Collateral Damage

If this week’s blog post reads as a bit disjointed, blame the pace of news and my quixotic, rather quaint desire for these words to be as relevant and timely as possible. Fits of laughter.

I’d originally planned to write about the Boy Scouts who, having seen applicants decline in startling numbers, made in effect a hostile takeover to absorb the Girl Scouts—the good news being that older Girl Scouts can now become Eagle Scouts (they could be Gold Scouts—the equivalent–before, but nobody seemed to know or care much about that). But the bad news is, well, everything else, including the loss of independence, loss of bonding experience with other girls, and loss of full laser-beam attention on them as girls in the way that a single-sex education in a context of unbalanced gender power uniquely can provide to the less privileged group.

Then the Scouts got swept aside as I was going to focus on how deplorably often our politics now descends to penile metaphors. That was inspired by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) saying Trump had castrated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—though the word undermine really would have been sufficient—and then Tillerson replied that he had checked and found himself “intact” chuckle chuckle. It reminded me of the campaign, when GOP candidates were comparing hand size as indicators of the size of male you know what. At the time I thought we could sink no lower. Now, I’m touched by the relative innocence of those days.

Then your distressed emails convinced me to address the painful controversy caused by the Women’s March organizers having miscommunicated an intention to have Bernie Sanders open their Detroit convention this month—but fortunately they backed away from that and apologized: he’s merely appearing on a unity panel, which should be fine. But that story got pushed away from center ring of the circus by last week’s latest Senate testimony of the malevolent elf, AG Jeff Sessions, returning to lie in tones of outraged indignation yet again.

And then Trump, master of distraction—his only real skill—did it again. To distract attention away from public questioning of what our troops were doing fighting and dying in Niger to begin with, he re-focussed attention on himself (always his first and last resort), and decided what the hell why not insult the families of fallen soldiers into the bargain. Again.

I need and want to address this, but I’m on delicate ground here. I agree with Virginia Woolf, who wrote, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman I need no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” I loathe war—but wince when I read or hear those who share my attitude say that fallen soldiers have “died in vain.” True or not, I wince because people who loved those soldiers might hear or read that while already suffering insupportable loss.

I’ve spent much of my life trying to further the process by which humanity could evolve beyond war making—that ritual between powerful, wealthy, older males in which, powerless, poorer, younger males are sacrificed while women and children children plead, weep, bury the dead, suffer, try to flee, and die.

These days, children also are warriors—little boys conscripted by force into killing and little girls kidnapped to be sex slaves. These days women are warriors, too, and this is considered progress. Maybe the presence of more women in the armed services will eventually civilize some of the worst aspects of militarization. Maybe not. I will defend women’s right to be anywhere they wish to be. But the truth is I don’t want them on that wall. I don’t want anyone—male or female—on that wall. Yet perhaps Aaron Sorkin was right. Perhaps I need them on that wall. Perhaps I’m the one who’s a hypocrite to think otherwise. Certainly, the new concept in international law—RTP, the responsibility to protect—makes military interventions to stop genocides sound eminently sensible.

But it seems to me that in human history, so far at least, just as the family has been made to serve as the ideal hierarchical foundation for patriarchy, so has war functioned as the perfected articulation of patriarchy, defining manliness as the drive for competition and the capacity to dominate and murder best.

To sustain that definition’s power requires the myth of the hero, which in turn necessitates a systemic hypocrisy: flags, parades, anthems, ceremonies, wreaths, medals, gold stars, and other patriotic symbols that nonetheless ring hollow though the 4 AM silence of a widow’s grief or the agony of a woman who has lost her grown child. Nor can I forget that our “volunteer army” in practice actually relies on a poverty draft and an education draft, being disproportionately composed of young Americans of color and those from lower-income backgrounds who enlist for the education and other benefits. It’s bizarre but true: the Department of Defense of the capitalist USA is the largest socialist organization on the planet.

Yet all that being said, I also know that there are some, perhaps many, women and men who enlist out of what they feel is a love of country and a desire to defend values they cherish—and it’s simply counterproductive and cruel to disrespect that. The irony is that Trump’s regime and followers do disrespect that. Trump can’t even muster that hollow hypocrisy of ritual because of his deeper, greater hypocrisy that’s more obsessed with labeling football players as “unpatriotic” and more fixated on flags and anthems—abstract symbols of patriotism—than with concern for the reality, for those who literally gave their lives for it.

That Trump was unable to manage the minimal courtesy of this ritual by now really should come as no surprise. He sent out one of his generals, and Kelly tried to fix things by speaking of the loss of his own son, but then he worsened things, smearing an elected Congresswoman and waxing nostalgic about the good old days when women were held “sacred” and died in back-alley abortions. Now Trump has moved on to the subject of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, a rich field for conspiracy addicts. His madness intensifies as he feels the net beginning to draw closer around him.

So for once let’s ignore him. The mourning families beg us to focus on the loss of their individual cherished relatives. Still, for me the story lies not only with the fallen but with those left alive who loved them. The pregnant young widow keening over her husband’s casket. Who will check back on her life a year from now? Five years? Fifteen? For me, the story lies with the mother of another soldier, killed last May without even the offer of a presidential phone call or note–a mother who said she didn’t care about a call or letter or the lack of them unless that would bring back her son.

“We,” she said through the dignity of her tears, “are the ones left behind. We are the collateral damage.”

Those words slice through all the masks of hypocrisy and name the face of war.