First Posted 11-Feb-2015
War is one of the easy essays. War is horrible. It’s easy to oppose war. War exists now in places in the world. For us Americans, though, it’s something that happens on TV. Some families face it in the men & women who come home from military service with visible and invisible wounds. Some more face war as they grieve the loss of a loved one. But it doesn’t happen here, usually. So it’s easy to be for peace, to say that world peas is a worthy goal. War, though, is a tough topic for me. I know the reflexive answer of, “War is wrong!” Yes it is. Still, it exists, is happening now in the Middle East.
World peas is a worthy goal. At one time the memory of what I’d done to my wife was raw and present. The consequences of my violent choices were current fact for me. I was passionate about non-violence because being violent had harsh personal consequences for me. Still, something sat nagging me. What do you do with an opponent who just wants you dead? There is no talking to them. They don’t negotiate, don’t follow any rules of proper combat. They set about increasing the body count as rapidly and brutally as possible. It doesn’t even seem to be about the traditional metrics of victory–control of land, resources and political power. We have an opponent that just wants to fight.
I’ve said to my son that bullies are at heart, pussies. The reason they bluster and threaten is that they are scared. The aggression is a cover for their fear of being found to be weak, afraid and thus, easily defeated. The way you win is in the head game, the maneuvering war that happens before battle is begun. And this is fine as long as it’s a smallish group or one guy and there are no guns in the fight. This is also fine if the bully can be beaten this way. There are some on the world stage who will shoot first, burn pilots alive first, commit genocide and then walk away. “Can we talk?” is a stupid question for them.
I work hard at being compassionate because that’s what keeps me from being violent. My careful world, though, that keeps me safe, is ruined by folk who believe that brutal legalism is pleasing to God and thus, a worthy way to live. Everything I’ve done to become the peaceful man I am is useless against zealots like this. It puts me in a hard place. If martyrdom were enough, if letting the body count climb high enough could be the way to stop it, maybe failing to fight might make sense.
Even I, with all that I’ve done in the last decade, have my breaking point. Push me hard enough and I too will make that shift from wanting resolution to wanting my opponents dead. I don’t say this proudly. I say it honestly because I am conflicted in considering whether peace is possible with the sort of opponent we have in the Middle East. I spent my youth learning how to win the head game against bullies. When I failed I’d get beaten up. My Dad told me I was not allowed to fight. It was a huge deal for me when I decided to defy him and fight back against Russell. We fought to a draw but I bled first so I lost. Most days I was smarter than them and either talked my way out or made sure on my walk to and from school that I was impossible to find.
The weekend after last Christmas, as I rode the bus to the Greyhound Station, a drunk twenty-something lolled his head in my direction, looked at me and slurred, “What are you looking at? Do you have a problem?” Stupidest, lamest way to start an argument ever, “Is that it? Is that what you’ve got? All I have to do is look at you and you are angry? You make it too easy. Do you like being my little bitch?”
He wasn’t happy with me. His friends pulled him up out of his seat and made him move a few more seats further away from me. I got told I was the little fucking bitch, bitch. Yeah, whatever. That was a small encounter and except for hard words, the end of it.
Muslim Fundamentalists, though, don’t seem to want it to end just on words. They have a utopian fantasy of a united Muslim Caliphate covering what was the Ottoman Empire. It is something they are willing to kill for, to die for. And for all my words about seeking grace first, being merciful, this may be the time when the answer must be to fight, to shed enough blood that they can’t fight us any longer. I wish it were not so. But, if it is to be war, let it be war. No sanitized, remotely controlled drone attacks from 50,000 feet or targeted cruise missiles. Nope. Swords, knives, guns, canon and all the rest. I hurt Russell bad enough that when his friends wanted him to fight me again, he refused. Death on a large scale. Enough death that no one dare lift a gun against us for another couple hundred years. Evil? Maybe. But sadly necessary, perhaps.