On vacation in Ireland I stood atop the ancient ruin of Ballinskelligs Castle 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 eye and drifted back a thousand years into history, it was the screams of seven thousand men dying in the battle for that crumbling fortress.
A weathered plaque described the war between ruling families with reigns existent in decaying parchment. As to why the conflict, who won and what were the spoils, a millennium later the answers are lost in the dust of moldering 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 condominium.
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 lifetime 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 a paltry average of 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 gravestones: 1,000,000,000 in rows circling the embattled globe.
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’ baffling. 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 only it were divvied up equally.
Our societies have never shared resources equally. To the contrary, despots continue to seek no alternative other than taking up arms to “get what we don’t have.”
I’m poking this beehive 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 attitude of complacency among the post war generations following the Boomers of WWII. ‘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 the nation’s taxpayers pony up the cost for a million and a quarter US military personnel paid to mop up the messes.
At this very moment, using a definition of ‘war’ as “more than a thousand killed,” there are 40 armed conflicts raging around the globe. The number of those killed in Afghanistan surpassed two million; Syria a half million; Iraq just under three hundred thousand.
And now the brutal invasion of Ukraine is the headline story
Which leads me to the November mid-term elections and the influence we seniors still possess as the country’s largest voting bloc. Place your abhorrence of war ahead of self-interest and support the candidates that understand we must defend the fortresses of democracy in defiance of the despots bent on tearing them down.