Late last night, I checked my Facebook page once more. Big mistake. Someone had posted the photo of a limp Palestinian toddler, her skull emptied of its contents through a red, raw, gaping hole.
“Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.” (Psalm 137:9)
The Psalmist’s specific revenge was the last thing my eyes saw. I tossed and turned through the night, absent the chance of sweet dreams, and wondered if anyone was “happy” yet and how many “little ones” it would take.
One Night / Seven Themes — from Psalms to Nagasaki
ONE: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Bashing in baby skulls is a centuries old military tactic. It’s part of war, as is destroying the children’s landscape, families, playmates. In Vietnam, the U.S. did it with bombs, napalm, and Agent Orange. We do it now with drone attacks. And the beat goes on.
TWO: Why isn’t everyone antiwar?
After eons of experience, we know that violence begets violence. Some of tonight’s weeping survivors are tomorrow’s rage-filled terrorists. Count on it.
Psalm 137 begins with a lament. “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.” It ends with revenge. Lament – revenge – lament – revenge – lament – revenge …. repeat.
THREE: It’s a mystery to me why more thinking people don’t embrace the power of nonviolence. Perhaps they truly believe war leads to peace. It’s clear that many are appalled by what they perceive to be slaughter.
There is deep longing for ways to resolve conflict without killing each other. This spring I watched tourists at the John Lennon “Strawberry Fields” memorial in Central Park. I took pictures of people taking pictures. Here’s my favorite. One after the other, they stood on the “Imagine” mosaic. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one …”
FOUR: I’ve seen the photo of the mangled toddler many times this week. The image is still nauseating, but is it still shocking? I’m not sure. How long does it take to grow accustomed to a mangled face?
FIVE: Philo Farnsworth (1906-1971), the Father of Television, thought his invention would bring peace on earth. Seeing the lives of others up close, we’d realize our shared humanity and no longer want to kill one another. Oh well.
SIX: An image of peace — the lion and the lamb together — morphed from a verse in Isaiah. But we’ve grown cynical. Woody Allen cleverly quipped, “The lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”
Young fans of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight seem to think the lion and lamb originated in a bit of romantic repartee between Edward and Bella. “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.” They get this line tattooed on their bodies. Um, it’s not about world peace.
SEVEN: From vampire love, my mind reeled to Kurt Vonnegut’s play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June. Wanda June is a child who speaks to the audience from heaven where Jesus, Hitler, Einstein and Judas play shuffleboard.
One bit of dialogue is between Harold (a Hemingwayesque big game hunter/ soldier) and Looseleaf (who regrets being the “hero” who dropped the bomb on Nagasaki). The passage has been running through my head all week. It comes after Harold has smashed a violin:
Anybody who’d drop an atom bomb on
a city has to be pretty dumb.
The one direct, decisive,
intelligent act of your life!
(shaking his head)
I don’t think so.
It could have been.
If I hadn’t done it. If I’d said
to myself, “Screw it. I’m going to
let all those people down there
They were enemies. We were at war.
Yeah, Jesus — but wars would be a
lot better, I think, if guys would
say to themselves sometimes,
“Jesus — I’m not going to do that to
the enemy. That’s too much.” You
could have been the manufacturer of
that violin there, even though you
don’t know how to make a violin
just by not busting it up. I could
have been the father of all those
people in Nagasaki, and the mother,
too, just by not dropping the bomb.
I sent ’em to Heaven instead — and I
don’t think there is one.
To Go Deeper:
The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleeen Krull (Knopf, 2009) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6400935-the-boy-who-invented-tv
Happy Birthday, Wanda June by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Dell, 1970) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1267866.Happy_Birthday_Wanda_June
“Napalm Girl” by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, 1972
Kurt Vonnegut caricature drawn by Kathryn Rathke www.theispot.com