Thursday, June 3, 2010

IF WE MUST USE VIOLENCE

In the decade since I wrote this poem, casualties have needlessly run into hundreds of thousands of lives

If we must use violence
in our pursuit of justice
let us not celebrate it.

Let us not revel in our ability
to destroy the earth
and its creatures.

If we must kill to preserve freedom
let us know that our debt to the fallen,
even to our enemies’ blood
and to their children’s children,
binds us anew.

If we must use violence
in the name of God
let us cry out for heaven’s mercy
even as we presume God’s blessing
and act for reconciliation
even as we engage conflict.

Lest violence seduce us completely,
its shadows claim our souls
and might become the
hollow foundation of right,
let us renounce it now
and spend our lives for peace.


I wrote this poem in November 2001, in the wake of President Bush’s vow to use violence to avenge lives lost on September 11, 2001, and to attempt to achieve justice and security with an all-out a war on terrorism.  I thought of it several years later as news surfaced about more Department of Justice memos directing American intelligence officers to exact information from detainees by specific acts of torture.  American torture has stopped, we’re told, but America’s elected leaders continue to bless and fund unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Obama Administration is now deeply complicit.

It is apparent that those who have embraced orchestrated violence as the leading way to try to end violence are increasingly becoming the very thing they hate—addicted to and purveyors of needless violence and killing.  Even as President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he justified a continuation of Bush war policies with only mild modifications.  The seduction continues.

I thought of my poem again over the Memorial Day holiday as some would-be zealous patriots exalted militarism as the essence of what it means to be free on a day originally and distinctly set aside to humbly honor all who have died and whose loved ones have been forever disrupted by the devastation war leaves in its wake.

2 comments:

  1. Militarism is so mixed up with Nationalism I can't imagine one without the other. You gotta serve somebody they say, serving your "country" -that's what Memorial Day is about. We want to celebrate the fallen heroes and those who served, but don't want to look too closely at the reality. And if you do bring it up, you are being UnAmerican - yeah, I guess that's it - "unamerican"

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  2. Dr. B, thanks for your comment.

    I find it important and valuable to make the effort to point out the nuances that separate militarism from Decoration Day (or Memorial Day). The distinction was clear in the minds and intentions of the original organizers. Separating the honoring of those who died in conflicts from militarism as the principle vehicle/power by which freedom is forwarded and preserved is, to me, critical.

    Holidays tend to get co-opted later by others with different intentions. Militarism has co-opted Memorial Day. It seems to me that the Hulman-George family in Indianapolis (perhaps in ignorance of the distinctions) has done more to skew and confuse Memorial Day than any other. The Indianapolis 500 and related events all become a high-profile and privileged platform for trumpeting the glories of war and militarism. Defense contractors should thank them and pay them well!

    I find it interesting to observe how much militarism and militaristic interest tries to insert itself into nearly EVERY American holiday now (except Christmas and Thanksgiving).

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