I have been puzzled as to why more Americans are not concerned about the killing that we are doing over there in Afghanistan and Iraq — and next may do in Iran? There are some wars that are necessary — a response to the Axis powers during WW2 was manifestly one of these. But Americans today seem peculiarly undisturbed by the daily reports drifting in of the numbers of ‘enemies’ that we are killing in their home countries — often with bombs and rockets from on high which also take out innocent ones — women and children.

I have wondered about our apparent collective indifference? I don’t think Americans on the whole are a cruel people. But we have have had a history of allowing our military overtly and such institutions as the C.I.A. covertly to do horrible things to people out there.

It has occurred to me that most Americans have not had a direct experience of the whirlwinds of war since really the Civil War in the last century. The horror of 9/11, of course, has loomed large in our consciousness, but even in its full extent it scarcely matched the typical bombing raids of WW2 upon inhabited cities — repeated on a daily basis. The Europeans in contrast directly experienced such horrors in both WW1 and WW2.

Thinking back to my own experience as a teenager in the early 1950s when I spent a year as an exchange student in Britain and visited in France and Germany where I met, studied with, and also hiked down the Rhine one month with British and German kids of my own age, I saw first hand both the physical ravages of a major war and also met numerous war orphans — some who had lost a military father and others whose parents had been killed in a bombing or shelling incident. I also saw the remnants of the trenches in Belgium from WW1 where so many of the “lost generation” had died over an extended period of months when that war stalled there and was told grim details recollected by P.B. Clayton (for whom I was driving) who had been a chaplain behind the lines there.

I also worked for several months as a counselor with British teens in the East End of London at the Bethnal Green Community Center. For those who do not remember such things, the German Blitz had attempted to defeat Britain with terror bombing of its population centers. Wave after wave of German bombers would fly over London with instructions to look for the bend in the Thames and to drop their bombs just after over flying it — this was the East End where the poorer people lived. They took refuge in the Underground which fortunately provided some protection from those massive early bombing raids. But some above ground destruction was still manifest when I was working there and my fellow teens were as likely as not to have lost a parent — or two — in the raids.

The same was the case with the German kids with whom I walked down the Rhine for a month — the devastation caused by our air raids directed at civilian targets and also Hitler’s disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union. One peasant farmer spoke proudly of his sons — eight or nine — who had all died on the Russian front where they had either frozen death or been blown away.

My bottom line here is that I came home from Europe with a vivid sense of the horrors of war communicated to me by those who had experienced them directly. I recall one weekend helping out a London social worker caring for a dozen or so full war orphans — not happy campers at all, at all.

The point of this posting is to make it clear to fellow Americans that Europeans have an entirely different sense of what war can do to people — that we have not yet learned apart from our veterans who have been there and experienced it that war IS hell! Unhappily we are now informed and run by leaders and media people who were not for the most part there and who have not personally experienced the worst of such things. Even in Iraq our media are pretty well ’embedded’ in the Green Zone. Our returning soldiers are in too many cases experiencing what was called “shell shock” during WW1 and which is now denominated the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome — which may leave one suicidal, murderous, but in most instances reluctant to speak of the horrors that one has seen and, perhaps, even which on has inflicted on innocent people.

I recall a veteran of my era telling of his shock after he had fired into a cave during the Korean encounter only to discover that he had blown away a mother and a new born baby who had taken shelter there.

Perhaps we are doing the children of war a favor in killing them rather than leaving them as orphans? I leave it to you to make that judgment.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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