25. May 2006 · Comments Off on Nineteen, Thirty-Eight · Categories: General, History, Iran, Mordor, Pajama Game, War

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air…”

From “The Fellowship of the Ring”

There is a change in our world, and in the world of the blogosphere, that most sensitive of organisms, like a jellyfish that flinches at the slightest change in the water, the temperature or the flow of it, curling in upon itself, tensing in readiness against something harsh and horrible. I thought it was just me, for the last six months or so, feeling a jangling unease, thinking it was just me that found it hard to write, finding it all sad and wearying and depressing, finding it all too horrible, words and ideas not flowing easily, thoughts all incoherent, un-climbable mountains of trollage and spam piling up, of editorial issues and looking for a new job, of temp wage slavery at the Enormous Corporate Behemoth… all of that, and thinking it was just me and my personal issues, not finding blogging to be fun any more, just another grim job to be dealt with, until I read this, and thought with no little relief; “Oh, it just isn’t me, after all.”

I have really enjoyed blogging over the last four years— it is a lifeline and outlet, a useful purpose and a voice, my connection to others of like mind… and if not of like, at least of interesting and stimulating minds. And sometimes I am touched by fire, and write something interesting and cogent and relevant, and someone on the other side of the world or in the next city reads it, and is touched by the fire also, and lets me know about how I have made it possible to understand something, or feel something, or be able to see an event with someone elses’ eyes. Blogging here is an opportunity to educate about the many-splendored weirdness of the military world and I would hate to think I was at the point of giving it up, after the fun of the coaster-ride over the last four years… and since it only this last week the NY Times, the magisterial paper of record, had to publish a correction about muddling a Purple Heart and a Gold Star in a story about the funeral of a serving military member, it would seem that there is still a heck of a lot of educating to do. (Sheesh! Three years of war, and they’re as bone ignorant today as they were then, another reason to be slightly depressed… ok, breath deeply, and repeat the mantra…. It is not my job to reform the NY Times, it is not my job to reform the NY Times, it is not my job to reform the NY Times… better be someone’s job soon, otherwise they will just be a local fish-wrap with an amusingly elevated sense of its’ own importance, and about thirty readers, who all live in expensive condos in a very small part of town. See the LA Times, which used to be a fine and respected newspaper.)

I can suppose this is only cosmic payback for a lifetime spent entranced in history, of the times before… of the times before things changed, of the times just out of reach of my own memory, the times of my grandparents’ and my parents’ formative years, of the worlds that they remembered, but which irretrievably slipped away. Grandpa Jim, Grandpa Al, Grannie Jessie and Grannie Dodie all were born into a world of horse-drawn conveyances, of gaslights and steamships, where the monarchies of Russia and Austria and Germany were seemingly set-in-stone eternal, and the sun never set on the British Empire… and then, hey presto by the time they were all teenagers or in their early twenties, three of those verities were gone and the fourth moved into twilight. But my grandparents moved on, did their jobs and made their homes, raised their families into that new world, and then there was that other seismic shift, the next war that shattered and reformed their established world, the one that I most particularly studied, almost to the extent of sometimes thinking I was re-living it.

In a curious way, I think that it is 1938 again, the very last year that it was possible for the well-meaning and well-intentioned to believe with a whole heart that total war was not inevitable, the year of the annexation of Austria, of Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to buy peace—followed promptly by the German annexation of the Sudetenland, and the Night of Broken Glass— the year that it became obvious to more than just the extremely far-sighted that no peaceful and well-meant actions on the part of the British and French administrations could swerve Hitler from his appointed path, that there was nothing to be expected from the League of Nations, that however much they wished otherwise, bad stuff would be happening. It might be soon, it might be later, but it would be happening, however much one wished and prayed for, otherwise… war would come. And there was nothing to be done that would stop it happening

Events and portents appear, flashing like lightning in one of our summer Texas thunderstorms, finally occurring so frequently that the sky is continuously lit with an eerie blue-white light…riots in Paris and in Australia, murders of Thai teachers, the Affair of the Danish Cartoons. The abject truckling in to threats and violence by western main-stream media, and now threats by Iran’s president to destroy Israel, twinned with Iran’s nuclear ambitions… and such threats reported not in fringy little foreign-affairs journals and blogs, but over and over again, on the front pages and in the headlines. Are they credible threats? Whose lives do we bet that they are not?

I wonder now, if some of the contemporary venom, and malice directed towards FDR, and to a lesser extent, Churchill— both of whom quite clear-eyed about the menace that Hitler posed from a fairly early date— might be a sort of displacement of their fears. There are terrible, lurking dangers, awful people that you can, in the long run, essentially do nothing about— more comfortable to be able to displace your fear and anger, aim it all towards someone that you can do something about, not some fanatic in a cave, or in Berlin, far, far away. Best to focus all your fears and apprehensions, and aim that at the closer and more comprehensible target, and comfort yourself that you have done what you could, that you are blameless and above reproach, sincere in not wanting any of that nasty war and violence. If it falls on someone else, then it must be all their fault then, it was something they did, or didn’t do, that caused war to be interested in them and their children, their houses and cities, and tall shining buildings on a lovely September morning.

What could our grandparents and great-grandparents do, in 1938, but wait for the inevitable to fall, knowing that all their safe and peaceful world would not be eternal and everlasting, but would be finite, and of short duration; that there would soon be an end to all the lovely, predictable joys of a settled existence. What better encouragement to enjoy them with bitter-sweet gusto, knowing that the ship was definitively and slowly sinking, that the ordinary pleasures of life would be at an end?

I am going to finish the touch-ups to the house this weekend, painstakingly climbing up and down a tall ladder borrowed from a neighbor, who most definitely will be wanting it back soon, since I have had it since early this month, carrying a small brush and a paint-can, my pockets filled with nails and tools. I have a notion to pave the center part of the back yard with concrete pavers of my own creation, set with black river pebbles set on end, to make flowers and geometric patterns, like the stairs and terraces I saw in Spain and have never seen again…. I want to set a small fountain in the middle of it, to hear the sound of running water in the afternoons of these brutally hot summer days, which is work that will take months to accomplish and about the same to pay for. And all the time I am doing it, I will have the radio on. And all these days to come, I’ll know that someday, some time, I’ll hear a news bulletin about a mushroom cloud someplace in the Middle East, or Europe, or maybe over an American city… and that these days of peace will be ended for once and all.

Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened. ”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
From “The Fellowship of the Ring”

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