Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August 14

The strange resonance of dates again. My birthday coincides with V-J Day—the day not the year. I was two when Japan surrendered and the Second World War ended. The general celebration unfortunately overlapped with an irreparable personal loss. My mother, in her mid-thirties in 1945, and living in a small town in South Georgia, developed appendicitis in August of that year and didn’t get treatment in time to prevent the appendix from rupturing. She could still have been saved if the little hospital had had any penicillin,but the limited supplies available in those years were all sent to the various war zones, and so she died of infection on the very day when the fighting ended. The upshot is, I’m never able to celebrate this day without an underlying sense of loss. For the reasons stated, I count her as one of the war casualties, “collateral damage” as the current euphemism has it. If there had been no war, she would not have died, and my life would have been very different. So there’s no surprise if I oppose war now and always.

Meanwhile, here we go again. I heard Mr. Bush’s speech about the crisis in Georgia. We are sending humanitarian aid to the invaded nation, which is good; but, unfortunately, this aid is being accompanied by military escort. Yes, we should stand by Georgia and condemn the Russian invasion. But we should not use military intervention. How long is it going to take before we step down from our role as global policeman? This is a matter in which Europe and the United Nations must act. We can make statements, send envoys to Moscow and Tbilisi, and cooperate with other countries to implement sanctions against Russia; that is all. Or, if the U.N. calls on its members to provide peace-keeping personnel, then we should send them, along with every other country’s. We should not act on our own initiative. Remember that the First World War was launched by a single bullet. Much more than that has already happened in Georgia. Who’s to say that we are not on the brink of the third such conflict, with the difference that weaponry is vastly more sophisticated and destructive than it was one hundred years ago.

Since I’m plumping for the U.N., will someone explain to me why no one has proposed the possibility of having U.N. forces come in while we’re making U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq. If it’s true that Iraq isn’t yet stable enough to be left on its own, surely the Iraqi people will be more tolerant of the presence of U.N. peace-keeping troops than ours. After all, we dropped bombs on their country with no prior provocation. And our occupying forces have killed and brutalized (everyone remembers Abu Ghraib, right?) their people. The very sight of a U.S. soldier and the American flag must make many Iraqis sick. It’s time for us to get out (safely), and as we get out, let the U.N. help Iraq achieve stability and full autonomy.

One world and one at peace. So far, a dream, but one that will come true if the desire and dedication can be found to bring it to birth. W.H. Auden: “We must love one another or die.” (“September 1, 1939.”)


George said...

I am moved by your story of your mother's untimely death when your were two. It does give you a very personal reason for your anti-war sentiments. Such a loss is never overcome, and anything you do to celebrate life and oppose killing honors her and is a gift to you both.
We share an August '43 birthday, and I find myself more considerate of the life around me as I draw closer to my own end. Happy Birthday.

Ron Slate said...

Take comfort and pleasure in knowing that Georgia provides the world with some of its most beautiful women, and also several wonderful but uncelebrated wines. This is widely recognized. I know it directly: My maternal grandmother was born in Tflis (Tblisi) in 1904, and her three sisters were also stunning. Furthermore, a visit to Tblisi in 2006 confirmed the legend: loveliness emerging everywhere. Today, some of these women are mourning their dead because the great powers of the world are unwilling to vent their full superfluities in sport at Beijing. As ever, this is all about money. There's no other reason for Putin and Bush to be squaring off in this squalid little war.

Alfred Corn said...

Interesting to hear these things. I've never traveled in Georgia, but clearly it would be worth the effort. Let's add to the catalogue of its fame a twentieth-century genius: George Balanchivadze, better known as Balanchine, the great choreographer for the New York City Ballet.

As for Russia and its support for Ossetia and Abkhasia: If Russia supports their right to be autonomous, why didn't it grant autonomy to Chechnya? In any case, these questions have to be settled diplomatically, not by force of arms.