Copyright – Danny Grosso
As the candidates move their campaigns to South Carolina, one might expect a militaristic tone among the endless professions of a better American future. South Carolina is a State wherein reside many active and former members of the military, and many bases and other installations call the Palmetto State home. Including war among talking points in this State is not only smart politics but also a tradition in the primary election system.
One might not expect, however, in an age of constant content, of disturbing video footage of carnage streaming in almost real time, that the desire for such carnage would be a primary fixture among the gathered contestants. The array on stage sometimes resembles the display of plumage among competing males in the wild, the calls louder and louder from one man to the next in an effort to exhibit attractiveness through perceived combat preparedness.
The talk of bombing until the sands glow, of shooting down the planes of our allies, and of unfettered tourture regimes, begs the question as to whether the candidates are considerate of the full effects of war. Aside from the fact that “carpet bombing” is an illegal activity under international law, the mere invocation of it and other atrocites as virtues is inappropriate even in a campaign setting. Winning a war brings collateral damage and an inevitable portion of some suffering. Conducting such operations by air, land, and sea are difficult enough and wrought with all kinds of moral anguish. If one leaves the argument there, one has enough opportunity for innocent victims and unintended consequences to last a lifetime – just ask those who without malice targeted a hospital in Yemen by mistake in 2015. To take the drumbeat further than this point, the point of actual combat ops gone awry, to intentional indiscriminate carnage, beckons the words of Mark Twain.
In Twain’s classic work “The War Prayer“, he writes of a gaunt man who rises from the back of a church to rebut a pastor’s prayer for victory in war. The man reminds the congregation that if one prays for rain to revive one’s crops, one might also be praying for the destruction of another’s crops that need no rain. He then drops the metaphors and tells the assembled that praying for victory means praying for many unmentionable results which must follow victory, such as turning soldiers to bloody shreds, and causing children to “wander unfriended through the wastes of their desolated land”, where they will “stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet.”
As heartening as it may sound to hear the candidates’ reverence for the defense of our way of life, it is also in the national interest to question the outcomes of policies that are bourne of hubris alone, policies that are, as my honorable friend and collegue Mark Fishbein likes to say, “All hat, no cattle. ” Twain knew this back in the beginning of the twentieth century, but he also knew how difficult such a stance can be in the milieu of a populace hungry for victory, battle, or even simple revenge. To that end, Twain left instructions that The War Prayer not be published until after he was dead, saying that “only dead men can tell the truth in this world”.
One hopes that in our modern age, where information from around the globe can be gathered in an instant, truth telling about the real effects of war policies is not left to solitary men biding their time in the backs of churches.