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War

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You will be happy to know that NPR (national public radio) is 'supported' by a husband and wife foundation that is promoting a More Just, Verdant and Peaceful World. Every time I hear that, I cannot help but wonder, Don't we all? But I realize, No, we don't. I'm not even sure a majority of us do. This past summer's supposed 'debates' showed how far some people are willing to go to destroy discussions that should be the ground of a democracy. The 'some people' may be a minority but in a world presented to us by the Media mayhem has a louder voice than we the people.

I had a personal experience with one person, feverish about words -- not even concepts -- that were bandied about by those violent yellers. I thought myself a mild person, never interested in politics, but the person's vitriolic and, to me, utterly nonsensical screaming got me to the point where I had to shout back. Obviously, after half a century in this country I still have not understood this deep gut conviction that 'socialism' is bad, bad, bad. When the yeller yelled that his government was being stolen by 'that man' (in the White House) I said something like "all countries have health care for everyone," to which the immediate response was "That is the very reason I don't want our country to have that, I hate socialism!" I couldn't help saying (in a soft voice, actually) Do you know what socialism is? And, again, the immediate response, "No, and I don't want to know."

I walked away. To me, that kind of response speaks of an ignorance that is like 'faith' (the person also is a born again Christian). I cannot even imagine a faith so disconnected from reason.

Am reading -- one page at a time --The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, 2008. A journalist writing about the wars we are fighting in the Middle East, 'embedded' with Marine units, sometimes on his own.

Our Media have never given us more than statistics, not the nitty gritty of killing and being killed. In this book everybody has a name, they are real people. Volunteer soldiers, men and women, seeking adventure, a change from growing up in a small town. Men and women for the most part who have had a high school diploma, but no further educational ambitions. Lots of male bonding--few stories about women, or perhaps I have not come to that part; am only a little past the middle of a 350 page paperback.

Reading it brings back some very personal memories of my own war, what to me is still "the" War, now two and more generations back in history. A very different terrain, different cultures, but the killing, the torture, the same. In my war I was a civilian in a country occupied by a foreign army, and two or three different kinds of "secret police." I was a young man, 18, 19, very early 20s; my parents and my sister, on the other side of the world in Indonesia; the latter half of the five-year war they were under Japanese occupation. I naturally "resisted" long before there was an organized Resistance -- in the Netherlands never called that. We rebelled against a rude and ruthless occupation. At that time it was impossible, I thought, not to resist, long before there was am organized Resistance. Resisting started from the bottom of society. In fact it was the underworld and the Communist party who provided the first resisters -- they had experience resisting. Organization came after several years. We had no weapons, but there are endless ways to resist authority as all children learn early.

In a city like Amsterdam it took very little effort to push a heavily armed German soldier in a canal. On roads paved with bricks it is amazingly easy to dig up a section of the road and arrange loose bricks to make the road impassable (for a while at least) for heavy troop carriers and other vehicles. Most of us listened to the BBC -- all English books, movies, news, the English language were 'forbidden' from the first day. The Germans were strangers, we knew our land, our house, our neighborhood. They knew nothing about us.

But, of course, they learned. Very soon the Germans had to walk in pairs, Brick roads were asphalted. Searching houses became common, albeit random at first. What we now would call 'check points' emerged everywhere. Sections of town were surrounded and house by house searched to find illegal radios, illegal hiding places for Jews, weapons, illegal pamphlets. The Germans were very good at making things illegal first, then they could do anything. Sounds familiar?

The occupation became a war. Halfway through the war all universities were closed, as 'hotbeds' for resistance. All men between 18 and 35 were supposed to volunteer -- which meant register -- to be sent to Germany to 'help the war effort'. I was 20, instantaneously was 36. We became expert at falsifying IDs. Artists learned to slice a thin layer off the picture on a stolen ID of a 36 year old and paste over a thin layer of a picture of me that was darkened, then, by hand, the half of the stamp was drawn -- great artists. I had three such IDs, each a different name, different person, and I had to learn some facts about each of these strangers, job, name of wife, children, the village, neighbors...

Today we call resisters insurgents, which gives them a kind of official enemy status. Armies fight nations; armies are not good fighting guerilla wars, as we should have learned by now. As the book I am reading now says, "Today a farmer, tomorrow an insurgent, an hour later a farmer again." In my war I was never a farmer, but a teacher, a banker, a baker... an enemy without uniform and in the beginning without weapons.

Early in the war I was in a coffee house on one of the canals with two friends. We were sitting way in the back, a dark corner. A young woman stumbled in, disheveled hair, torn blouse, deathly white. Obviously in shock. She knew one of the boys, sat down on the edge of the fourth chair. After a few moments she told us, in a totally flat whisper that two German officers (from her description perhaps SS, Hitler's private army). They had asked her questions, Where was her husband. She did not know -- it was about 10 in the morning, he had gone to work. She had been nursing, then holding her 3 months old baby. One of the officers kept walking around her, so that she had to continually turn around, this way, that way. Suddenly he snatched the baby out of her arms, threw it through what happened to be an open window. Third floor. The officer looked surprised when he held the arm of the baby in his hand. We were speechless. For perhaps five or more minutes nobody moved. Then she walked out, crossed the street, we heard the splash from the canal. As one, we stood up. And sat back down, hunched over.

I never thought I could ever write that story. Today this story is so common that nobody takes notice. I was innocent; I learned.

There are many questions I have about the concept of 'war'

How did it begin; what has it become Who invented the idea of war? But mostly, Why?

When I say that I do not believe that Man was a warrior at first, people tell me about the tribes in Papua, now a province of Indonesia. A mountainous area where each deep valley has people with a distinct culture and a language different from the people in the next valley. Many years ago anthropologists described regular wars between neighboring valleys, a sort of ritual war games with victims. And since they are primitive, therefore all primitive people had wars with their neighbors. I studied those so-called wars of the Highland Papuas. From my study it seems mostly a manly sport, a ritual, where sometimes one man gets killed, others wounded, but it always ended with that one death; often long before. It was never a secret invasion, it was planned. It was not to steal women, or to conquer the next valley. As I read the descriptions there was no enmity between neighboring tribes.

The greater miracle to me is how people in the next valley could have a different language.

Papua -- the western half of the island of New Guinea -- was given independence by the Dutch before the rest of the Netherlands Indies became Indonesia, a fairly random geographical area of a thousand islands -- and, strangely only a part of Borneo, the other part is Malaysia, and one tiny independent sultanate, Brunei -- with many different 'ethnicities' as we call them today. Papua was by far the most different. Papuans are Melanesian, black, kinky hair, tall, very unlike the mostly Muslim Malays who inhabit most of the rest of Indonesia. But before independence was firmly established, Indonesia claimed Papua, which they first called Irian Jaya, now often referred to as Papua. There is an American mining company destroying much of central Papua, adding to the continuing clamor for independence by the native, now exploited, Papuas. I must admire them for staying with their intense desire to be cut from Indonesia, which must keep a large army there. That area is mostly out of the scope of western and other Media. East Timor, which was first Portuguese, then also swallowed by Indonesia is only half of a small island, but got independence in 2007. It is mostly Catholic but the people of what is now the tiny independent country of Timor Este are Malay.

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robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai'i
his website is wildwolff.com

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Thanks for your beautifully written article and fo... by Nathan Nahm on Thursday, Sep 24, 2009 at 2:15:50 AM
"I have trouble with that. More trouble because n... by Nick van Nes on Thursday, Sep 24, 2009 at 7:13:21 AM
He had a profession he had made dangerous by telli... by Jason Paz on Thursday, Sep 24, 2009 at 8:26:27 AM
What comes around goes around. It seems like yeste... by Nick van Nes on Thursday, Sep 24, 2009 at 6:53:38 PM