On vacation in Ireland I stood atop this ancient ruin overlooking a lake of sublime beauty, a teardrop from God in the pristine stillness of Killarney National Park. But it was not the trumpet of the Whooper Swan that rang out as I closed my eyes and drifted back a thousand years into history, it was the screams of seven thousand men dying in the battle for Ballinskelligs Castle.
The weathered plaque described the war between the families Biarmait Mac Murchada and Toirrdelbach Ua Brian. As to why the conflict, who won and what were the spoils, a millennium later the answers are lost in the dust of crumbling ramparts. The ruins are a testament to the cosmic senselessness of war as the arbitrator of discord.
But war, for all its futility when measured by inexorable time, remains a constant in the blood stained chronology of man from cave to condo.
I was born during the Manchurian War of the early 1930s, the atrocities imposed on the Chinese by Japan’s burgeoning war machine barely registering in the west despite 60,000 lives slaughtered. In my life time 180 wars have been fought, the deadliest including Vietnam (2,048,050 killed), the Korean War (995,025), and World War II (an astounding 50-million dead and buried!).
There is numbing sadness in a Google Search of recorded history, an unimaginable report of humans on this planet existing entirely at peace on an average of merely eight years per century. The estimate of the total number killed in wars throughout all human history ranges as high as one billion! Let me line up the grave stones: 1,000,000,000 in rows circling the embattled globe.
The wars are not fought in sporting stadiums, three quarters of the casualties are innocent men, women and children gutted, gassed, shot, bombed, raped, starved and driven from their homes. It baffles me. We live in a benevolent world, with enough arable land, enough food grown to feed very person on the planet 2,800 calories a day… if it were divvied up equally. And there’s the rub; at the height of the great famine of the 1850 when one million Irish people died of starvation, English landlords were exporting grain and other foodstuffs!
Our societies have never shared resources equally, and no one seems to have figured out a realistic way of making people start. To the contrary, the gap between the very rich and the very poor has grown to the extent that eighty families have as much wealth as half the world’s total population!
It’s preposterous. And reprehensible. And it is the reason why we have war. Because ultimately, being a “have-not” translates into having no hope, having no reason to obey the rules of genteel society and having no alternative other than taking up arms to “get what we don’t have.”
I’m poking this bee hive because my role as an Elder is to remind you of what I have seen and to warn you of what I see.
I’m concerned that here in America the end of the national draft in 1973 created an air of complacency among the generations following the post WWII Boomers. ‘War’ has become a moment of sensationalism when a Navy Seal Special Forces team creates headlines with a dramatic rescue in a country with an unpronounceable name.
The bloodshed simply doesn’t affect us. Why should it when there are a million and a quarter US military personnel paid to mop up the mess.
At this very moment, using a definition of ‘war’ as “more than a thousand killed,” there are 48 armed conflicts raging around the globe. The number of those killed in Afghanistan is bumping two million; Syria a half million; Iraq just under three hundred thousand. And who cares now that Kim Kardashian just came out with a new line of cosmetics.
Seventeen years ago, 9/11 was an event that brought our country together, united. Today, ‘the country’s mayor’ is the country’s clown and our president is an incompetent with nationalistic leanings signaling a dismissive support of our country’s commitment to the growing number of desperate “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Which leads me to the November elections as all my recent posts do. My urgent request: stretch your concern beyond self-interest and add your abhorrence of war to the criteria that influence your vote. Support the candidates that understand we must tear down the walls that stand between us, not build them as fortresses that keep us apart.
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