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Do You Know What War Is?

by JOE QUANDT

It’s a woman with 3 children making her way along a dusty road at sundown. Her man, her family, have been torn out of her life. As the sunlight leaks out of the bleak dusk of another bleak day, she pulls up her filthy shawl and runs a hand over the brow of the baby she’s carrying. He has a fever, has had one for a couple days. The 2 other kids scuff along behind her, one holding vacantly onto her dress, eyes wide in the growing blackness of a night without streetlights, without buildings, without food. Emptiness, and sniffles.

The other kid’s eyes are half closed with fatigue and hunger, her mind shocked into a torpid, mock adulthood. A brilliant catalog of disasters and collaterally damaged humans flips its endless pages within her silent, groping little brain. “This,” she decides, “is what life is.”

The woman is not beautiful because this is not a movie. No one will come to artfully arrange her hair for the big scene when her baby dies. No one will give her a hug at the end of the scene and tell her she’s doing a great job.

She is doing what refugees from the dawn of “civilization” have done, outrunning disaster, using all of her animal wit to just keep 4 people alive until tomorrow. Just tomorrow.

She last danced at her wedding.

* * *

Civilization dates itself from the ancient Iraqi city-states of Mesopotamia. With civilization came war-the mindless, wanton child of civilization.

From comfortable chairs in the quiet rooms of State, decrees are penned that consign nations to the flames, for war is the ultimate game of the wealthy. Only in popular revolutions do the poor utilize war, and then only to gain immediate ends. Still, the under classes must fight all the wars.

War, as a concept, a necessary evil, must be sold to the people, who in their hearts hold a healthy dread of it. And so it is idealized as patriotism, the enemy is demonized, and God’s protection is invoked. Young men are turned from their natural pursuits, the sacrifices of mothers are lionized, and the old shake their heads in disbelief at the recurrent folly of humanity.

Is it any wonder that the trumpet, loudest of all instruments, is the actual and metaphorical sound of war? Or that it is the violin, so like the human voice, that plays the somber, mournful sound of war’s aftermath?

War is the death of Law. And when nations have sickened and wasted their wealth, both human and capital, and when the original point of the war has become a fossilized memory, and when men have become indistinguishable from beasts in the lone pursuit of survival… they lie down exhausted, and this is called Peace.

* * *

As the United States lumbers closer and closer to the disaster that every war eventually becomes, as the flames of international hate rise, it is well that we turn our thoughts to that woman and those children on that road.

To believe that the world would exact no penalty on us because we failed to visualize her would be a dangerous lack of imagination on our part.

JOE QUANDT is a member of Voices in the Wilderness. This interview was conducted in Baghdad in October. He can be reached at: ytonthemoon@aol.com

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