Sunday, May 26, 2013


Photograph of Korean War Memorial in Washington
Chris and Ann Collins/

When will our consciences grow so tender
that we will act to prevent human misery
rather than to avenge it?
Eleanor Roosevelt

My father grew up on a small farm in a community called English Crossing. Not a town but the intersection of railroad tracks and a dirt road that wound through the piney woods and fields of Telfair County, Georgia. I never met my grandmother, a huge loss according to all who knew and loved her. Widowed early, she raised three boys to manhood and sent all three to war...while she fought breast cancer, alone on the farm. My dad went first. Then his brother, Hardwick. Finally, Uncle George was shipped over.  In a different sort of English crossing, my dad landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Uncle Hardwick, on Utah Beach. The last of the brothers to go, George was placed in a non-combat zone. They all came home before Grandma died.

Uncle George remained in the military, later serving in Korea and several tours in Vietnam, before he retired, a lieutenant colonel. Daddy was discharged on Christmas Day, 1946, and both he and Hardwick returned to civilian life. He loved the men with whom he served. Tears flowed when he read the rolls of the dead he'd never met. He would answer my questions about his experiences during WWII. Mostly anecdotal stories of taking cover during a bombing only to discover afterward that he had been underneath a fuel truck. Or finding that his helmet harbored a bullfrog when he plopped it on his head during another attack. I watched, at his request, Eisenhower walk the beaches of Normandy with Walter Cronkite, unaware that my dad had been there. He would speak of it once, ten days before he died. Never told me that he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Uncle George revealed this. Inevitably Daddy would say about the Brits, the French, the Germans, the Dutch, the Belgians he encountered, "I loved the Brits/the French/the Germans/the Dutch/the Belgians/etc." He sailed home from a port in Norway. Loved them, too.

Here we are...another Memorial Day. I honor all who have been sent to war, who are fighting now. But I don't think I will ever honor war. I agree with Margaret Atwood: "War is what happens when language fails." [Change "language" to “communication" perhaps? Non-verbal methods are pretty powerful.] As another young writer, Jarod Kintz, wrote, "I once asked an old Japanese man why Japan decided to team up with Germany during WWII, and do you know what he told me? Well, you would if you speak Japanese, which I don't." Between peace and war is a listening...or not. Before people have chosen sides. Before order has broken down. Is war inevitable? Smarter people than I have been debating this for a long time.

So I invited some folks for a dialog. A few surprised me.

Moi (AKA Celeste):
"Mr. Camus, I agree with your words: 'There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.' Excuse me, General Patton, what's did you say?"

General Patton:
"When in doubt, ATTACK."

Jon Stewart

"Yes, Mr. Stewart, you disagree?"

Jon Stewart:
"[Well], here's how bizarre the Iraq is, and we should have known this right from the get-go: when we first went into Iraq, Germany didn't want to go. Germany. The Michael Jordan of war took a pass."

General George S. Patton, Jr.:
"Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base."

"We have several other military and political leaders here. I'm curious. What do you think?"

General Dwight D. Eisenhower:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who hunger and are not fed; those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

Benjamin Franklin:
"Excuse me. Might I interject this thought? 

"Please do."

Benjamin Franklin:
"There was never a bad peace or a good war."

Aristotle, nodding in agreement: 
"It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace."

Eleanor Roosevelt:
"No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war."

Grumbling to my left and right.

"Gentlemen and ladies, please, you will get your turn. First, though, Mr. Tolkien. You indicated a desire to speak."

J.R.R. Tolkien:
"War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all. But I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend."

Harper Lee:
"I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the  bravest man who ever lived." 


General George Washington:
"In politics as in religion, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little possible in their affairs, where our own are not involved. If this maxim was general adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvest be more peaceful, abundant, and happy."

"You have certainly paid for this wisdom, General. Perhaps we could hear from more of our literary guests."

Ernest Hemingway:
"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime."

"Did you just say what I think you said, Mr. Hemingway? [He nods.]

John Steinbeck:
"All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal."

Fred Rogers:
" When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch."

"You're speaking of that which cannot be quantified, correct?"

Fred Rogers:
"[Yes. I am talking about] that deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed."

Dalai Lama XIV:
"Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk. And remember that the best relationship in the world is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other."

Leo Tolstoy:
"The strongest of all warriors are these two - Time and Patience."

"So we're back to the daily walk. Yes, Mr. Lewis, you look as if you have something to add."

C. S. Lewis:
"...Out of [the] hopeless attempt [to be like gods] has come nearly all that we call human history - money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery - the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy."

Martin Luther King:
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. And never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” 

Adolf Hitler:
"If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."

George Lucas:
"And the ability to speak does not make you intelligent."

“Gentlemen, please remain seated. What is that, Mr. Einstein?"

Albert Einstein:
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

More silence.

Mahatma Ghandi: 
"[Truly] what difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homess, whether the made destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?"

Haruki Murakami:
"Listen up - there's no war that will end all wars."

A quiet spell.

"Let's not forget that we are here to think of those who have gone to battle, who fight now, not just war itself."

General George S. Patton, Jr.:
"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived."

"I accept the latter part of your statement but not the first. I agree with Elie Wiesel who sent this note: 'For the dead and the living, we must bear witness."

I bear this witness. My dad returned alive but not unscarred. His wounds were not physical. The war he fought was deemed a righteous one, as wars go. But much that led up to the war was anything but. Can we at least aim higher? I think Mr. Einstein was right when he said, "[We] cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." Many I love were willing to die. None that I ever met wanted to kill. I think Daddy wanted me to fight daily injustice. To choose hope rather than cynicism. To love my neighbors. To know the cost of freedom. To stand up for those who are mistreated, who need an advocate. I would prefer to pay these small tokens daily than drop billions and bombs later. But I do not have the last word, only a call to do the next right thing. And what is that? Neil Gaiman says, "There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous."

One of my heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote of cheap grace but lived an exquisite walk, all the way to death in WWII. A Lutheran pastor who stood against the Nazis, he openly opposed Hitler, spent two years in a concentration camp before being killed twenty-three days before the end of the war. Stripped, marched to a gallows, hung with piano wire. He who had written, "If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction" chose a harder but better way. Willing to die. Unwilling to kill.

Life isn't for sissies. And I guarantee you somebody's granny said that first.


Ann Bennett said...

Indeed war is a waste, like all human sin.

Jeannette said...

Complexities abound...and you have surely been meditating in the the difficult arenas.

100's pacifism is not feasible given people who believe that they can define some lives as having no value... but I cling to the Scripture that says
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men." Romans:12:18

Celeste Bracewell said...


Celeste Bracewell said...

Jeannette, I was listening to Yo Yo Ma's beautiful music from the soundtrack of The Mission. When I looked up the composer's name this passage struck me:

[from the Wiki]
In a final exchange between Cardinal Altamirano and Don Hontar, Hontar laments that what happened was unfortunate but inevitable because "we must work in the world; the world is thus." Altamirano replies, "No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it." Days later, a canoe of young children return to the scene of the Mission massacre and salvage a few belongings. They set off up the river, going deeper into the jungle, with the thought that the events will remain in their memories. A final title declares that Jesuits and others continue to fight for the rights of indigenous people. The text of John 1:5 is displayed: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."