Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Funny Valentine

As of now, I have no plans for Valentine's Day, because strictly speaking, I have no Valentine: no heart-throbbing, swashbuckling Romeo, who might, in principle and in a best-case scenario, be dreaming up some extravagant, caressing scheme to celebrate the moment with me. So I had nothing special in mind for how to mark the approaching day, until I got an e-mail from a friend, who said that this was what she was going to be doing:

On Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14
from 5-8 PM, Artists Against
the War will be assembling at the US military
recruitment center in the
middle of Times Square. Our hands will be dyed
red and we will be
carrying the attached poster to mourn five
years of bloodshed in Iraq.
Please join us and participate for awhile that

When, almost immediately afterwards, I happened to read an article in The Nation about how a stressed-out Marine Corps sends its troops on repeated tours in Iraq, and then tosses them out when they come back stigmatized--because they are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and so are often prone to emotional and behavioral breakdowns--I knew that my Valentine blog would have to be about the heartbreak of these confused and lonely and lost war veterans. Suddenly I wanted to do nothing else but visit the sick, like Walt Whitman did during the Civil War.

Because the machismo military tends to view PTSD as a form of weakness, those who are so afflicted often remain under diagnosed and under treated. They suffer not just from physical wounds but many have lost their mental health as well--sometimes becoming alcoholics, or worse, committing murder or suicide. I'm not going to do statistics here, or offer any horrifying particulars, but the fact is that veterans of the Iraq war are finding themselves, in record numbers, unable to readjust to normal living or to make sense of who they are or what they did over there. But the real psychic insult is that often they are being kicked out of service with not honorable discharges-- disqualifying them to receive educational and medical benefits. Thus stripped of their hard-won achievements in combat duty, they can then become a financial and moral write-off for the government. Just thinking about this is so oppressive and demoralizing that a whole world of suffering and isolation flares up.

In my recent and still ongoing correspondence with Morris Berman, I asked him what he thought we should or could do now--given that we've already taken all the wrong roads and there are no real choices left. He wrote back:

"What we need to do now is the opposite of what we are doing, beginning with an apology for messing in their affairs. This is not to condone 9/11, of course; but put the 3000 dead on that day against the 1/2 million Iraqi children dead during the 90s, thanx to Clinton's aggressive support of the UN sanctions, and it does look kind of imbalanced (cf. 58000 US soldiers dead in Vietnam vs. 3m Vietnamese--where is *their* memorial?).
... If we want to pursue the terrorists in a war we can't win (because it's a technique, not a political entity), blowback will continue and more 9/11-type events will occur. If we want to stop such events, an apology to the Islamic world for Iran 1953, Iraq 1991, etc etc and etc, and restitution for what we have done--the murder of Iraqi children just for starters--would change the situation significantly, it seems to me. (Just consider what an official Israeli apology to the Palestinians would do for the situation in the Middle East, for example.) But as you and I both know, the US Govt, whether Dem or GOP, can be counted on to pursue the worst possible strategy, the one that is most self-destructive. Since you like to quote Churchill, consider this line from him: "The US can always be counted on to do the right thing, after it has exhausted all of the alternatives." I fear it will take us a very long time to exhaust the alternatives, in this case. As in the case of the Cold War, we need an enemy badly, for our own identity and psychological "integrity". America would disappear without an opponent. The tragedy is, it will disappear with one as well, and probably faster. "

Since I have committed myself to ruthless honesty in this blog--to facing things exactly as they are, however unpalatable--it strikes me that instead of smooching and eating chocolates, I may just have to spend Valentine's Day weeping and praying for these men who have had their lives so mutilated. Grieving is hard work to do. But I don't know how else to surrender to the reality of what we've collectively done. Perhaps I really will dye my hands red right here in Blacksburg, and simply mourn the five years of totally wasted bloodshed in Iraq, like my friend is planning to do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Suzi,
As the Friend who is going to take part in the Valentine evening's demonstration at Times Square, I am gratified that you show the poster on your and Vergil's blogsite. Participants will also include New York artists Joyce Kozloff and Ken Wade. Your following comments and those of Mr. Berman are important in that you articulate what I have thought and felt since the beginning of this blundering INTO 9/11 as well as all the consequences since. What so many dared not say aloud for fear of being accused of 'anti-patriotic' positions prevented the press (as Dan Rather and others eloquently explained in a documentary I have forgotten the name of). Of course the people who died here on 9/11 did not 'deserve' to die and suffer--no one does. But our government does have a long history of wicked meddling in other countries and cultures and the reference to Churchill's witty but profound observation, that our country seems to save the best decisions until last, is all too true. We must stop valuing American lives over the lives of others; certainly one dead office worker in the World Trade Towers was not equivalent to 10,000 anonymous Iraquis or US soldier not worth 10,000 unknown Vietnamese. But of course the way to right the balance is not to begin to devalue our own. Yes, it is shameful how we exhaust and brutalize our own young under-trained soldiers and then abandon them when they return home with shattered health to disrupted lives with inadquate medical care, let alone respect. This general devaluation of human life is very puzzling.
Or is it? Perhaps the problem, our moral and practical problem, is a matter of language. Concepts such as Love, compassion, peace, freedom, democracy, patriotism...and slogans that have a subliminal value judgment attached, such as "mission accomplished" (remember that tv spy-adventure serial?), "bring em home dead or alive" (cowboy talk)...are not things but mere words that, as George Orwell demonstrated in his frightening futurist novel "1984, " a Big Brother government can bend in order to attenuate and alter the ability to think clearly--and thus to feel genuinely. In other words, we are becoming "Double Plus-Good Duck Speakers." Once upon a time, Valentine's Day was a day of anticipation, lacy and frilly, innocent, a reaffirmation of love--agape as well as eros.
I hope your readers will join us at Times Square in spirit when we put forward our efforts to get the country to wake up to the military's current participation in a long history of deceit and violence that has masqueraded under the rubric of love and friendship toward those nations this country wanted to control, whose cultures this country wanted and wants to supplant.
Ave atque vale.
Alison Armstrong