Today is the day for Poetry Against the War, which grew out of Laura Bush’s misguided cancellation of a White House poetry event that the poets were planning to turn into an anti-war event – better to have let the poets had their say, then refuted them than to give them this propaganda bonanza regarding censorship and free speech.
The peace-loving poets now have 5,300 kindred spirits in their database and an almost equal number of poems. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web Today isn’t taking this poetic barrage of pacifism lying down. He has organized his own Day of Poetry For the War.
As I have said on numerous occasions, I am reluctantly pro-war because I believe military action is the only way to disarm Iraq and remove Saddam from power. The weapons inspections are a joke, have been a joke since they resumed, and serve only to stall the inevitable.
Yet I dread the loss of life on both sides – especially civilians – and trust that my government will do all that is reasonable to minimize civilian casualties even as Saddam’s Stalinist regime seeks to expose his own civilians to maximal harm for strategic and propaganda purposes.
War is not to be entered into lightly, nor with bloodlust, nor even with malice, but with professional and sober fortitude once it has been determined that military action cannot prudently be avoided – such as now. 9/11 has taught us the bitter price of delay and inaction: we must now take seriously those who threaten us.
It is with disgust that I read the giddy, too-clever-by-half, simplistic doggerel from both sides:
” ‘God Bless America’ would be blasphemy / if there were a god concerned with humanity” and “Jews who learned their comportment from storm-troopers / act out the nightmares that woke their grandmothers” and “They say they kill the poets and philosophers first in any war, and the first among us have fallen now / their words clapped shut like the lid of night over day” from the anti’s;
“Let me go fight / Let me go win / Let my people be free / Now tell me: Are you in?” and “Many are the ones who are deaf / To songs of depth and insight / Many are the one who listen / But for their turn to say they’re right” and “They listened to a wicked man / And cheered the great blood bath / To glorify their desert clan / And foolishly walked down that path” from the pro’s.
Homer this is not. This is not a time for blithe exhortations and mindless sloganeering, nor hubris, nor sarcastic dismissals of the opinions of the other side, all of which is found in the poetry of both camps. This is a time for quiet reflection, planning, soul-searching and gathering of the collective resolve, not a time for mocking, trash-talking and sentimentality in meter and by the stanza.
The entire impulse reveals the crassness of an advertising campaign and a similar shallowness as well. Not that popular culture can’t deal with these themes: I watched 24 last night in amazement – not only with its handling of the thriller aspects of an Islamic terrorist nuclear bomb plot against Los Angeles – but also with the morality of with terror and counter-terror, and the gray areas where methods converge.
Does the US have the right to kill the family of a terrorist to force him to divulge the whereabouts of a bomb that could kill millions? Can the US government – us, in other words – kill innocent women and children to achieve this worthwhile, desperate goal?
By purely utilitarian standards, of course – the preemptive death of a few to save millions is a no-brainer, but there is another question: are there moral lines that you won’t cross no matter what to achieve your goals? In the show last night, the American president said no, we are not the kind of people who purposely kill innocents for the purpose of persuasion, and advised Jack, the agent in charge, that he must find another way: the end does not justify all means, don’t become what you are trying to prevent.
Jack skirts the issue by gaining his information through trickery, by leading the terrorist to believe his son has been killed and that others will follow if he does not reveal the location of the bomb. The show is no less entertaining or exciting for its serious exploration of moral issues: apparently Jack will not use the means of killing innocent women and children to achieve his worthwhile end, but he didn’t hesitate to shoot and kill an American convict in cold blood and cut off his head in the same pursuit earlier this season.
There are lines in the moral sand, but the stiff wind of imperative contingency blurs them. Life – especially under extraordinary circumstances – is a series of judgment calls, decisions that have real consequences, and to its credit these calls are never made lightly on 24. Our “poets” should heed this lesson.
A “Poets For the War” site has now been created, a “site for sensible poets.”