ElevensesSo here we are at the eleventh day of the eleventh month (though I missed the eleventh hour, having been curled up with a slim volume of Wodehouse at the time). As is my custom on national holidays that do not come entailed with family celebrations, I am sitting around the house in my pyjamas doing as little as possible. But rather than just take the holiday and not care why I don't have to go to work today, I have been trying to think about the things I am supposed to be thinking about, namely Veterans (or, if one prefers to be old-fashioned, Armistice).
Thinking about veterans and armistices and war-in-general makes me very uneasy. I am not completely sure of how I feel... war is one of those things where ideals and ethics and practicality get all mixed up. I mean, I am a pacifist... but what does that mean, exactly? I don't believe that war is ever the best solution; but then, I cannot think of a better solution to the problems war has been used to solve. I guess I tend to think of violence of any kind as a sort of last-ditch expedient that should only be used when all other avenues have failed. And that, as an expedient, war should never be glorified or sentimentalized or used as an economic stimulus.
The whole problem with pacifism is that it only works if everyone does it. There comes a time when other nations or individuals are bent on destruction, and one has to rise up in defense. Now a pacifist would prefer to find peaceful measures of defense, passive resistance and diplomacy and what-have-you. But a violent person or culture will not necessarily be swayed by such things.
And of course, so very few people really are pacifist to the point that they turn the other cheek. I know I fantasize about killing people, especially in traffic, and I enjoy the hell out of RPG video games where you have a selection of powerful guns and a lot of ammunition and you can just run through a building killing everyone who comes near you. I know that when violence has been offered to me, I wished to respond with violence on an even greater scale... but I do not do so because I have no talent or ability in those realms. If someone walked up to me and punched me in the face, there wouldn't be much I could do to defend myself. I simply don't have the strength or training to fight hand-to-hand, and am in fact unable to so much as make a fist in a moment of anger.
Which begs the question: am I unable to make a fist because I am a pacifist, or am I a pacifist because I'm unable to make a fist? So you can see why I become uneasy in regard to these things... it's unpleasant to ponder that line between pacifism and cowardice. I know that, as an ideal, I embrace pacifism because it is the right thing; however, I wonder if that ideal is more easily embraced by people who are physically incapable of violence. But the definition of cowardice is acting dishonorably in an attempt at self-preservation; and so I must measure whether or not my pacifism is intended on any scale to preserve my own life. Self-preservation is not one of my main motives in life, being more concerned with doing something good with my life rather than with merely continuing it... but then you have to take into account the Pain Factor. Being punched in the face hurts a lot. And let's not forget the Vanity Factor... being punched in the face is humiliating. To act dishonorably in order to avoid pain and/or indignity is cowardly, as well. And knowing myself as I do, I wonder if I would do something cowardly and shameful to avoid pain or preserve my vanity, two things that I fear more than death.
But as I think about it, there comes a question: there are lots of things that are worth dying for; but how many things are there worth killing for? If one believes that killing another person is the worst thing you could possibly ever do, that killing another is worse than dying oneself, then what could possibly be worth the act of killing? And I do believe exactly that, despite my murderous road-raging and gleeful slaughter of DataDyne security guards in the person of Joanna Dark. If presented with the option of killing or being killed, I would choose the latter... because I know that dying isn't the worse thing that can happen to a person: betrayal is, I think, much worse, particulary betrayal of one's own principles... pain and torture are worse than dying, too (but then, I'm an absolute wuss when it comes to pain, just ask my dentist).
But all of this is neither here nor there when it comes to honoring veterans. Even if I don't believe that war is good or glorious in any way, I do have to honor people fighting for what they believe... not just struggling and strategizing and orating, but actually getting out there and putting their own lives in danger... and when what they believed they were doing was keeping me and mine safe from interntational threats, then I feel it's necessary to honor their efforts (if on the other hand, their motive was merely to kill gooks, gerries, and wops, then I withdraw my honor... but I give all Veterans the benefit of the doubt).
Yesterday, I was talking with the Grandmother over our usual après-l'église brunch, and I somehow stumbled onto the topic of memorials on The Mall in Washington DC, and how moving those memorials are, particularly the war memorials, and in such different ways. The Vietnam Memorial is interesting in its simplicity, and in the way it illustrates the real scope of our nation's loss in that action... not just the innumerable individual precious lives, but the character of and faith in our nation that were lost, these were brought home to me as I walked along that simple black marble wall with those hundreds of thousands of names.
In another part of the Mall, one finds the Korean Memorial, a group of patinaed bronze statues portraying a small platoon of men in jungle gear slogging through what seemed to be a swamp... but rather than being surrounded by a swampy jungle, they are surrounded by flowers and cherry trees and rolling parkland, peaceful and glorious; the care and worry and loneliness in these men's sculpted faces were so eloquent of the Conflict itself, this useless war fought after the Glory of WWII but before the Ignomy of Vietnam, a sort of forgotten war that never went one way or another and was only immortalized on film by M*A*S*H, a rather dull and go-nowhere movie and later TV series. In another part of the park, I came across a small monument of funerary aspect, dedicated to the men of the Washington DC area who died in WWI; it was sweet and dignified, a pretty in memoriam rather than a lesson in human ghastliness... it illustrated to me the change in our ideas of warfare since then.
But one way or another, though I disapprove of war and of the military, I do honor those who, for whatever reason or sense of duty, put their lives on the line for our country. I honor those who undertook to committ the worst act available to humanity, Destruction of Life, in order to defend something in which they believe.
The people who start these wars, however, are beneath contempt. And I don't necessarily mean our flop-eared buffoon of a President, either... I don't know enough of what's going on in his tiny little mind to judge his motives... I mean everyone and anyone with the unspeakable gall to believe that they have the right to kill others in order to forward their own agendas or exert their wills on others. Defense is one thing, but offense is something else altogether. It may be a quibble to wait for the offendor to draw first blood before one attacks in defense, but it is within these quibbles that our principles reside. For though I do believe wholeheartedly in pacifism, I also believe wholeheartedly in Honor.
Unfortunately, like the difference between pacifism and cowardice, the line between honor and vanity is a fine one, and unpleasant to ponder. So unpleasant, in fact, that most people don't ponder it at all, preferring to address all vanities as honor and all pacifism as cowardice... or vice versa. Like I always say, the evils of this world are mostly rooted in a lack of thinking about things.
Well, at any rate, these are my thoughts this Veteran's Day (previously Armistice Day). I am now going to go back to bed and read Anne Rice's newest novel (I didn't even know she'd written one until I saw it on the table at Barnes & Noble) with a nice cup of coffee and an orange-cranberry bagel. In the meantime, here is something pleasant to ponder: