The recent video of Marines desecrating the corpses of Taliban fighters killed in Afghanistan demonstrates a reality of what war creates, a culture of evil that disseminates into our everyday cultural script. This grotesque episode reveals what kind of people we are (plural) if we don’t know the kind of person (individual, group) you are, a pattern that others made that prevails in the world (in the words of William Stafford, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”)
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
But if one wanders the circus wont’ find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
To know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
“The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years. It is peddled by myth makers—historians, war correspondents, film makers, novelists, and the state—all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many, war is so hard to discuss once it is over.”
The reason why people are so surprised by this and other recent news of deplorable conduct by military personnel is partly because it is below the surface in the dominant societal script, a pervasive script that nurtures us all. The dominate script is “technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism” socializing us all, liberal and conservative; unless we are awake to this fact, disengage and overcome it via an alternative meta narrative that breeds holistic life.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Photograph: William Stafford