So how did we get that way?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Tomorrow is "Veterans Day."
I am a veteran..of WWII, the "good war." B-17 bomber pilot.
Therefore I was trained to kill. Not only other soldiers, but people in cities. Described as "Targets." From 5 miles in the blue sky, with my buddies in that engine of destruction, I rained bombs down on women, children, old folks crouching in their cellars terrorized by our deadly "winning the war" game.
On one raid over Belgium, five miles from the prescribed target, a railway marshalling yard, our bombs fell suddenly from 35,000 feet "toggled" on the lead ship's, destroying, according to the navigator, a tiny Belgium village. Reason? The lead bombardier, a captain, we learned to our chagrin, had a date that night in London and refused to go over the target overshadowed black with "flak." So 12 B-17s, each carrying 3,500 lbs of fire incendiary bombs rained hell that day on a village of totally innocent peasants. On interrogation back at our UK base, when asked where the bombs dropped, no one dared mention the village's name. (To this day, it is blotted from my memory).
This was "murder" or "collateral damage" but no one was prosecuted because there was no law against it. (Familiar?)
I was also trained as an actor. Unity and joy was the "soul" and raison d'etre of that life.
My older brother, "Bud" was also a veteran, a sailor on a tin can Destroyer, but he was killed at Salerno by other humans who today if still alive may be celebrated in other "Veteran Days" overseas. (Ironic, huh?)
What had to happen to us before we "good guys" could accept to become killers of fellow humans? What force or rationale could transform our very nature from benevolence to malevolence?
It is crystal clear to me now at age 88. We first have to be systematically and brutally humiliated.
Our sense of humanity has to be erased, mocked, denied in daily ritual. In "Boot" camp. It's called "training." The myth of "win-lose"-which we had already learned in school-has to be driven into our very psyches, our "souls," if you will, where our own survival-and "reward"-would depend on eliminating "the enemy." But, whereas in school competition the playing field is circumscribed and the rules set and overseen by "referees," the "game" of war is played on the global commons (or space) with no referees with whistles in sight. And so, willingly, we become robots, inhuman, ghouls in national uniforms. Killing even becomes a passion..or simply routine, something to do today and tomorrow until "victory," while the audience at home applauds when we are awarded medals, niggling reminders of our bloody mission. "Thank you for your service," we hear all around us. (Why not "Thank you for your killing"?) While inside, we cringe..ashamed.
So why then should we be surprised if soldiers returning from combat "snap"? Commit suicide? Or start killing others in compounds like Fort Hood, which is entirely devoted to death itself? As Thoreau put it, "Behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts, a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms and funeral accompaniments.."
The "suicide" impulse of war veterans then begins at recruitment! Giving up your sense of human worth leaves you essentially "empty," worthless..and desperate for relief. Humiliation of the national recruit is essential from the onset of the training of soldiery itself. (On college campuses, it's called "hazing"). The fundamental moral code built in to the very core of humans of "Do unto others.." must be driven out in the first stages of training to assure the eventual killing of fellow humans, the "enemy." The decision of the recruit even to submit to this humiliation in the name of whatever tribal allegiance condemns him/her to the inevitability of suicide whether actual or spiritual. Or at best, P.T.S.D. ("post traumatic stress disorder") a sneaky substitute for spiritual death).
Dr. Evelin Lindner, founder of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, in her book Making Enemies, Humiliation, the Precursor to Conflict(1) has researched the direct relationship between humiliation and conflict.
"..the worst suffering, the most painful form of humiliation, is being forced to become a perpetrator because you are too weak to resist, too much of a coward to say no and face death."
"..humiliated fury may explode, especially when there is 'nothing to lose' anymore, when human life may not count much, even one's own."
"Terrorism, for example, may in many instances be a response to humiliation and not an expression of evil essence."
Throughout her ground-breaking book, Dr. Lindner considers herself a "citizen of the world"and member of the "global village." "In the global village," she writes, "all concepts, ideas, feelings formerly attached to out-group categorizations lose their validity. When there is only one in-group left, there can be no out-group. Out-group notions now 'hang in the thin air' without their former basis in reality..Words such as 'enemies,' 'wars,' 'victory,' and 'soldiers' (as well as the already mentioned word 'they' as opposed to 'us') stem from times when the human population lived in many separate villages, Under the new circumstances we are citizens of one village, with no imperial enemies threatening from outside. There is, indeed, no outside. Likewise, there is no "they" anymore, there is only 'us.' The only sentence that fits the reality of any village, including the global village, is, We are all neighbors; some of us are good neighbors, some are bad neighbors, and in order to safeguard social peace we need police [no longer soldiers to defend against enemies in war]..The rising awareness of the planet's tiny size and fragile biosphere coalesce with processes of globalization to provide an experience that binds people together and pushes for cooperation."
I too live in the "global village" (as do you, dear reader) as a stateless "citizen of the world." It is my way of exorcising my past humiliation as a national warrior and my brother's untimely death and at the same time justifying the remainder of my time/space in this physical body endowed by the Great Spirit to Which we all belong.
Let's wake up, fellow citizens! Dignity and respect alone-globally-sanctioned-can save our human community from the final humiliation of omnicide.
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