This morning I finished reading Chris Hedge's book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. A powerful read. Hedges was a NYTimes war correspondent in Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Rather than give accounts of battles, Hedges covers the lives of survivors, the trauma of war they live through for several years, their memories, losing children, parents, relatives, neighbors, friends, people they don't know. He writes specifically about the difference between the myth of war and the actuality of killing and being shot at. In the myth, killing is the glory of war. In actuality, killing makes the young have nightmares and memories they can't live with for the rest of their lives. Soldiers returning from active duty hear people say, "Thank you for your service," which comes from the myth of war. To the ears of someone back from the actuality of war, it sounds hollow to be thanked for service. Many kill themselves while involved in the military, and later. So many, it's another epidemic in a society that is overrun with epidemics, like cops killing three thousand American citizens a year and beating up multiple thousands more. Soldiers coming home with PTSD and no job prospects become cops, the citizen the enemy. And what do we do? We justify it. Growing up in a martial society is not easy for a kid who wants to live in peace. The war on drugs is a war on the American people who want peace in their lives. I saw a quip from DC chief of police who said arresting people for marijuana use only makes them hate the police. Half a century into the war on the American people, what can I say but: Duh.
I talk with people I know who have been to prison about the epidemic of cops killing in such excess, the answer comes back, they're scared. Of course. They're scared from half a century of brutalizing peaceable people. They activate peaceable people into protest movements. The NYPD is now trying to make legal protest into an act of terrorism, full reign to kill, maim and arrest peaceable citizens. All the time reading Hedges' book, I was recalling my own feelings subject to the draft, hating being forced by threat of prison to be a part of the killing machine. It comes to a choice of taking my chances as a target or years in prison where I am a target for gangs and guards. I took my chance, fortunately between Korea and Vietnam, a small window. I've thanked God all my life that I've not been forced to take part in killing action. I'm of a mind that I think I'd rather be killed than kill. The consequences of being killed amount to a shortcut to heaven. The consequences of killing is a lifetime of inner torment, justified by law or not. The problem I wrestled with under military duress was that I did not want to kill or be killed. Guys the same age as me on the other side don't want to kill or be killed. I don't want to kill somebody like myself who does not want to be there, but is there to stay out of prison, like me. I was on a WW2 destroyer in the early 1960s. The ship was sent to patrol the harbor at Santo Domingo. A communist cell was known to be in the city. The ship had orders to blow the hell out of the city if anybody shoots at us. I hated it. I did not want to be a part of the machine that would kill and maim random innocent people, children, people who wanted to live.
My "general quarters" role was to load big shells into the elevator that took them to the big gun fired by a young officer just out of officer training school, who had the same ability with one of those guns as I have with a handgun. None. Their targets were the only safe places. I saw them during practice shooting at sea. They hit all around their targets and never the target. It was the same with the big machine guns that fired shells that glow red flying through the air and skipping on the ocean surface like a stone skipped on a lake. They never hit the target. I remember my moral dilemma transferring the big shells from the racks they were stored in to the big gun. I would be as responsible for the damage done to the people and homes of Santo Domingo as the ship itself. I wanted to live a peaceable life and wanted to allow the people of Santo Domingo a peaceable life. The ship running back and forth outside the harbor for a month provided some interesting sights. Look over the side of the ship and see hammerhead sharks and other kinds of sharks, water I did not want to fall into or have the ship sink in. I was fascinated seeing the hammerheads. One time I saw a huge herd of sharks circle a school off bonito in the harbor itself. The ring of sharks closed in on the thrashing circle of bonito that shrank smaller and smaller until the last one stopped thrashing. An amazing event to behold. Not a good place to go in the water at the beach. On lookout duty at night, I watched the movie playing at the drive-in theater. They were playing The King And I, many years after it was new, a movie I never wanted to see, but was fascinated to see it through binoculars from a ship. There was still much child in self at the time, especially the wanting to live aspect of childhood.
It pissed me off that government, parents, church, every adult in my world wanted me there. What could I think? Fuck all y'all. It felt like the entire society wanted me dead. I had a secret longing to be a communist, anyway. In childhood, daddy said to me out of the blue on one of the unfortunate Saturdays he was home from work, my second least favorite day of the week, Sunday the worst, he said, "If you ever join the Communist Party, I'll kill you." It was the McCarthy era. Of course, he didn't know what he was talking about, but he did understand the threat. This moment made me want to find a way to get with communists. Couldn't find any. In college, after the period of involuntary servitude, I read about communism and took a course in Soviet history. I thought Stalin was cool, because the adults of my world were so freaked out by his name. After a biography of him and learning about his time in power, I thought: shit, he's worse than what we've got. He killed millions of his own people, made the Nazi holocaust look not so bad. No. He's not my leader. American cops have killed well over a million in my lifetime. The latter, however, is hush-hush, so it's not as bad. Growing up, a kid in a world of adults that wanted me dead, I came up without much confidence in the adults around me, certainly not in believers of the myth of war. By the time I finished college and saw I could get a good job I'd probably like, I could not join the world of participation in the myth I did not believe. The time came I found that God, indeed, is, and then I had reason to live beyond automatic self-preservation. I realized I wanted to live in semi-isolation in a place where I can follow my own light, avoid being swept by social forces not very well thought out. I have found my peace where I can look out the window and see donkeys grazing hay and lying down on it for a siesta in midday sunlight.