(written before preemptive wars initiated by U.S.A.)
Will We Wear Black for the Dead?
I have lived for two years in a city where most of the people wear black. It was jarring at first when passing a bus stop during the early morning rush, seeing every single person, young and old, wearing black. Soon I started distinguishing between those that were wearing black because they were young and sophisticated and those that were wearing black in memory of their loved ones. Seventeen years ago when visiting Greece I had noticed many of the elderly, mostly women but some men, all in black. The men were usually crippled in some way and I immediately understood that this generation had lost members of their family in World War II. I was much younger then and much more relaxed about death. I acknowledged at the time not really death itself but the act of paying respect to the dead every day for the rest of your life as a very honorable thing to do.
I'm an American viewing the States from Crete. Perhaps that distance allows me to dig a little deeper into painful issues. Because of the terrible tragedies in the USA last September, resulting in so many deaths in so short a period of time, I've been thinking about how devastating acts of violence are. We should consider very carefully state-sanctioned acts of violence (such as war) made in our names and with our money. We should consider very carefully the relationship war has with death.
From my view across the Atlantic I've been imagining what the bus stops in the States would be like if we honored our war dead from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, the Afghan War and all the conflicts between by wearing black. I wonder if that would give us any feeling of the impact of war on daily lives. In Europe people have had war on their own soil. In a place like Crete "their own soil" means the soil of their own farms. Not everyone has the tragic blessing of taking their own and preparing them for burial in their own parish immediately after a conflict. In World War II the Cretans did.
The Allies, unfortunately, didn't come through for the Greeks back then. The people of Crete protected their families and homes from Nazi parachutists with the only tools they had. Hunting guns, pitchforks, shovels and brooms. Thank God for the rest of the world the Cretans came through. They helped win the war. They were driven by a moral prerogative to enter into war. They were part of the decision-making process of whether or not to take up arms. Having the citizens of a nation-state involved in the conversation of whether or not to go to war is a typical characteristic of a democracy. It's a good measure of whether or not a nation-state is a working democracy or only advertises itself as such.
The former governor of Texas, G. Bush has never experienced nor even trained for war yet he has become the supreme cheerleader for war. It's puzzling to watch a person with his lack of experience urging nations to war. Many are nations that have either experienced long years of war or have experienced losing large buildings containing civilians or both. He's comfortable urging them to join in the war effort or be labeled as "the enemy" without considering their experiences. Are the innocent people that die in other nations worthy of less respect because they didn't die on the soil of the USA or because they didn't die in a spectacularly visually media-friendly manner.
We've been very busy playing tit for tat. In the past ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' was interpreted as meaning ‘If you hit me I'll hit you back, if you take my eye I'll take yours'. It's become a cancer that has now metastasized into ‘If you hit me I'll hit someone more vulnerable than either you or me'. War is no game, unless you regard death as a playing piece in the game of life.
It's also dangerous to regard death as a harmless marketing tool. From overseas the jingoism coming from the states sounds like a strange commercial for Lockheed Martin Corporation or Rockwell International. It seems real in its attempt to sell fear, xenophobia and bombs but unreal in conveying any true sense of the experience of war.
I wonder if we should think about the most repulsive consequences of war for as long as we can bear. After that we might have the courage to take back our decision-making power on the life and death issue of war.
Perhaps it's time to reject the euphoria before the kill and think about the relationship of death to war. This act of rejection could be a way to honor our loved ones. A way to honor them before they die; before we have to wear black.