WAR: Why I Write

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and I learned the same lesson which altered our lives in similar, although individually relevant, ways.  FDR was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the age of 31, under the Administration of President Wilson.  He was in this role during U.S. involvement in World War I.  During his tenure in this role he took a trip to the Western Front in France, where he was shown a very recent battlefield, as well as had the path he had just walked bombarded by German artillery.  He came away from that experience highly energized by the awesome power and majesty of War.

Yet, in the late 1930’s, as the world was descending into potentially another global existential conflict, he is quoted as saying: 

I have seen war.  I have seen war on the land and sea.  I have seen blood running from the wounded.  I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs.  I have seen the dead in the mud.  I have seen cities destroyed.  I have seen two hundred limping, exhausted men come out of the line – the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before.  I have seen children starving.  I have seen the agony of mothers and wives.  I hate war.[1]

This quote was pulled from Commander In Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and their War by Eric Larrabee (Simon & Schuster 1987).  Larrabee goes on to write:

“It must be admitted that at the time, he expressed no such sentiments.  There is nothing in the accounts he sent home to suggest anything but exultation and pride in the prowess of Allied arms – one more among the many indications that the Roosevelt who had survived his crippling illness, mastered the national political scene, and uneasily observed the advancing worldwide clash of conflict was not the same Roosevelt as the assistant secretary.  Even after Pearl Harbor, he remembered to refer to the field of battle as “ugly.” What the younger man looked at with an appetite for experience in its fullness, the older man looked back on with revulsion, or should the possibility be entirely discounted that abomination for war’s evil is not inconsistent with a sense of its awesomeness.”[2]

Although I have never, and will never, serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, have not seen a fresh battlefield or had a path I just walked bombarded with artillery, I too have seen the remnants of war.  I was inspired to go into international affairs because of the Civil War in The Former Yugoslavia.  I traveled vast swaths of the planet touring battlefields, museums, libraries, and government ministries attempting to understand military history and the use of military force in foreign policy.  I have seen and met children and adults who lost limbs and loved ones from unexploded bombs left over from wars long-since forgotten by everyone else.  I worked to reduce the possibility of conflict between the world’s most powerful countries, as well as and stem the flow of the world’s most dangerous weapons. 

Through a maturation process that included a physical disability (although not to the degree of FDR’s) and having a son I both anticipate and fear may one day be called upon to fight and possibly die for his country, I now write emotional first-person historical fiction to help people enjoy learning to avoid the wanton waste of war.

This work is all done because of my personal affinity for the awesomeness of war combined with an utter inability to comprehend why it exists.  I simply cannot understand war, no matter how much I study it.  I can read about it, I can write about it, I can teach it, I can wax poetically on strategy, operations, tactics, military history, world-renown strategists and practitioners, and even the ancient to modern weapon systems used, but I fail to grasp what WAR actually means, other than simply one word:

WASTE

WAR is a waste of humanity, of resources, of energy, and ideas. 

WAR is bereft of value.

I am not advocating that a country never fight, or that some wars are not worth fighting.  Roosevelt was right to bring the United States into World War II.  I continue to question why we entered World War I, and how the world may be different had we not made that choice. What I am saying is that any decision to go to war has to be measured against its real and total cost.  Few political leaders in the position to make decisions about the use of force sincerely address the holistic costs of war.  They often latch on to a public anger or prime the pump of some hatred of “The Enemy” in order to unify their side toward conflict.

I write emotionally charged first-person accounts of WAR in order to draw people into the fact that all WAR is fought by individuals, at a human level, with each individual personally suffering through the trials, triumphs, agonies and defeats caused by decisions made by other humans for purposes that are never worth the value of what is paid.   

I recently finished a book about World War I, the war that later President Roosevelt witnessed before he had to lead our country through World War II.  This book summed up WAR in exactly the terms I try to help everyone comprehend. Here I will share them with you:

“Wars are and always have been paradoxical and deeply ironic phenomena that frequently change what people want to preserve, promote what people want to prevent and demolish what people want to protect.”[3]

I would love to rekindle a local, national, and international conversation on the utility, futility, and military-industrial propensity toward WAR before the next one has the chance to claim lives and cause suffering in ways very few humans have yet imagined. 

The next WAR will be fought with new technology used in ways far more destructive than anything we have seen before, and can possibly imagine now. Every war, particularly those of the last 150 years, opens the field to improvements in the means by which death is administered, and the range from which it can be accomplished.  These means are traceable to technologies and ideas that existed before the WAR, but were not married-up until the circumstances and the need presented themselves.  We are in possession of every material means by which to wreak havoc and let slip the utter annihilation of humanity many times over in ways that would make the perpetrators of mass genocides in the past look tame.

May we learn to understand the true cost of WAR. May we debate the merits of WAR. May we learn to weed out the politicians in any country who advocate WAR. And, may we be able to avoid WAR. 

That is why I write!

 

[1] Text as delivered, in Franklin D. Roosevelt and Foreign Affairs, Vol. III, p. 380.

[2] Larrabee p. 33.

[3] The Beauty and The Sorrow, Peter Englund

I write first-person historical flash-fiction in order to expose the wanton waste of war. Fascinated by ideas and personal stories, I am able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. By enjoying thinking and learning about the past I understand the present through creating its context. I have faith in the links between all things; believing there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason. I am also inspired by the future and what could be; thereby inspiring others with my visions of what occurred and what is possible.

My inspiration comes from education in improvisational acting; the actions and writing of Gene Sharp, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Woody Guthrie, Studs Terkel, and Henry David Thoreau; and an affinity for history. I believe all stories are best told from the personal perspective and learning about history should be an emotionally driven experience. Therefore, I push the conviction all history is simply a personal story, compounded and woven with the personal story of everyone else, throughout time.

 Raised in California, I moved to D. C. to attend university. Through education and luck, I've traveled the world helping remove unexploded ordnance from war ravaged countries, stemming the flow of the world's most dangerous weapons, and potentially reducing the likelihood of war between some of the world's most powerful countries.

Now, I simply seek to warn the world of the human cost of violence.

Links to my live story telling:

Media Blitz - A life's lesson from Time Life Books

Flirting - Learning to find love in a loveless town

Standing My Ground - Toes to the line, stand at attention, and await the Secretary of State

Travelling Man - Competing in with a Vietnamese Colonel

Holiday Cheer - Spending the holidays with family

Road to the Altar - Thresholds meant to be crossed

Roommates - Hubris is costly