So Quit Talking Like It Is
I attended a national Christian summer camp before my Junior year in High School. My group of privileged West Houston suburban boys shared a duplex dorm with a group of low-income boys from inner Cincinnati (and we truly loved each other). But I remember a story one of the Cincinnati boys told. One of them was in a fight and holding his opponent in a headlock while beating him with a two by four with a nail in it. The losing fighter was trying to "give", but the prevailing fighter said "this ain't no game" and kept beating him. The story teller and his friends were all laughing.
My friends and I cringed deep inside, not in judgment, or just at the thought of being held and helplessly beaten, but mostly in recognition of the softness and innocence of our lives. For in our fights, when one person "gave" the other quit, knowing he had "won" and proven, well, some kind of point. But our Cincinnati friends were describing something else, something frightening: an actual, real-world fight where the goal was to hurt the other person very badly. Our "fights", we now knew, were mostly just rough games of pride, and a real fight was very dangerous.
War Ain't No Game
Like my privileged friends with fighting, as a society we need to be washed with pictures, film and stories of the worst horrors of war. Burning children, broken old men, wailing mothers and beheaded sons, all of it. Up-close, slow-motion, full-volume, guts-spilling, blood-soaked, start-to-finish clips of baby-faced 19 year old heroes dying of a shrapnel wounds to the torso and the horror of their brothers-in-arms helplessly watching. We need to know the real numbers of dead, wounded, disappeared, of all nations.
We must see the aftermaths in warriors and civilians alike. Men, women and children with lost limbs, eyes, faces, brains, trying to cope (not just the ones fitted with prosthetics and running marathons, as much as we need to see them too). The veterans who awake screaming and flailing, mind in the middle of a firefight, when the garbage truck comes before dawn; the ones who beat their loved ones or fight strangers in bars; the ones who can't concentrate at work or retreat into drugs and alcohol. The women and children terrified to leave their homes long after the war is over; who never trust again, ever. The plowing farmers and playing children shredded by unexploded cluster bombs and land mines.
War is hell. Literally.
We need these painful images because we seem to have forgotten, even after 9-11, what war is really like, if we ever truly knew in this country so blessedly saved from modern warfare on our soil. One of our most famous Generals, after whom we named our first real tank, William Sherman, told us that war is hell and should be avoided if at all possible. One can imagine how the General might have elaborated: we have lost the moment we enter war, for war is so destructive to mind, body, heart and soul that we only decide to loose it on our enemies and ourselves alike after losing whatever effort we were making to achieve our objectives on this side of perdition; only after losing all sense of human priorities to believe any national objective short of actual defense is worth unleashing so much blood and death; or only after an enemy has lost all those things and we are forced into violent defense.
All of this because I want to pull my hair out every time I hear our leaders or media talk of "winning", of "victory", of "doubling down" in Iraq.
Because this ain't no football game and it ain't no hand of blackjack.
Wars are "won" not by besting, but by killing enemy fighters along with many times more innocent civilians; we are "doubling down" not with cards or trinkets, but with the lives of our soldiers, human beings, our own sons and daughters. If it is not a specific objective but national pride for which we fight, then please explain how the Christian leaders of their proclaimed Christian Nation can kill hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent beings for one of the seven deadly sins. Killing for pride. Sin for sin. War is hell.
We must stop talking about the war in Iraq as if it were a game. It is a bloodbath, pure and simple. A multi-sided, multi-dimensional, deep-seeded, long-festering slaughter among ancient enemies, exacerbated by newly aroused religious terrorists and nationalist guerilla insurgents opposing our destructive presence in their ancestral home and holy land. Young people with long lives to live willing to kill and die to avenge killing and dying. Death for death. Hate your neighbor. War is hell.
A New Language
Words do not simply suggest their meaning. In mass communication, words are meaning. Shakespeare, all the great poets and the most cynical political spin doctors all know or knew this truth. When we speak of war in terms of games, we reduce civilizations to playing fields and tables; human beings to points on a scoreboard and casino chips. It makes killing and sending youngsters off to be killed so much easier when the mind naturally links to team spirit, rather than severed limbs and charred bodies. But war is not easy. War is hell.
We entered hell naively and ill-advisedly, based on reasons overstated at best and without a true societal knowing of what war really is and actually does to the human body and soul. I do not pretend to know the spiraling climb out of this particular hell. What I do know is that using euphemisms to describe a deeper descent is not the way. I know that forcing blinders on the nation to shield the horror will only one day add the crush of betrayal to the feelings of guilt and disillusionment at being falsely led to support such brutal inhumanity.
We on the left cannot control the language used by our war-obsessed President and administration. But we can control our own words. We can stop our own talk of "losing" and "gambling" in Iraq, as tempting as it is. That also causes me to want to pull my hair out, because it only arouses the same images of games as "winning" and "doubling down," also reducing the horrors of war to the thrills of the playing field. Worse, anyone would rather win a game than lose it, so in a classic George Lakoff way, when we talk of losing, we conjure up a game and give the debate over those talking of winning. It ain't no game, so quit using game words to discuss it.
We committed a grievous error, arguably a crime against humanity and certainly an assault on it, when we attacked Iraq. We have immeasurably compounded that error by pridefully, avariciously marching the same flawed path for nearly four years. No amount of continued violence will atone for our collective errors.
We have not lost, but erred and failed in Iraq. We cannot win against our own error, but we can atone for our actions and correct the damage we caused or failed to prevent.
But we can do none of this until we stop talking about unleashing hell as if it were a game. War is the most horrible act human beings commit. Nothing, ever, has caused a fraction of the death, destruction, maiming, and misery of war. War is not a game. War is hell. Start using those words and exposing that truth, and maybe we can find a way out.