Monday, May 30, 2005

"There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in"

Hebraic? Or Hellenistic? What's your weltanschaaung?

Today President Bush spoke at Arlington National Cemetery, and assured his audience, once again, that "freedom is on the march." Gen. Richard Meyers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reassured us once again that all American soldiers die to preserve "our freedom." A term which didn't apply in Vietnam, or Korea, or the Philippines in the 19th century; certainly that wasn't why the North went to war in 1861. If anything, it was the Southern states that fought for "freedom:" freedom to own slaves, freedom to viciously exploit human beings, abuse them, torture them, all in the name of commerce. "Freedom," of course, is an amorphous term, so our public officials use it widely, as it means whatever we, the audience, want it to mean.

But the subtext, the accepted premise, was that freedom is always threatened, and therefore must always be defended, fought for, purchased with blood and steel and might and, especially, young people. It used to be the old who went to war, rather than the young. War was a man's endeavor. In the so-called "Middle Ages," it was the landowners who went to battle, while the peasants stayed home. And those landowners, by the standards of the time, might be quite old. But it was their duty to fight, to protect their peasants, to conduct "public policy" (such as it was) not just with their speeches, but with their own lives.

Thus have we "progressed." Democracy means every man is a king, so every man has to shoulder the burden of war. But some must shoulder it more than others, as our current President prefers us not to remember. Now it is precisely the peasants who die, who are roused with fine speeches to pay the price of the conduct of public policy (such as it is) by our "leaders." Such is the true nature of social "progress."

But what is your worldview? What position do you start from? That the world is essentially chaos, and chaos will one day take over, freedom will falter if not fought for? Or that the world is good, that "We can't put it together. It is together." (The Last Whole Earth Catalog) ? President Bush pushes both ideas at once, a cognitive dissonance at once both quaintly, and frigtheningly, American. Freedom will fail if we do not constantly fight and die and struggle to establish it; and freedom is democracy, and democracy is inevitable. As an old judge used to say to me: "We preach it round and square."

The better to keep ourselves in power, I suppose. So long as you can keep the people off balance, unsure of how to interpret the next action, the next episode, the next international incident, they return to the oracle for information, for reassurance, for insight into whether this one, this time, is good, or bad, or what we should be ready to do about it.

The soldiers of America did not die for freedom: they died in war. They died because human beings are stupid and ignorant and greedy and short-sighted and vicious, cruel brutes whose behavior puzzles the fiercest, crudest predators on the planet. They died because they are all too easily convinced that perpetual peace is possible only through perpetual war. They died because they believed they were doing good, or that God was on their side, or that they would enjoy the spoils of war, or that they were protecting their families, whom they loved. They died because they were good and noble and true and believed in a greater good.

Why they died no longer matters: they deserve recognition because they were children of God, and they can do us no more harm or good now, and because it is the right thing to honor them in their absence. What matters to us is what we learn from them: their deaths, their lives. Were they soldiers in the never-ending battle against chaos, against evil which will win if we are not ever vigilant, and ever faithful? Were they standing on the wall between civilization and the forces that would destroy all human social order just because it is chaos itself?

Or are there truly cracks in everything, and that's how the light gets in? And their deaths are those cracks, too? Cracks that let the light in, and show us that, in fact, all creation is good? What kind of world would we live in, if that was how we lived? What kind of lives would we lead?

Honor the war dead today: meditate on those questions.

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