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What does the sign say?


James Carroll quoted Wilfred Owen’s poem in his column in today’s Boston Globe.

Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen

A week after writing this, Owen was dead on the battlefield of World War I.

Carroll’s column in the Globe today tells of Robert Gates’ (Secretary of Defense) speech in which he takes responsibility for the lives of the young in his charge: “I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons and daughters.” Carroll says that the speech is extraordinary “for its frank acknowledgement that America’s elders have consistently failed the nation’s sons and daughters in sending them off to war.” Gates says that our war efforts since Vietnam have been perfectly wrong. (Many would include Vietnam in America’s record of getting it wrong.)

By all means read Carroll’s column and read Gate’s speech. They are direction signs for our military in this century. But I wonder if Carroll understood Gates’ speech or was he using it to make a separate point, one not found in the speech. I think what Gates decries is not the strategy of sending our young to war but the tactics used once we do. He “takes responsibility” for the young solders he was speaking to at the very tail end of the speech. I wonder if he deeply feels the responsibility he expressed. Or was he saying what he felt he must say on such an occasion in such a speech. I hope he reads James Carroll’s column today and reflects on what the story of Abraham and Isaac implies. Maybe he’ll read Wilfred Owen’s poem too — I doubt it but one can hope.

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New York Skyline 1987

Is it stupidity or is depravity our enemy?

No, I think our deep seated enemy is our own stupidity. Our lack of ability to think clearly in the face of a world that is so much more complex than ever before because now we are forced to live together.

Today belief systems and ways of life that hold martyrdom as one of the highest achievements no longer effect just the followers — they effect us all. Just as belief systems that completely outlaw sex tend toward human extinction, beliefs that include a love of martyrdom lead to death and depravity. Those who follow them may not necessarily be stupid but they tend to behave in a less than intelligent manner. A hallmark of intelligence in a species is the ability to adopt to changes for the purpose of survival. As a species we are not doing that very well these days.

Intentional death and suffering in the form or war or terror — in today’s world — are always the result of poor choices and brutal thinking. When we do it and when Islamic extremists do it.

Our shock and awe in Iraq was a terrorist tactic in retaliation for terror that was brought about by people other than the Iraqis. The terrorists that attacked us on 9/11 did so (as far as we know) in the name of God. That’s not just gosh awful and murderous, its absurd and stupid behavior. But so is our behavior in Iraq.

At the start of the war we used ‘shock and awe’ to stun the Iraqi nation and bring it to its knees. Can anyone tell me that this was not terror?

Governance and daily life is more complicated now than ever in history. We must evolve — become a more thoughtful, kind and intelligent species or we will cease to exist.

And to those who might tell me about the coming of God in some shape or form — The World Order of Baha’ullah and the rapture included — save your ink. It will not work. In fact that line of thought will lead as it always has to more martyrs and more death in the name of God.

As Christ is reported to have said: “The Kingdom Of God is within you.” If it exists or has a chance of existing it must be found within the human heart, which modern brain science is finding is a function of the brain.

Look now into your heart. If you do not live a thoughtful life, if you do not measure your impact on earth everyday, you are contributing to the stupidity of the human race. It is stupidity that will get us at last, and soon unless we wise up.

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