Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The futility of war as a solution

My latest for the Door County Advocate

The “Traveling Back” columns that run in our pages and online have had a grim undercurrent lately. Bob Johnson, who combs through back issues of the Door County Advocate to compile the column, was the first to notice.

Back in the very earliest days of the Advocate, we were keeping an eye on what became known as the Civil War. Joseph Harris Sr. in part founded this paper so that he could keep his neighbors informed about what he viewed as a criminal rebellion and drum up support for the war effort.

In 1864, 150 years ago, the Advocate is currently following the progress of local boys who enlisted in the war effort and reporting on General Sherman’s march to Atlanta. By April, Johnny will come marching home and the nation will mourn President Lincoln.

In 1914, 100 years ago, the Advocate is reporting from afar about war and rumors of war across the ocean in Europe, which was in the beginning throes of what would become known as The Great War, the War to End All Wars.

Seventy-five years ago in 1939, the Advocate is again keeping a watchful eye on Europe again, as Germany invaded Poland and was threatening the rest of the continent.

It’s a little disconcerting to know that in the not-too-distant future, the “50 Years Ago” section of the column will begin reflecting the effects of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of August 1964, which brought the U.S. into yet another war, this time in distant Vietnam.

And while 1989 – 25 Years Ago – is best known as the year the Berlin Wall fell, ending the Cold War, within two years we were enmeshed in the Persian Gulf War.

What does it all mean? Is mankind fated to go to war every quarter century in some sort of natural cycle, like the tides or the highs and lows of the water levels on the Great Lakes? Lord knows the news from overseas is again full of saber rattling, death and destruction.

I’ve always thought war was a stupid way to settle differences. You disagree with someone, or covet their territory, and the solution is to kill as many of your opponents as possible and lay waste to the land? A less sensible solution can hardly be imagined.

Is it “human nature” to wage war? I think not. Most people I know are content to live their lives and resolve any differences far short of murder and mayhem. Traditionally Americans especially have been reluctant to take up arms except to defend themselves.

President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address in 1961, warned against what he dubbed “the military industrial complex,” an unholy alliance of warriors and war-machine manufacturers who profit from keeping us in a constant state of war and preparation for war. It does sometimes seem as if someone is moving chess pieces to ensure that those manufacturers continue to move product.

I don’t know how to stop this cycle, if it is one, except to appeal to our better angels. If it is human nature to wage war – I don’t really buy that, but if it is – people resist and conquer human nature every day, when we choose to engage in commerce rather than slug the retailer and steal what we want, for example.

At the height of the Vietnam War, there was a popular meme that went, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” I still wonder what might happen if two states huffed and puffed and called on their citizens to kill each other, and if those citizens looked at each other and replied, “I have no quarrel with you. Let’s let the huffers and puffers sort it out among themselves.”

I know this is naive. I know there are very misguided people who still think women are property and believe it’s noble to strap a bomb to yourself and explode it in a crowded marketplace, or fly commercial airliners into buildings full of innocents. And somehow those folks need to be stopped.

I just hope we come up with a better solution sometime in the next 25 years.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

W.B. at the Movies: Godzilla

Well, now. THIS is how you tell the story of a creature massive enough to level cities who encounters and battles other massive creatures that are in the process of leveling cities.

Godzilla, which arrives for Blueray and DVD on Tuesday, is the most fun I’ve ever had watching the big lizard on the big screen, and I daresay it’s the second-best Godzilla movie ever created. The first one, of course, will always be the greatest.

I confess that is faint praise from me. I have been unimpressed by the vast majority of Godzilla movies, which too often treat the giant monster as some sort of campy superhero. After the dark awe with which he is treated in the original Gojira, it’s been like watching the 1960s Batman TV show after experiencing the Dark Knight in his greatest graphic novels.

No more. In this film, at least, Godzilla the terrifying force of nature is back.

And the moment of the big reveal is the best Godzilla moment ever, bar none. After building the suspense and introducing the “bad” monsters, the scene where director Gareth Edwards first introduces the title character is an incredible thrill. That’s quite a trick – we all know Godzilla is going to show up eventually, but Edwards manipulates his audience to the point where I found myself poking Red like the excited little kid I felt like and saying, “Here he comes!! It’s Godzilla! Godzilla’s here!!!”

I don’t totally buy Edwards’ shtick that Godzilla is some sort of godlike being passing judgment on us all, and I will always prefer the magnificent Ishiro Honda version best. But for what it is – a high-budget retelling of the monster versus monsters shtick – it’s incredibly good.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Grass" - Carl Sandburg (1918)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                          What place is this?
                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.
                                          Let me work.