War feeds upon the souls of the young. This feeding is inevitable. I’m not only talking about the destruction of souls as evidenced by the exiting of the body, physical death, though that is tragic enough. I’m talking about the feeding that affects all of the young, combatants or not, when violence is institutionalized. As a result of this cultural inbededness, children witness, enact, and normalize conflict in very deep ways. So I speak of war, as it happens now all over the planet, and for us, as Americans, most specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. I lament that it will, as a matter of course, feed on the soul of my 2 year old daughter. She will grow older, and have to make momentary as well as longitudinal decisions concerning if, how, and why she will support violence done in other countries in the name of peace, protection, whatever. She will, as will all young people, make this decision by her actions, conscious or not.
If war, the planetary process of killing, damaging, economically crippling and philosophically annihilating those with whom we don’t agree, feeds upon the souls of the young, does it not do the same with the rest of us? It does, and although I’m concerned about that, I’m more concerned with its effects upon those who are growing, filling up their moral compasses with the mercury, the gravitas of intentionality. How do we expect them to understand how to proceed in a culture that positively reeks of violence? Physical violence. Financial tyranny. Violence enacted in the simulacrum of television, movies, the iPod whispering carnage in the ear, 24/7. No push back. No hippies in the street, no flowers placed in the barrels of guns. Just the duality of the cacophony of aggression in torrid intercourse with the whispering succubus of total acquiescence. There is no guide by the river to point the way past the deep water. It is of course an exaggeration and literary exercise to assert that there is absolutely no cultural opposition to the idea of war, of aggression, of violence. There are ghettos and silos of opposition. But in comparison to the fortresses of the agitators and the complicit, which captures the actions of most of us, they are miniscule.
I just saw The Hurt Locker, and came away deeply affected, and with mixed emotions. I was not awed by the story, and did not feel it deserved an Oscar for best picture. I felt An Education was a better film. What affected me so deeply was the depiction( accurately I am told by people I trust who have had these experiences), of the profound depths of the empty violence.Violence done by the young, for the most part, to the young, in many instances, on behalf of the powerful, and in the name of all of us. This cycle has continued uninterrupted since the beginning of human engagement. The difference is that violence is now more detached; no watching your enemy’s life blood flow over the end of your sword, and this detachment is a stimulus to continue the violence. We send Marines, hard of limb, with full men’s bodies, but possessive of the memories of boys, to fight on behalf of puppet masters who embody agitation, avarice and preoccupation. We send these men with boy memories to places where memories cease, and are replaced by the violent reactivity and constant bloody red tape spinning on the wheel of PTSD. We take these boy memories, shred them, suck out the innocence like marrow from a bone, and leave shells of souls behind, less animate, less full of the light of….a past.
I heard an NPR story about Marines in Kandahar on the eve of battle. The NPR reporter imbedded with these Marines described them huddled in a bombed out gas station with roof torn away to reveal a frozen star-filled sky, spooning each other in the misery of the freezing cold. The core of their existence was really just each other; memory, place, moral value all distilled into a moment of receiving bodily warmth and shared preservation from a comrade. We take, as a culture, these moments, infuse them with sufficient romantic engine, and sell them back to young men in order to convince them to continue to fight. Convince them that sacrificing their lives, minds and souls must be done, for each other. And the truth of it rings, in these star-filled nights, mightily in the ears of boys (still having the memories of boys) in the Hollers of Kentucky, the Ghettoes of Detroit, and on the plains of Kansas. And they fall in, fall down and fall apart, all for the ridiculous spoils of a game. A game of life with the most severe consequences. How do we stand up, if even just to preserve the boy and girl memories of the men and women who would fight our games for us? I don’t know, but my daughter’s clear eyes and bright innocent soul beg me to find out….quickly.