"The U.S. military also announced Thursday that two U.S. soldiers were killed the day before …. Those deaths, along with the deaths of nine other troopers announced Wednesday, brought the American death toll for the month to at least 82. Last month, 104 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq." U.S. Military IDs Missing Soldier’s Body, By Ravi Nessman, Associated Press Writer, May 24, 2007
U.S. Deaths Confirmed By The DoD: 3,428
Reported U.S. Deaths Pending DoD Confirmation: 6
Total as of May 24, 2007: 3,434
Put the two together.
A baby born in red and bawling joy, in pain, womb deflated,
nine months of daily heart and hectic,
changes in routine,
certainty to what the next year – twenty more, thirty –
takes and gives in how you live your life,
what you might expect, what will not occur.
Baby life to son, to birthday, to scrapes and friends
and daily daily there and always growing,
clothing to the yard sale,
budget means to choose what needs first,
School to dreams and casual plans,
summers normal around,
more scrapes and camp and friends,
heat and bills and too much to drink,
routines always fit for family,
“promising”, the teacher said,
the nurse “a cough is all”,
then nearly all the world and life hang,
nearly all the vision gone
for the next year – twenty more, thirty –
but passing, health and fidgeting to play outside,
edges back again.
Dramas and the left-there hobbies,
more yard sales, hand-me-downs to relatives
sometimes now too busy, just no time.
Girls, remember? When did all this happen?
It’s now routine, and arguing routine,
come to expect it,
and dinnertime he’s out, and part-time job,
a used car,
college – this one? Maybe ROTC?
Father died, gone, mother some time later,
all the world away, unreal,
and pray, the future dimmed without them,
memory the next year – twenty more, thirty –
not the same it seems,
but soon it comes routine,
bills and visits rare from the boy these days,
work, but e-mails from my son,
rumors of a war.
Put the two together.
Nothing’s hypothetical, just on paper.
Nothing’s worth the casual media
insulating day to day
and all routine, bills paid and getting up for work.
A real family living
all those minute minute minute days to months to year after year
of routine and bills and scrapes and sick nights
and not talking as much as we used to –
a real real many years of life and the next year –
twenty more, thirty –
© Keith Ward 2007
Hit Head On
(Note: I used my own baby picture for the composite image that illustrates this poem so as not to associate anyone else but me with the implied death in combat of the pictured youngster.)
I read the Associated Press article this morning and it impacted me emotionally. Almost 200 American young whole lives ended in just two months… God knows how many Iraqi whole lives ended in those two months. And the infuriating thing that hit me so emotionally this morning is that if these 200 deaths in two months happened without all of the deaths in the months and years before – they happened all of a sudden in just two months – it would be the top news story. There would be shock and action would be demanded in a way that would get action. It’s the nature of life and the way our life processes work to become habitual… to become used to things… There are good reasons for that. But that process also gets us used to what we should never be allowed to get used to… The only way we snap out of that is if we are affected in a real way – are impacted by the thing in a way that affects our personal immediate interests on an ongoing basis A family member in the combat zone, for example. There are degrees of being affected – like having a strong inner-renewing outrage… or having personal responsibility for others’ lives, and feeling it… The average person reading the morning paper may be angered at the article on the war news, but it is suppressed and the daily routine kicks in. Like me. Tomorrow I’ll be right back to what fills my day-to-day daily cycle between waking and going to sleep again. So while I’m feeling this impact, I’m making an impassioned record of it…
Let’s start with this:
War is necessary sometimes. It is.
There have always been countries willing to wage aggressive war on other countries if they stood a good chance of getting something out of it. The intention was to conduct the war regardless of any other solution. That targeted county has a choice then – to submit to the will of that other country, or to defend itself militarily.
If you balk at the idea that war even in defense is wrong, consider this:
That invading country is Hitler-led Germany. You’re a Jew or a gypsy or gay or a Communist or have a severe mental disability (or someone you love does). Or you are safe from being any of these targeted populations, but you have the mind and sense of right and wrong you do now – and you realize that as time goes by, the schools are teaching your son and daughter in the ways of the Nazi Regime. Your children are being indoctrinated to be little Nazis, to hate and dehumanize – and be disgusted by – certain elements of your society. And all of the categories of knowledge being learned by your children, as they grow to become adults and older, now are slanted to the view of the rulers – propagandized, but to the youth in your society it is learned as indisputable fact. Organized religion, including your church, is suppressed unless the message to the flock is strongly mixed with praise for the new rulers and edicts to conform and honor the values of the new state – and take an active part in supporting it, including informing on those who don’t. Your children learn this in everything they are a part of – school, church, clubs, athletic activities, TV, radio, music, and on and on – an environmental web of conformity to the values that the state decides you must have. And this doesn’t end. Your children grow up in the new state to be model citizens, to your horror. Your grandchildren are headed for the same. Your great-grandchildren… If there is the least whiff of disapproval, those people disappear. Those individuals in the population who are targeted as less than human and cancer on society – neighbors, friends, family, strangers – are quietly taken away a few at a time, or more forcefully in large groups with media confirming just how right it is to be doing this… a benefit to your country… And your children agree.
What is worth a war…? What is worth whole lives being taken from us…?
If you had a farm at the edge of your country and you knew that a horde of tens of thousands armed men were on their way, murdering whole families, taking what they wanted, raping, torturing without compunction – and there was no reasonableness… no discussion… no mercy… just the will of other men to do with you and your loved ones whatever they desired… Question: What is best in life? Answer: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women. (Conan film, 1982) It’s real. There were and still are those in the world who would find pleasure in this. So what would you do? Run? What if there’s no place you can go to get away?
There are times when organized violence is necessary. These instances are no brainers. It’s the instances that aren’t no brainers that we’re really talking about. In a complex world, what is "defense"?
Look at the Monroe Doctrine, a building block of American history. What if you were head of state in any other nation in the western hemisphere. America has decided that its defense means that your nation is forbidden to enter into any tie with a European power that America feels is a threat to the US. Your nation is forced to dance to another country’s tune, even if your own interest is better served otherwise. This is a world of bullies’ rules on the playground – the kind of kids who put rocks in their snowballs if they think you deserve it, so you conform.
Just letting other forces chip away at your own power and independent will, and that includes your family and your way life – the environment you live daily life in – can eventually have an effect. How do you know when to make a stand? How do you know when to do something about it before it’s too late?
Maybe that’s a vital question: what is too late? What would you consider to be crossing that line? Once you’ve decided that, then you start working backwards from it to get an idea of when you’d need to take action to prevent that line being crossed, and consider options of what to do & how to be effective in doing it.
But wait… You find that in order to be effective, you have to think of yourself first. You’ve always been considerate of others’ rights, but now – to survive down the road in a continuing way of life you choose for yourself and your family, and to maintain the world you live in on a day-to-day basis – you have to make your own interests the priority, and everyone else’s lower priorities. Where there is a confrontation of your priority and anyone else’s, yours has to be the one that prevails.
You balk at that for a moment, then recall how you got here… to this conclusion. What would be crossing the line? When do you need to do something in order to prevent it? What would you have to do to prevent it? How would you effectively accomplish that?
Oh yeah… It was a logical process to get to here – where your interest takes precedence. Period. See how simple it becomes?
Except it’s not, is it? Someone in power is making that decision for you. Do you trust his ability to discern the answers to those questions? If the decisions in answer to those questions require military action, individuals die. You. Your children. Whole lives. Whole lives. Lives erased from the impact they’d have for the rest of them if they hadn’t been stopped… ended… in violent death…
And that is the point here. The point of this poem and this essay. What is worth the loss of a single whole life? Some things are. But the answer to that question must be made in consideration of an army of single persons’ – one individual whole life times thousands – being put at risk of loss. Again: what is necessary to do for what is of value to you, when what is of value to you is threatened*, balanced against the losing of even one single whole real baby kid teenager friends love scraped knees hugs whole whole life.
Put the two together…
* (and doing the crossing of the line working backwards to prevention thing)