Monday, October 13, 2008

Remembering War

I should be working on my essay about faith. I really should, but everyone needs a little break now and then. My readers, that is, if they are still around, have not heard anything about Oxford. Well, you're not really going to hear any now either, but this has to do with the academic experience.

We went to London on a fieldtrip to the Imperial War Museum. It was relatively tasteful in its memoriam to those who experienced wars of several periods and places. But I still could not stifle the pained desire to be able to walk away from all these artifacts and forget war, to forget who shot who, who was a tyrant and who was an angel. Because if we don't forget some of that, we may continue to perpetuate war and hate for the sake of getting even, or simply by way of justification using past experience.

But we can't forget can we? To do so would dismiss the voices of persons' experiences. And isn't that war often does-- dismisses voices? If I were to have my memory erased of all traces of war and war history, where would the voice of non-violent resisters go? Where would I learn from our ancestors what is NOT worth dying or killing for? At the same time, I would not remember the voices of those who believe to kill for peace is just, or that violence can beget something other than more violence.

If we forget, we forget history, good or bad, the steps and struggles that have brought us to where we are. If we forget war, we forget the voices of women and men living their normal lives in the midst of a narrative more focused on conflict of the battlefield and political engagements than the conflict to put food on the table, to have hope, to survive.

In the Children and War exhibit, there were little boxes with trinkets children had been given or tried to take with them when they were evacuated during WWI. A little plush pony, an amber necklace, farm animals carved from wood, letters from parents to children on ships sunk by missiles. They never received those letters. They were written after the children were dead by parents unaware.

In the main room fighter planes hung from the ceiling with huge propellers. Tanks of many shapes parked in various places shone with green paint. And the largest bullet stood straight up, looking to the sky. But this was dwarfed by the massive bomb in the middle of the atrium, visible from all balconies.

And I can't help but think, that is not the stuff of life. Manipulated metal and explosives are not the stuff to base our memories upon. I'm pulled back to a poem by Eavan Boland about a piece of amber with its little bits, and I see the amber heart pendent in the war museum. And the little toys. Could we please remember those when we think of war? Could we please remember not only what was fought for and who fought on the front lines, but what was sacrificed by all, whose voices were disregarded, whose letters were never received.

I know we must remember, but I wish we could forget.


Michelle said...

I like this post, Koh. You raise great questions. I just came across a quote that you might like in regards to this topic. I'm reading a book about the peace agreement process in Angola, (the author/ambassador is coming to talk at our school tomorrow!)
one of the representatives of UNITA at the negotiating table in Angola said the following:

"Let the sight of rubble be forever present before the leaders' eyes so that the flame of peace will light constructive solutions in their minds."

So can we forget (or forgive) war to the extent that we let go of victim/perpetrator status but remember it to the extent that we are motivated to make peace?

khultz05 said...

Hey Koh! What you said reminded me of the stories of two Japanese women. About a month ago I got to go to a peace conference at psu, and two women who lived through the Hiroshima bombing were there and told their stories.They are fairly old now, but they travel around the world telling their stories of how horrible the bombing was, and all of the vast effects in hopes that nothing like that will ever happen again. They are also working towards nuclear disarmiment world wide. Someone asked them how it was that they wern't bitter - hating the US for what was done to them. One of the women told her story of how she forgave. After the bombing the US humanitarian groups gave lots of school supplies to Japan. Before she had been used to really thin paper and erasers and pencils that would often rip through the paper. The supplies from the US were different. There was good paper, pencils and the erasers actually erased. She said that she was amazed that such nice things would be used by kids. In Japan they hadn't considered students worthy of nice supplies. She said that as she saw the value the US placed on children by supplying them with quality school supplies she realized that american people were good people. Bad people wouldn't care about kids that much. She said it was a long process but that that was how she began to forgive.