I’m currently reading Kurt Vonnegut’s latest, maybe final, book, “A Man Without a Country”. It’s not good, really, (plenty of good bits, of course) just assorted rants from a grumpy, brilliant old man. He seems to have passed that point as a writer where you talk about social reality and human nature, and just mutter that the whole world is crazy.
The thing is that these mutterings are true. Vonnegut is horrified by man’s inhumanity to man and our seeming inability to notice that we’re rapidly annihilating the planet we live on. He writes our epitaph, saying “The good Earth- we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.” And he cringes at war, but he is right to. War is insane! War is the exact opposite of life; we spend our lives trying to build friendships and families and homes and happiness. War is about tearing all those things to bits, murdering loved ones, vaporizing relationships, demolishing homes.
(A crazy guy on a bus once told me that “war is the opposite of music”. I think he might be right, too)
But somehow, we let ourselves get spun around so badly that this suicide seems reasonable. Death gets hair extensions and a boob job and we take it to the prom. We ought to know better. We do know better. We all know that war is one of the worst things imaginable. Maybe we ought to try to cut down a little then.
Which has got me thinking. It’s looking like the Iraq war, when it’s all said and done, might end up costing about $2 trillion. What if that kind of money was used to try to prevent war instead of wage it? (yes, I’m well aware that the US government had no interest in averting war) What if that money was spent to remind people how utterly horrific war was so that no one would want it? Wave after wave of blockbuster films about it, Will Smith grieving over the bomb-mangled Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks killed in a hail of bullets, Jennifer Anniston and Rene Russo crying over the twisted frames of their maimed husbands and sons. Better living through pathos.
I’ll end with Vonnegut, quoting a then-pacifist Abraham Lincoln bashing the war president of the time (James K. Polk, during the Mexican-American war):
Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory– that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent’s eye that charms to destroy– he plunged into war.
Maybe we should set all politicians to poetry like that. Sure, most of their works would suck, but I’d rather live in a world of shitty poets than one filled with skilled warmongers. Sadly, I get both (but I’d settle for neither).
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