essay

The TV is on late at night, playing through the darkness of the house, playing with my sleep. A new war dawns over and over and over on the screen. An explosion thousands of miles away illuminates the living room. I press the mute button. Why listen to the noise, when peace for me can be accomplished by simple silence?

Immense sums have been invested to camouflage our soldiers against the new death, which is the same as the old death, but not to armor them against the enemy’s ubiquitous homegrown ingenuity. A simple gaze across history shows that the number of boys who are allowed to become men is limited by old men, who pretend to know nothing about it. For reasons of equality this population reduction now includes women, and those eliminated by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq arrive in my living room on C-17 transports, or so I am told by a reporter, since they only descend to earth after midnight, in deep secrecy.

Our fighters have been cautioned to stifle expressions of pleasure in successful killings, because a war without emotion is held to be clean and just and good. We are better than the enemy, for whom the act of mass murder yields a collective religious exaltation. Do the victims care? Shoot me kindly, shoot me for a righteous ideology, or don’t shoot me at all.

The human body is less aerodynamic than a potato: a potato is ejected from a mud house that has just been shattered on TV by an American rocket, a house that was somebody’s world: not a big fat American world, but somebody’s world.

“We got that sucker big time!” escapes from the soldier who called in the air strike. None of the body parts, bits of a radio, plastic tubs and buckets, nor a thin mattress land in the darkness of my house, but the debris collects somewhere in that bottomless pit called television, where hundreds of thousands of dead bodies go. It’s the New Hades.

The dog lies with her head on the pillow. She watches a video loop that leads up to the destruction of a tank whose price is unknown to those of us who paid for it. Fated to die a thousand deaths on the news channels of the world, its passengers shared stifled fear and stale cheese whiz without humor mere moments ago.  Did they suspect that the old men of the Meddling West, sent them to redistribute resources that do not belong to us, including our children’s futures? At the moment of their obliteration, will they understand that the men who run the show in Washington, D.C., don’t have the skill to decide what necktie to wear to a press conference? Will it dawn on these baby ducks in warrior wear, that the old males who have sent them to wander aimlessly in the world’s ideological vortices, don’t give a fuck what happens to them?

Americans are hampered by religious instruction that has never actually been clear to them. “Thou shalt not kill,” is not, and never was, a universal call to disarmament and nonviolence. God simply reserves murder, especially mass murder, for himself. In modern legal terms, the taking of life belongs to The State. The State is composed of old men, who are the true gods on earth.

Citizen shoppers interviewed at a mall send support to our dead troops. They say, Thank-you for killing bad people of a different religion who live somewhere on a map that is utterly blank to us; thank-you for dying so that we no longer must fear dangers that do not exist.

Fighter jets land in my living room, as if the carpet is the deck of a spacious aircraft carrier, docked under a blue sky, somewhere in America. Kids tie yellow ribbons to a chain-link fence, as did the youth of Rome and Carthage. We insist that lies protect children, but when and how do we switch from telling lies to telling the truth that war is neither necessary nor praiseworthy? The trick of war is to produce suffering on a level that is unendurable for civilians and enemy soldiers alike, and to keep it up until the other side gives up, but inevitably, we end up doing this unendurable thing to ourselves.

A WWII veteran dredges for anecdotes that will please the media. Weighed down by the knickknacks of war that oppress his sunken chest, the old man mumbles that the Good War years were the best of his life. Nostalgia penetrates the ether like honeysuckle scent, and I know I’m being told that today’s ruinous war will be remembered with deep affection by future television production companies. “We got those slant-eyed suckers big time!” the old soldier tells America. He adds that the shock from bombs falling near his foxhole burst his eardrums; that bullets from a Japanese fighter that strafed their foxhole made his buddy’s body dance like a rag doll; that a third buddy survived, but spent the rest of his life rotting in a VA psycho ward, very far off camera.

The war was wonderful,” the old man says. “My memories help me to sleep.”

Essay / “War Helps Me to Sleep”

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