perpetuate the “Vietnam Conflict”. I’m pissed that warring meant I didn’t get a fair shake at wholeness, that I must fight for it—and I’m embarrassed about this anger. That though it recedes recedes recedes, it remains. “I object to violence,” Gandhi said, “because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” So is this inherited evil, this war, permanent in me?
And what about that occasional “temporary good”? I ask because I’m not sure I object to all war, per se. See, the question I fear someone would ask about my book would not be as banal as, “What’s the title mean?” The fearsome typhonic question would be: are you against war? I’d think then about my Jewish ancestors and how a good fat early-on bomb to Hitler’s offices would’ve saved more innocent lives than it would have cost. Then I think about Gandhi again—whose autobiography I teach in college composition courses—who said, as we all know, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
Maybe I need to look at the root of things. Why do people war? Has it always been, over and over ad nauseum—as symbolized by that triedy true Judeo-Christian story—that green eyed Cain kills the favored son Abel, and/or Abel lords over the less favored Cain like a fascist? In this model, I can see how staying at the level of fairness can cause violence at every level—familial, societal, national etcetera—how this is developmentally the morality of grammar school kids who feel entitled to the bigger piece of cake, or feel the cake must be absolutely evenly divided and no fair if my sibling whom I profess to love gets more God forbid.
Martin Luther King Jr., following Gandhi who emulated Jesus, said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” And he said, “Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” So, it’s lack of love for and/or from the other that starts conflict? If it comes down to love, then likely it’s specifically about the love of forgiveness of compassion. The lack of this love.
Are we as a species evolved enough to whole hale love and forgive? Not “tolerate” (a veil beneath which emotion can seethe) but really forgive which can be the beginning of love and reciprocal relationship. In his “I Have a Dream” speech Dr. King said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” I too want to believe that we can forgive. Some of us have been able to do it—like Gandhi. He actualized Jesus’s call to “love your enemy”. He even called his life an “experiment” and his experiment was a success—he loved away the brutish colonial Brits straight out of India.
So, if one of the many has success the rest can follow? I can follow, forgive? But I have not. Not really. I’m still in part defined by conflict—am conflicted and can be persuaded that armed conflict can be good. I am not at peace. I guess I’m in process. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” said Gandhi. Then the bit of me that is OK with the temporary good of war, in this era of a spiritually evolved humanity—this could be the weak part of me, I suppose.
But then, as Dr. King said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”