Thursday, October 28, 2010


I have nothing like Dickinson's excuse for my absence--"a terror since September"--but nevertheless I've neglected my blog since the end of August. I've been thinking a lot about troubling things, particularly the consequences of community, the concept of hell, and war as waged by the country that has my allegiance. (Nothing too major, right?)

For a while now, at least since the "Staging War" literature course I took a year and a half ago in Wyoming, I've been well on my way to a pacifist stance. An understanding of violence as perhaps our greatest failure of imagination as human beings certainly makes any war pretty difficult to support. Perhaps many just-war-theory types feel the same way, except for some exceptions in certain circumstances. But I don't think I'll end up in the just war camp (even though I'm all for the good arguments against the invasion of Iraq etc based on such theory).

It's strange to write this down, even though I've obsessed and obsessed over it. There's the fear of being, and sounding, naive. "I just am not okay with ever killing someone. War is bad. The end." There's also the inherent element of hypocrisy--I continue to live as a citizen of the United States and in effect contribute to (even benefit from?) our never-ending occupations in the Middle East.

But there's something else, too, something bigger: the realization that if the majority of Americans came to agree with me, and we really did rethink the utility of violence, there would likely be some very terrible consequences. We would be left vulnerable, open to attack. Many of us would lose our lives. I get it. I get that it would totally suck and that my being okay with such an outcome might be a little extreme. When I consider the alternatives, though, I'm pretty convinced that a pacifist approach is the most reasonable and ethical among the available options.

I wonder if this makes me a coward. Weak. Willing to let the bad guys win. I don't know. But I do know that it's not because I'd be afraid to fire a weapon, or to die. It's because, as Chris Hedges writes, "a soldier who is able to see the humanity of the enemy makes a troubled and ineffective killer." It's because a world like ours, where violence and suffering have become so necessary, isn't a world I care to perpetuate. And it's probably because I can't get Susan Sontag out of my head (Regarding the Pain of Others).

On a more positive note, it's also because of flashes of true imagination that suggest war is not the only way. Flashes like this one, from the interview (with the author) at the back of God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse Mediated by H. L. Hix:

"Bush turns up the volume on his rhetoric depending on who he's talking to, or turns it down, and so does bin Laden. He's also made peace overtures: look, the instant that you stop occupying the lands that we consider sacred, we stop shooting you. In any kind of a dialogue--third graders having a fist fight, or two of the most powerful people on the planet leading others into battle with thousands and thousands of lives as stake--in any kind of dialogue you can either withhold trust from the other person until the other person fulfills your preconditions for attributing trust, or you can insist on trust as a condition of conversation, and grant the trust and cling to it insistently. I can hear someone saying now, we tried to trust him but they flew planes into our buildings, and the other side then makes analogous accusations about different events, so if there's going to be dialogue instead of shooting, somebody has to say, okay I believe that you are a human being who wishes to live and wishes for those you love to have happy and robust lives, and I am going to act as if that is the case no matter what you do. It seems to me that that's a healthier approach."

I for one am up for us trying that approach -- "I believe that you are a human being ... and I am going to act as if that is the case no matter what you do."