Saturday, November 7, 2009

purity is not an option

germany invaded norway the week i was born. my first memories: newsreels from battlefields, burials at sea, a hospital-trained dog searching for wounded soldiers.

later, from our home in a converted barracks (my father joined the army as a chaplain just before korea, where he served - he died of a heart-attack a few weeks after returning from a year in vietnam), i could hear machine-guns chattering on the practice field.

ironically, as berta and i took a side-trip to sri lanka on the way to india, i had no awareness of their civil war. going thru checkpoints and abandoned villages in the middle of the night, i wondered what the hell we were doing. at 26 i lived in a half-basement room, learning to be a poet, in berlin, not far from the gun-towers and and the wall.

on the presidio of san francisco at 16, i wandered thru the halls of letterman army hospital, selling the chronicle to waking patients with hollow eyes and burned backs.

in college i attended courses in the russian and american revolutions, and realized violent upheavals create a violent society. that made me a temporary pacifist. eventually, i understood the reality, you had to nip aggression in the bud. instead of stopping the serbian tanks roll into croatia, the europeans let that war drag on til bill clinton got them to bomb serbia. once the serbians couldn't act without being hurt, it all stopped.

alas, not everyone learns the lesson. if the battle comes home, the attacked may very well lash out (pearl harbor and 911). i loved being an army brat and living on bases. i hated coast guard boot camp with a passion. it's taken me a long time to appreciate a restrained military, responsive to civilian control. yet now i do.

that said, i've just come from a performance of johnny got his gun by dalton trumbo. the monologue of a soldier, a basket-case in a hospital, no arms, legs, eyes, ears, or jaw. he's completely isolated in his mind and memories. the cost of war borne by many warriors, in the past and currently.

oddly, the play a hymn to life. i came out simply happy to be able to walk and see and breathe the night air. unless a country gets hurt, it sees today's war as a video game. that remnant of a reptile tail remains in all of us. as elie wiesel said about the holocaust:

"Those engaged in its practice (murder) did not belong to a gutter society of misfits...Many held degrees in philosophy, sociology, biology, general medicine, psychiatry, and the fine arts."

if you can attend johnny got his gun at ben allen's performance riveting. pics:

and for an example of what you may have to fight to protect, in more ways than one, look at the final critique session of chico dance theater in preparation for the fall concert, dec. 4-6.