What If?

If from Space not only sapphire continents,
swirling oceans, were visible, but the wars –
like bonfires, wildfires, forest conflagrations,
flame and smoky smoulder – the Earth would seem
a bitter pomander ball bristling with poison cloves.
And each war fuelled with weapons: it should be visible
that great sums of money have been exchanged,
great profits made, workers gainfully employed
to construct destruction, national economies distorted
so that these fires, these wars, may burn
and consume the joy of this one planet
which, seen from outside its transparent tender shell,
is so serene, so fortunate, with its water, air
and myriad forms of “life that wants to live.”
It should be visible that this bluegreen globe
suffers a canker which is devouring it.
−“It Should Be Visible,” Denise Levertov

children and tank
What if we believed out loud the words we whisper to our children . . . that war is bad, evil, an irredeemable sin?

What if we refused to see war as inevitable—every war past and present and future—what if we refused to see war as something to sigh over, to prompt a long, if temporarily sad, face?

What if instead of hinting at the badness of war in our children’s books—as though by saying it to the very young we can pass on responsibility for all our failures—what if instead of making sweet-but-sad stories for the very young we spoke to one another? And spoke in voices meant to be heard?

What if we truly believed that the nuclear arsenals scattered around the world, each watched over by power without conscience, by another fallible, hair-trigger finger, what if we truly believed that they were meant to explode, by accident or design, today . . . tomorrow?

What if we, each of us in every corner of the globe, held back the money we give our governments to wage destruction? What if every one of us refused to vote or had the courage to vote for one who is destined to fail, one who dares speak peace?

What if we believed our own words, that war is a game old men send children out to play . . . a deadly, deadly game?

What if we considered supplying our children with toy guns as shocking an obscenity as handing them toy dildos?

What if we eliminated from the face of the earth the phrase “fighting for our freedom”?

And quit saying to our poor, “This is your way into a secure life. Put on this uniform and we will then—after we have flayed your body, your soul—agree to educate you”?

What if we refused to watch any film, read any book that turns war into high drama, into heroism, into the answer.

What if we declined to feed our children on the profits made from selling bombers, Agent Orange, the flags of our superiority?

And what if we let ourselves see the canker devouring this bluegreen globe—and us—from within?

What might we do then?

12 thoughts on “What If?

  1. Uma Krishnaswami

    Such good questions, Marion. These days I find myself despairing that we will ever evolve beyond these basic violent instincts–especially because of how institutionalized war is. Corporations and governments are in bed with each other and there’s big, big money in making and selling weapons and in researching all kinds of basic science that may seem on the surface to be irrelevant to this thing that’s euphemistically called “Defense.” I loved these words you quoted: “It should be visible that this bluegreen globe
    suffers a canker which is devouring it.” That canker has been double-talked into normalcy, hasn’t it?

  2. Carol Neumann

    “Imagine all the people, living life in peace” — John Lennon’s vision might come true if we did that. Thanks for the post.

  3. Cheryl Harness

    ‘Last night I had the strangest dream I’ve ever had before
    I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.”


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