Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's the same old story, but the fight isn't for love and glory

By Nancy Jane Moore

I awoke this morning to a radio announcer reading these lines from W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939":
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

I recommend reading the whole poem. It disturbs me to consider how easily it could be renamed "September 11, 2001." The radio report mentioned that it was read at a recent September 11 memorial and that people were shocked by its relevance. But that's great poetry for you.

Anyone who has studied history can come up with a hundred examples that prove Auden's lines, but I'm stuck on current events today. Evil was done to the United States on September 11, and we've done incalculable evil in return.

Many people cheer what we've done, just as many people cheer when murderers are executed. Human beings think they like revenge. Of course, in the case of Iraq, we took "revenge" on people who had nothing to do with us being attacked, but sadly, that's not uncommon in history either.

I fear that the current dissatisfaction with the Iraq War has more to do with the horrible mess we've created than it does with rethinking whether doing evil in return is a good policy. We question strategy, we may even question whether we chose the right target, but we don't question revenge.

If the human race is ever going to become civilized, we need a better response to evil than more evil.


Uncle Pavian said...

For some of us, the rationale for capital punishment isn't revenge, but public safety. A life sentence in this country means the felon is confined at state expense until a judge decides to let him out, or he escapes, or some low-level functionary in the Department of Corrections makes an error in addition and turns him loose by mistake. For the state to execute murderers might show that we do not live in a perfect world, but it is a lot more humane than what the murderers have done to their victims.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

The public safety argument for the death penalty is a legitimate one, though we seem to have some difficulty determining who is truly dangerous and who isn't. Likewise, there are times when war is an appropriate response, though those situations are fraught with complexity. We have enough human history behind us to make it obvious that no attack is ever totally unprovoked.

In a perfect world there would be no murders, executions, or wars. Obviously, we're not there yet. But the more ways we find to resolve problems without killing the better off we'll be. Letting go of revenge as a motive would be a good first step.

Michael Caddell said...

Are you quoting The Clash or W. H. Auden with the "love and glory" thing? No amount of navel gazing or starry starry night stuff is going to bail the philosophers and poets out of this mess.

And the "public safety" clowns supporting the death penalty argument - usually haven't been involved in killing any human, let alone the gutting and eating of an animal.

I'm glad some victims of 9/11 discovered Auden, but not so sure any American has yet to accept what expense their global plundering over the last fifty years has wrought.

If they did, they would be living a hell of a lot different [and they're not] than acting like mindless philosophical midgets at the shopping mall.

I saw a Buddhist monk carrying a club running through the streets of Myanamyr (Burma, in whitey talk) why don't you navel gaze and pontificate about that contradiction?

Just how long are you liberals going to tolerate your gutless leaders keeping all 737 military bases in good operating order.

Truman said that he felt like a load of hay dumped on him after taking the oath for president after FDR died.

I think a load of rocks are about to be dumped on America, in the form of another surge of wars for endless energy supplies.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Actually, I was quoting Herman Hupfeld from the old song "As Time Goes By," but any quote equating war with fighting for love and glory will do.

I'm not feeling tolerant about anything the current administration is doing and I also fear the country is in for rocky times. But I also find that poetry helps me make sense of what is going on.

Uncle Pavian said...

Well, we do a lot of poetry over here at West Neanderthal Drive (link omitted).

Uncle Pavian said...

Addendum to previous post.
I mention this not in a shameless bit of self-promotion (I could get lots more traffic by tagging all my posts "Ron Paul"), but to point out that W.H. Auden's works are still protected by copyright, which makes quoting them in their entirety a problem. We prefer to make sense of the world using poetry in the public domain, tons of which can be found for free at Project Gutenburg. So far, we've had no complaints from the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, Sappho, Caedmon, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe or Anonymous, all of whom have something to say, even if it's not necessary worth listening to.
If you go that route, bear in mind Sturgeon's Conjecture: "Ninety percent of everything is crap."

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I should point out that quoting a small amount from another work falls into the fair use category. And in this case, the entire poem is available online, published with the permission of the copyright holder. I'm all for Project Gutenberg, but I don't limit my reading to work in the public domain.
Ted Sturgeon was right about many things; his observation probably applies to blogs as well.