"To be" is not the question

"To be" is not the question

How red are my hands? I descend from slave owners. My biological father developed weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological, radiological, and advocated for them as somehow superior to nuclear weapons options. As a youth, American men and boys, not much older than me, were sent to Vietnam to burn women and children and villages, with napalm. Under 43 America murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, tortured many more. I can, of course, go on.

I, on the other hand, have done none of these things. At least not personally. Still, my life is rich and easy because other Americans have killed on my behalf. How red are my hands?

Today we again are all witness to yet another senseless war. As in every war, back to Troy, or Alexander the Great, thru to the War to End All War, or Great Patriotic War and countless others after that, virtually everyone on all sides is so convinced in their own cause they are willing to die and kill for it. Everyone who goes to war has reasons, everyone somehow justifies killing and dying. 

How can it be? How can some ordinary 18 year old German drop Zyklon B into a room full of people? How can an American pilot drop bombs knowing hundreds, thousands, even more, will die as a result? How can men in suits quietly sit around a table and order tanks and cluster bombs to shred the flesh of their neighbors? Their neighbors, their kin, their friends?

All too easily. All too easily. We now know from psychological experiments how easy it is to turn ordinary people into sadistic prison guards. You simply ask them, tell them these horrific things must be done. And they do it. 

Cruelty comes easily to humans. 

Hitler quite easily drummed up reasons to invade his neighbors. To him and the German nation WWII was totally understandable.  America, just as easily, drummed up reasons to invade Vietnam and more recently Iraq. And there are reasons. There are always reasons.

Now, Putin has attached Ukraine. That much is self-evident. Why did he do it? Here are some of the reasons that have been offered.

  • To demilitarize and denatzify Ukraine
  • For humanitarian reasons 
  • Because Ukraine was gearing up to attack Donbas, or someone, so Putin had to strike first
  • To keep NATO and/or the EU out
  • Historically Europe has regularly attacked Russia, so he attacked Ukraine, out of a kind of self defense 
  • Because Ukraine wasn't really historically, a proper country anyway
  • Because the West hadn't done anything about the Donbas separatists 
  • And besides, America and the West dropped the bomb and have done all sorts of crappy shit too

Which of these reasons make it OK to kill your neighbors, your cousins? In case you're thinking about that one, stop. Fun fact: none.

It's an old trick, throw out a whole list of arguments at once, as if I'm somehow obliged to respond to each one of them. Fun fact: No, I'm not.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, on that list of reasons even comes close to justifying the massive, murderous hell Putin has inflicted on his own cousins in Ukraine.

We, citizens of the world, each have to decide how we react to all this. It's a shock to those of us who have been spared the direct horrors of war. A shock that people not so different from us can do these things to other people not so different from us. But maybe it shouldn't be such a shock. Humans have done this since the beginning. 

No war would be possible if everyone simply refused to kill. Even if most of us refused, war would quickly grind to a halt. So the question is not "To be or not to be?". You are now, and one day you will not be. These are facts and that question is moot.

A better question is: "to kill or not to kill?" Are you willing kill another so that you, or your family, can live? 

With very few exceptions, they answer is obviously yes. Some Quakers, and Amish, and Buddhists and some others may choose nonviolence. But for most of us, apparently, all it really takes is to be asked, or be told we must, and a-killing we will go.

I'd like to think I'm one of those who will not kill even under pain of my own death. But I've not been so tested, and there are pressures worse than threat of my own death. So I don’t really know even about myself. 

I have no solution, no good news, no gospel, no way out. Humans have done these things to each other for all history. There's no reason to expect it to stop now.

And here's the real rub. This war business isn't even our biggest problem. It's just a distraction.

"To be" is not the question. I have an answer to that one: I am, at least for now.

How red are my hands? How do I get that damned spot out? Would I too kill if asked, or would I only watch from a safe distance as young, earnest men sincerely kill in my name?