The last time I wrote here was New Years’ Eve, and I found myself musing on war, on the privilege of having lived a life essentially untouched by war. There have been so many other privileges, too, privileges I have too often taken for granted. But that one, the one in which I have never had to take shelter from bombs and marauding armies, in which I have never had to give someone I loved to the slaughter, is one I have always held close.
I can remember the moment when it occurred to me that World War II, the war being waged when I came into consciousness, the one I used to play out in games with my brother, was actually taking place in other children’s back yards. The thought filled me with amazement . . . and horror.
How did those children survive? I wondered. Not just physically, but in their hearts. Even when the bombing ended, even when the invading armies were called home, how did those unfortunate children move forward into a world in which they had endured such brutality?
I thought myself blessed then because I was an American. Because my country was set apart from those wars by oceans and by a mix of strength and some kind of essential “goodness.” We might go off to help others with their wars, because we were the kind of people who did such things, but who would ever dare attack us? And certainly we would never start a war ourselves!
Oh, how the decades that have followed have disproven my naïve belief! Especially my conviction that there is some kind of implicit American morality.
According to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Institute, the military spending of the United States in 2018 alone totaled $649 billion. In fact, we spent 2.6 times as much as second-place China.
My country stands only slightly lower than the next nine countries in that hierarchy of military spending combined. And most of those nine are on our side of the fence, the fence between ally and enemy that is being drawn at the moment!
What on Earth—and I do mean what on Earth—are we buying with all those hard-earned taxes?
For one thing, we are buying nearly 800 military bases that we maintain in foreign countries. (And that is after closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.) That’s more bases outside our own borders than any other nation has maintained in all of history!
What are they for except to dominate, to control?
The recognition of my own country’s domineering ways have come to be an ache I carry in my heart every single day. An ache I can find no way to dispel.
I attend meetings where we gather in support of peace, and I appreciate the gatherings and the passionate people who work so hard to inform us. Occasionally I even pick up a placard and march with a few other old ladies. But both activities tend to leave me feeling enervated, hopeless.
Those who are willing to speak for peace are so few. So few and so powerless.
I have long understood that given the way our system works it is not possible to elect a leader who genuinely stands for peace. Neither political party has any interest in or loyalty to concept.
I am a children’s writer, and what does a children’s writer do? Tell children that war is evil? Tell them that it contaminates everyone it touches, victor and vanquished alike? Tell them what has already been said many times, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?
Yes, of course, I’ll say it, but I’ll say it knowing that my saying and their hearing will change nothing, not for them, not for those other children around the world whose homes and lives are being torn apart, too often with my government’s complicity.
We move into a new year, a new decade in a new year, and my questions move with me.
Again and again I’ll ask myself, “How do I write against militarism, against war? How do I write for peace without repeating enervated truisms? How do I take on these most important of all topics, knowing my words will change nothing?”
I have no answer, no answer at all, except to know that I—that we all—must try.