War! Huh, Yeah! (Empty Sky)

Bruce Springsteen’s song “Empty Sky” is how I remember that day, how it looked that morning. Here in Los Angeles, the sun was bright and ths sky had not a cloud, it was Spanish blue.

I worked sales for a greeting card company. I usually went in between 6 and 6:30am. That’d be 9 o’clock on the east coast. I called a customer at a Hallmark store in New York City about a re-order. “We’re under attack!” he shouted into the phone. “America is under attack!” Well, that’s fine, Gus, but what about those cards? He hung up. We were under attack, yeah, right. I went into the main office where some of the other early birds were gathered around the television and I watched one of the towers fall.

It’s been 11 years, and since that morning it has been America on the attack. Wednesday night, the man who in 2007 got himself elected President of the United States with words like these, “It is time to bring our troops home! It is time to realize there is no military solution to the problem of Iraq! It is time to turn the page!” went on TV to speak to the nation. He told us we are still at war. I sort of get the feeling we will be at war . . . forever.

us-soldier-iraq2bJust as soon as the troops come home, out they go again. Only 475, but that is just the beginning. Like Yogi Berra said, déjà vu all over again.

Speaking of the New York Yankees, I’ve been watching a lot of my favorite team this summer. The other day I was trying to remember what song they used to play in the 7th inning stretch back in the good old days before 9/11. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” usually. Now it’s a salute to the troops and Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America.” Woody Guthrie hated that song. His prejudice rubbed off on me. I hate that song and I hate Kate Smith’s voice. She reminds me of Ethel Merman. I hated Ethel Merman. Well, hate is a harsh word. Strongly disliked.

But I really hate war. The thought of war blows my mind. I hate that we are still at war. I am not terribly fond of this ISIL group, but I think the mistakes of the last 11 years should have taught us there is no military solution to the problem in Iraq. Didn’t someone else say that?

Because so many of the Buddha’s teachings can be summarized with the word “peace” (santi), he is often called the “king of peace” (santiraja). Once, during a period of drought, his relatives argued over water rights to the Rohini River. They spit into two factions and were ready to go to war. The Buddha intervened. He asked each side what was more important to them, water or their blood? He was able to convince them of the futility of war.

The Sunni and the Shiite are related. They are brothers and sisters in the same faith. Can they ever be convinced of the futility of war? Of bloodshed? Can anyone in the Middle East, be they Muslim, Israeli or Christian be convinced? It will take a Buddha-like or Gandhian figure to bring them together. I don’t see one on the horizon, do you?

I am not against the President’s strategy. I mean, I guess I’m not. I don’t have a better one. It’s just that war is something I despise. And I am not against the troops. I am weary of the necessity of supporting them.

Tuesday was the 185th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s birth. I know it’s a joke from Seinfeld, but the title of his epic novel “War and Peace” really should have been “War, What Is It Good For?”

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