“All foreign wars I do proclaim,
Live on the blood and the mothers pain,
I’d rather have my son as he used to be,
Than the King of France and his whole navy…”
— “Mrs. McGrath”, traditional Irish folk-song
I’ve felt sick all day, powerless. I have no right to complain, the bombs fall on a separate continent, a foreign people. America has historically benefited from its relative isolation, our enemies have always been far away from our shores. The only exception is the threat that nuclear war posed — missiles travel much faster than men.
I was disgusted at the reactions to the build up, the politicization of something that will undeniably lead to the death of thousands of innocent people. I saw condemnations of militarization on part of the United States without even a hint of blame directed toward Russia. The trouble of falling under the umbrella of anarchist thought is having no faith in nation-states across the board, regardless of any self-purported beliefs or ideals that they claim to have. I despise the concentration of power in the hands of the few in any regard. America shares part of the blame for the situation, but America did not invade Ukraine.
America is not dropping bombs on Ukraine, killing civilians. We did that in Afghanistan, it’s Russia’s turn now.
See? Politics. It’s inescapable, it’s the way war can be so easily justified.
Is it possible to justify the murder of anyone? I don’t believe so. The only justified violence is that conducted in genuine self-defense, when no other option presents itself. Revenge is evil all the same — ripping your aggressor's eye out will not return sight to your own. It’s easy to say that now, I still have my eyes.
Ukraine, unfortunately, cannot turn the other cheek. The government of Russia, not the people, are guilty of murderous intent, a disregard for humanity at large. All nation states are, it’s how they justify their people starving while a few live in luxury. Today only confirms my belief in the credo defined within the famed anthem of the Paris Commune:
“No Gods, No Caesar, No Tribune…”
— The Internationale, Eugène Edine Pottier
No mindless worship or submission to the whims of the power-hungry, the petty tyrants. Sic Semper Tyrannus.
What is happening in Ukraine is a result of our continued submission to a status quo that believes might makes right, that the interests of the few outweigh the welfare of the masses. That human beings are nothing more than pawns in a game of chess, played by people who will never come close to the very bombs they order to drop.
None of this is new information, and I’m sure all of us agree regardless of personal politics. No one wants to die, no one wants to suffer. Most of us would never be able to rationalize what is occurring today in Ukraine, what occurs every day in parts of the world. Yet, here we are.
“Oh, Mrs. McGrath,” the sergeant said,
“Would you like to make a soldier out of your son Ted,
With a scarlet coat and a big cocked hat,
Oh, Mrs. McGrath, wouldn’t you like that?…”
My grandfather had polio, a lame leg was the result. Because of this, he was spared the jungles of Vietnam. Because of this, my father was born. Because of this, I was born. Because I was born, I can write this and talk to you. I can express my horrors towards war, all with the benefit of never having experienced it.
Or, he could’ve died in Vietnam, alongside the 3,413,186 soldiers, civilians, Vietnamese, Americans, who died in that conflict. Then, these words would disappear as quickly as the life of someone who just happens to be a pawn in a chess game.
That’s what it’s like to be dead. Or, I assume it is at least. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced that stage yet. As an atheist, mortality can be incredibly intimidating. There’s no chariot to swing low and grab me, no 72 virgins, no reincarnation. I can’t remember where I read or heard this but I was told to imagine death as what life was like before I was born. What was that like?
Comforting in a way, isn’t it?
“Now, Mrs. McGrath lived on the shore,
For the space of seven long years or more,
She spied a ship coming into the bay,
With her son from far away.”
“Oh captain dear, where have you been,
You’ve been sailing the Mediterranean,
Have you news of my son Ted,
Is he living or is he dead?”
I don’t mean to make it seem like the war is about me, it isn’t. Those who have never fled for their lives, witnessed the death of their friends and families, heard the scream of those buried under rubble, will never be able to understand that horror until they experience it themselves. It is primitive, barbaric, inhumane. We call war inhumane, but it’s one of our greatest skills, our favored past time.
When I was a child, I dreamt of the wars I read about. I imagined being shot, fighting valiantly against the approaching foe: redcoats, natives, Germans, Japanese. Just when all hope seemed lost, I was saved by my comrades. The battle was won, we got to go home to our families. We were heroes.
Today, men who believed they would be heroes are scattered in the snow, painting it red. Their limbs scattered amid twigs, pointing in the direction of home. Pointing to their families.
“Up came Ted without any legs,
And in their place, two wooden pegs,
She kissed him a dozen times or two,
And said ‘My god, Ted is it you?’”
“‘Now were you drunk or were you blind,
When you left your two fine legs behind,
Or was it walking upon the sea,
That wore your two fine legs away?’”
“‘No, I wasn’t drunk and I wasn’t blind,
When I left my two fine legs behind,
A big cannon ball on the fifth of May,
Tore my two fine legs away.’”
“‘Oh, Teddyboy,’ the widow cried,
‘Your two fine legs were your mother’s pride,
Stumps of a tree won’t do at all,
Why didn’t you run from the big cannon ball?’”
I’ll admit, I cried a bit while reading those last lyrics. I often wonder if I am too emotional, if I am irrational to feel this way about things. I see people joke about atrocities, unable to take anything seriously. I can’t judge, I’ve done the same. We’ve all done the same. Are we all desensitized to a certain degree? Has our irony evolved to genuine apathy? Or, is it just the realization that we are powerless against the whims of these tyrants — pawns looking down and realizing they rest on a black and white grid.
I don’t want anyone to die. I don’t want to die. I want to be able to go to every corner of this planet, shake hands with whoever I came across, and say “I’m a pawn as well, how are you holding up?”
I don’t even know how to play chess, that’s how much of a pacifist I am.
“Now against all war, I do profrain,
Between Don Juan and the King of Spain,
And, by herrons, I’ll make ’em rue the time,
When they swept the legs from a child of mine.”
What else can I say? I’m thankful that I’m not experiencing the things I’m writing about. I never want to experience it. I want the world to change, dramatically at that. But I can’t bring myself to conduct the cold calculus necessary to wage war against another individual, only structures and systems. I’m against hatred, corruption, greed, tyranny.
Perhaps that’s a sign of weakness to some, my unwillingness to be an obedient soldier. A mindless patriot. I’m perfectly content being weak — is that not the role of a pawn anyway?
“Standing, as I do, in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
— Edith Cavell, British Nurse, shortly before her execution by the German Army in the first World War