"I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell."
From "On Killing" by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Thinking about this week's Hackie column, "On Leave," brings up the burning issue of politics. Those of you who have followed my stories for a while may have noticed that I shy away from that burning issue. It's not that I lack for opinions; if anything, I'm overloaded with them. It's just that, when it comes to opinions, I adhere to the Clint Eastwood admonition, delivered in his Dirty Harry persona, "If I wanted your opinion, I'd beat it out of you."
I'm also a disciple of my good friend Don's wisdom on this: "If someone wants your opinion they'll ask. And, even when they ask, they don't really want it."
For all these reasons, I don't envision "Hackie" as a vehicle to share my brilliant opinions on politics. Beyond my general aversion to opinionating, is my incapacity when it comes to this subject. I can never figure out how to broach politics within the spirit, let's call it, of the Hackie column. With every sinew of my being (and I am nothing if not sinewy), I strive to write without judgment on the people who pass through my taxi. If I can't find a way to bring a level of compassion to the story, I won't write it. When politics enters the equation, I'm simply too invested, too emotional, too filled with vehemence.
But . . . every now and then it sneaks in. Every aspect of life comes to light as the thousands of fares pass through my taxi. When an active duty airman shared his life with me last week, I knew it was a story to be written. So, I did my best.
It was William Tecumseh Sherman, the fierce and effective Union general, who first uttered, "War is hell." It has become a cliche, but I find the sentiment worthwhile to consider. What is hell? Either in myth or actuality, I conceive of it as a region devoid of love, of God's mercy, of the qualities that make us truly human. Waging war, consciously striving to kill our brothers and sisters in stark violation of the First Commandant, of the Buddhist teaching of non-violence - how can this be other than hell?
Maybe at times it's justified. The American Civil War? The fight against worldwide fascism in World War II? Perhaps sometimes a nation must march into hell to right an intractable wrong. It's hard to say. But this preemptive war on Iraq, with the hundreds of thousands now killed and maimed, to say nothing of the uncountable broken hearts and spirits - it seems to me that it is we who have evoked hell, all in a dubious mission to confront the "evil-doers."
It's brave young people like Brian who are paying the highest price.