Tag Archives: peace

WE WANT PEACE!

Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

I did not vote for our current president, and I take exception to his ideas and his manner in too many ways to count.  But occasionally, out of his barrage of verbiage, the man says something that I find myself sitting up and listening to.  Something that gives me a scrap of exceedingly cautious hope. (The caution earned by the fact that little of what he says ever holds.)

Some of what I pay attention to is this:

President Trump admitted that his initial instinct was to pull our troops out of Afghanistan.  Soon after, however, he announced a troop increase.

He talked about staving off “a major and uncontrollable arms race” and hinted at high-level talks with President Xi of China and President Putin of Russian, though those talks have yet to happen.

He called our defense spending, $716 billion this year, “crazy.”  Then he proposed boosting it to $750 billion.

Now he talks about withdrawing our troops from Syria and Afghanistan, and as of this writing, he hasn’t yet backed down on that one.  But what an uproar pushing him to back down from both sides of the aisle!

Clearly, as we proved in Vietnam, there is no good way to extricate ourselves from these kinds of military excursions.  And it’s also clear that Trump has no plan for performing these withdrawals with a minimum of confusion and harm.

But let’s remember that Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned over Trump’s refusal to take his advice in this matter, had a nickname in the Marines.  It was “Mad Dog.”  Mad Dog once said about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, “It’s fun to shoot some people.  You know, it’s a hell of a hoot.”  This man, who is being referred to as “the only adult in the room,” also said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

It’s just possible that the “adults in the room” have it wrong, entirely wrong.  It’s possible that the entire “war on terror” we have been sold since 9/11 isn’t a war on terror at all, but multiple wars with a very different purpose.

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria, said, “Trump’s critics . . . will have the vapors about ‘losing ground to Russia,’ ‘making Iran’s day,’ and ‘abdicating influence,’ but their criticism is ill-founded.  Contrary to their apparent belief, the U.S. does not have a God-given right to send its forces anywhere on the planet it deems fit.  Withdrawal will see the U.S. in one respect at least follow the international rules-based system we are so fond of enjoining on others, and will therefore be a victory of sorts for upholders of international law.”

Do we know, do we want to know, that we have 170,000 troops stationed outside the U.S. in 150 countries?  That’s more than 800 overseas bases.  Then there are nearly 40,000 assigned to classified missions in undisclosed locations.  And all these men and women are “fighting for our freedom”!  Really?

Not my freedom I want to say, every time that phrase is trotted out.  Is it yours?

It’s hard to find hope in a man like Donald Trump, and I can’t pretend I do.  But few of our elected officials are as vulnerable to public approval as he is.  Just think what could happen if we stood up together, you and I and everyone we know who longs for a different world, and said, loudly and repeatedly, “President Trump, you are right!  Ignore the advisers taking you down a road we’ve been traveling far too long.  Listen to your own first instincts.  Listen to your country.  WE WANT PEACE!”

Because we do, don’t we?

A Dream, a Hope, a Demand for the New Year

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

It isn’t so much my dream for the New Year, or even my hope.  It’s more a demand.  But sometimes it feels as though I might as well demand that the Earth stop its spin.

I want peace.  Meaningful peace.  Peace in which the richest and most powerful nation in the world stops—actually stops—spreading armaments and troops and plots and assassinations and political turmoil and economic hardship across the planet.

I’ve been dreaming that dream since I was a young adult and first began to understand the insidious role my country—my country!—plays on the world stage.  I dream and I despair.

Surely it is naïve, as a citizen of that marauding country, to ask for world peace.   At the very least, it is a woman’s dream.  Even worse, perhaps, it’s the dream of a woman who writes children’s books.  Who could be less in touch with the real world?

Certainly, it’s a dream dashed every election cycle when peace is never a choice, because every contender vying on the ballot will take us down the same terrible path.

I realize, of course, that I’m not alone.  Most of us love peace, want peace.  But do we demand it?

Decade after decade, election cycle after election cycle, in this beloved and privileged country, we vote for and then passively follow leaders who promulgate war, destabilize struggling countries, bully their way across the international stage.  If we don’t exactly agree with what they are doing, we look the other way, because . . . well, where else is there to look?

In 1953 President Eisenhower, a military man as well as President, gave a speech entitled, “A Chance for Peace.”  That’s when he coined the now ubiquitous term, “the military-industrial complex.”  His words have been revered for more than half a century.

Here is the way that speech concluded:

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 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.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Who in our government is holding up such figures today?  Who is asking the questions those figures demand?  Who even recognizes the reality of that cross?

At the beginning of this New Year, many of us here in the United States—and not only women and children’s writers—dream and hope for peace in this beleaguered world.  Isn’t it time that we, all of us who regret the way our nation plays out its wealth and power across the planet, do more than dream and hope?

Eisenhower’s words have been revered for decades.  Every one of us who wants peace must demand that our government, finally, oh-so-belatedly, listen to those words . . . and to us.

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?

What about the Other Characters?

peace symbolMost readers, I suspect, assume that a story’s perceiving character will come from the writer’s own psyche, at least to some degree. Not that authors must commit murder to write from the perspective of a murderer, but to do so we must be able to get in touch with the part of ourselves that might, given the right circumstances, be capable of such an act.

What about the side characters, though, the ones the writer doesn’t climb inside of? If characters are only observed, not inhabited on the page, it’s easier to assume that they are complete creations, having little to do with the writer’s reality.

It is interesting, though, after drawing a central character out of my own substance, how much of me there is left over to scatter among others in the story.

Buddy in Little Dog, Lost carries the same longing for connection I talked about last week in Angie, the central character in Blue-Eyed Wolf. So does the boy who has to give Buddy up. So does Mark, who needs a dog. So does Charles Larue, the old man living alone in a mansion at the center of the town of Erthly. Every one of them brings to life some longing of my own.

And there are other points of connection with side characters. In Blue-Eyed Wolf, Maia, Angie’s adult friend, is the wife of her Episcopal priest. Where does Maia come from? It just so happens that for twenty-eight years I was married to an Episcopal priest, and while Maia certainly isn’t me—she’s much more up front than I ever dared be, for one thing—creating her as a character allowed me to dip into a deep well of feelings about the role I lived for so long. It was one in which I had, of necessity, to remain mostly silent, so finding an opportunity to speak twenty-five years after leaving that life behind gives me great energy and thus gives the character energy, too.

Long after I had begun writing Blue-Eyed Wolf, I was unsure about where I was going with it. The story I carried in my mind, in fact, had no middle, no action for Angie to take. Still, I kept inching forward, trusting that I would find what I needed, and eventually I did. I decided that, while attending the anti-war rally at the Pentagon with Maia, Angie would meet a draft resister, and that she would become involved in helping him escape to Canada. Great solution!

The problem was that I had a character, but no substance. For a long time, the young man in question was a blank. And then one day I remembered Charlie, a fellow I once knew, who, when I knew him in the early 60’s, was struggling to get his draft board to accept his status as a conscientious objector. Just thinking about Charlie dropped my character into my lap. Charlie was a philosophy major, an early hippie, a sweet and gentle man. And while I can’t pretend to write about someone I knew slightly fifty years ago, Charlie became, as Ruby’s ears did, the springboard for my character.

So will this character come entirely from outside me? No. He will believe what I believe about the military and about war. Meditation will be important to him, something that is important in my life. And when he comes back with Angie to Minnesota, he will share some of my own fascination of and caution in the wilderness. Once more scraps of the writer will enliven a character, even a side character, one I won’t inhabit.

If human nature weren’t so complex, so varied, fiction would be dull. It’s because we are all endless resources for discovery that characters can be made to seem to live.