The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sometimes, ideals or beliefs are discounted as being too “naïve,” and without regard for real-world concerns. This week, that’s a tension I keep struggling with; I am, for better or worse, naively or wisely, a pacifist. I do not believe that war solves problems.
Historically, perhaps you could point to a war as better or worse or more effective than less effective, and I might well be persuaded that some wars are relatively more justified than others. Had I been alive at the time, might I have believed in the liberation from religious and monastic rule this whole America thing was based upon? I am guessing, yes. As a Northerner, not simply geographically, but in spirit, would I have wished to end slavery? I feel confident the answer is yes. Had I been learning of Hitler’s atrocious treatment of Jews (and others), especially as a Jew, would I have wanted him to be stopped? Well, sure, genocide—and let’s face it of your own people cuts to the very quick—is never to be condoned.
Much as I might have believed in those causes or goals, I am pretty certain I would have opposed those wars, too.
Added to my present day concerns is this one; it seems the nature of war has changed with air strikes and weapons that shatter a person’s insides paired with medical breakthroughs that can patch together a person whose insides have been destroyed or techniques to cover a severely burned body, not so that person, brain often shaken too much to return, to live, as in thrive, but to endure. And I’m just talking about our soldiers, here. There are civilian and militia bodies in countries where war is waged also shattered, and then have access to far less medical assistance (and far less of everything else, food, water, electricity, shelter, or education) to be remotely comfortable after having been so ravaged.
Say nothing of the cost, the financial drain that represents the wars we are waging, during (and in large part contributing to) a disastrous economic time in our country. According to the National Priorities Project—and if you make one click on a link today in all your reading, please go to the page on Afghanistan—total funding for the US in Afghanistan in Fiscal Year 2010 could exceed $325 billion.
$325 billion would cover a lot of health care, jobs, repaired roads, teachers, environmental clean up, rail systems in this country and basics in Afghanistan such as food, water, books, electricity, and rebuilt shelters.
Listening to President Obama on Tuesday evening, my heart sank, in part, because I believe he’s making the wrong choice. Beyond my disappointment I feel kind of badly about disagreeing. A year ago when he was elected President and a little later, when he took the oath of office, that surge of hope was so giddy, so dizzying… and hearing of a war’s continuation—escalation—certainly tarnishes the shiny, bright sense of victory. For so many reasons, ones that include the many things this administration is doing right, I not only want to be dazzled, I simply want to support this President, my first President in a long time. I don’t want to disagree, as trivial as that sounds. For the eight Bush years, my position—steadfast—was diametrical opposition to the administration. On Tuesday evening, listening to Maxine Waters say she cannot support this troop escalation in Afghanistan, I thought I heard a similar tinge of longing in her voice, the one that does not want to oppose her President, either.
And shallow as I think it is, there’s a tiny niggling letdown here, like those reality show contestants crashing the otherwise exemplary State dinner. I am disappointed that I can’t just enjoy the kind words with the Indian Prime Minister and vegetarian meal from afar, or the White House’s vegetable garden or our admirable First Lady cheering on young African American women, daring them to dream. I wish for my Obama untainted. It wasn’t ever going to be so, but that’s in the wash.
What I know, however, is that my job as a citizen in a democracy is this: I am supposed to—duty-bound in fact—share my voice, in support and in opposition. I will not raise a sword. But I must—and I will—raise my voice.