I was thinking about the memorial I played at on January 18 for the pilot of the airliner that was killed in a takeoff accident in North Carolina on January 6, 2003. I can't help but think of how my life has been touched by aircraft tragedies in the last few years. Both were the kind of major stories that are flashed on the national news media. I hardly thought of plane crashes before. They were something that happened to other people in far away places.
Carol’s friend, Linda, who’s plane went down in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11/01 caused me to consider how small the world truly is, and how we are all connected to each other - no matter how distant the connections may seem to be. On January 18 I went to play cello at the Jonathan J. Gibb's memorial service. I heard, like the rest of the country, about the crash of his Beechcraft 1900D commuter airline the week before. I didn't know until a few days before I was asked to play, that he was a native of Northern California. Apparently he and his family lived in Ukiah.
From all accounts he was a kind, generous, decent, dynamic, and loving young man. People at the memorial did not need to awkwardly search for nice words to say. They called him a “Renaissance Man”. The praises for this extraordinary man flowed from the assembled people there like a bubbling stream. They were effusive, but there was no hyperbole in their descriptions of that 27 year man.
The thing that impressed me is how many other memorials I, and others, will most probably need to attend in the coming years as the world careens towards acts of senseless violence and hatred in the ritualized slaughter we call war. There will be accidents, as well as intentional brutality to come. Everyone will talk about the great suffering of those who "Gave their lives", as well as the pain and loss of those who are "left behind". What a strange, terrible thing we do when we cut off the flower of our youth as if we were spending money to purchase some desired, but necessarily costly thing.
The problem is there is no redemption in modern war. That has been absent from the world since Sherman’s march on the South during the American Civil War. There was a time when wars were called "justified". We could tell ourselves in the past that we were redeeming our national honor or lost lands, or some such thing. Now, in a time when groups of angry young men go to war without allegiances to any particular nation, what do we gain by waging war against entire populations, whose crimes might simply be that they happen to live where those angry young men reside. You can fill in the blanks here. "Those people" (as Robert E. Lee called the Northern troops during the American Civil War) could be called freedom fighters, liberators, illegal combatants, rebels, martyrs, radicals, saviors, zealots, and a host of other names to describe them. Whatever the terms we use, we are all eventually reduced to the very human, universal act of remembrance and memorial.
Here's a strange idea. Let's just have a worldwide month-long memorial for all the millions of people who will die in the time of carnage to come. That way we can be done with it and get on with business of killing. The notion of dying for peace or so that others may live, will be outlawed in our hypothetical pre-memorial. There will be no trappings of nationalism or military regalia… no impressive airplane flybys or 21-gun salutes. We can only hope that, when we do this massive pre-memorial, there will be a possibility that people may seriously consider the notion that dying for the sake of a cause is a sure indication that the cause in question may need to be more carefully examined.
Our leaders seem to be awfully good at spending human capital, so they should offer up their children (any one of their choice) for death. Then they could legitimately ask others, from the moral authority of their own loss, to sacrifice their sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers, for whatever cause is so important to them. However, during my hypothetical month-long pre-memorial service, no one would be required to destroy their progeny until everyone understands the necessity of war against others who are experiencing the same memorials, and everyone has had enough time to say their good-byes.
OK, making our leaders sacrifice their children for the sake of war is not practical. It may not even be possible to clearly articulate the reasons for war. So we’ll go back to plan A – the pre-memorial. Because so many may need to die, we’ll say that in America, the President, Vice-President, cabinet members, and all elected representatives from both the house and senate, must attend the pre-memorials. Let’s say that our leaders must then be required to attend each funeral and memorial of every person who actually dies in a war of their making. For convenience, the leaders would be allowed to consolidate services. For example, they could hold services for people grouped by age, their voting districts, shoe size, or hair color. No letters of condolence, or personal representatives would be allowed. Each leader would be required to personally attend all services.
Are these the mad ravings of an impractical peacenic… a daydreamer… someone not connected to the real world… a lunatic liberal? You might ask yourself, what kind of nonsense is Clovice on to now, with leaders having to attend pre and post memorials, classified by hair color? You might say I am crazy, and that what I propose is impractical at its best, and too expensive at the worst, but I challenge anyone to tell me the true cost of maintaining a vast military as we do.
Try this on for size. A B-2 bomber costs 2.6 billion dollars per airplane. The U.S. Air Force wanted 100 B-2s, but that number has been paired down to 20. The weapons to arm a B-2 cost $78 million for each payload. An Ohio-class Trident submarine costs $1.9 billion each. It costs an additional $1.52 - $2.2 billion to arm each Trident submarine. The U.S. Navy wanted 50 of these submarines, but that number has been pared down to 14. Cruise missiles, those Nintendo wars precision guided darlings of our military come cheap at between $8.4 million and $16.3 million each. Of course, none of these figures include the costs to maintain, train, and crew these weapon systems. The Bush II administration wants to significantly increase the numbers of all weapons systems. It is very likely that will happen now that Republicans are in control of the legislature.
What’s my point? The point is that if we actually waged peace with the same determination, creativity, and resources we now invest in weapons of war, it would cost us less…and we would now be living in a much safer world! If you live in a bad neighborhood, locking your doors can only help you so much. The only way to truly change the situation is to improve the neighborhood. Is that impossible or impractical? No. Not at all. Given enough time, determination, and resources, such a thing can be easily done. So I ask you, what kind of return on investment could we anticipate if we spent only $40 billion – the cost of 20 B-2 bombers - to train teachers, doctors, nurses, policy makers, engineers, scientists, artists, and social workers to go out into the world and wage peace in other countries? Add in the cost of a few Trident submarines, a few divisions of M1-A1 tanks, and a dash of supersonic cruise steath F-22 fighters and we’ll be cooking with gas!
We are told that a strong military is required for us to preserve the peace. If that is so, why then have we been at constant war with the Nicaraguas, Afganistans, Libyas, Panamas, Granadas, Bosnias, and Iraqs of the world since the Reagan administration? Why are we still living in a bad international neighborhood? Maybe we should do some serious thinking about improving the world rather than controlling it. We, as citizens, are so paralyzed by the possibility of war, we focus so much on the machinations of foreign policy, and we feel so trapped by what seems to be the scourge of war-making by our species, that we tend to overlook the obvious. Peace is necessary for our survival on this planet. War is not. And war is only inevitable to those who have no vision, no courage, and no intelligence to avoid it.
As for me, I will continue to go to the streets if necessary to protest the flagrant abuses of power and lack of peace-promoting policies of our leaders. I will continue to ask my fellow citizens to urge our leaders to make more intelligent choices about issues of peace, and to fire those who cannot do so. I will do what I can to wage peace in my lifetime. As for me, I’d rather go to a celebration than a memorial service. How about you?
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!