I Read the News Today

Children, come to my knee.
I am old, I forget
More things than I can say.
What is the news today?
No news today, no news today.

There is always news-a town
Burning, a man shot down.
Men salt the lands with man;
The blood rusts a man’s hand.
That is no news today.
No news, no news….
But were I to say
I have seen mercy: the sun lapping
The bared head, the empty hand
Why, who would believe you today?
Randall Jarrell / The Complete Poems

When the president said today, “You mark my words, people are going to tire of the war on terrorism. And, by the way, it may take more than two years,” I realized that I don’t have two or more years to devote exclusively to fixate on a war that I have very little chance of altering. It is time to refocus on those things that are most important today instead of worrying about a future I cannot control anymore than I could control in the past.

When I look back at my life, it’s amazing how many wars have impinged on my life: World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, not to mention a few-odd police actions. Luckily, I was unaware of most of them, unless that was the reason I liked the Fort Apache I got for Christmas so much, and nothing in 4th grade seemed quite so important as that cute girl who wouldn’t pay attention to me, certainly not a war in a distant land.

I don’t think I will “tire of the war on terrorism,” nor do I think I will be able to avoid being outraged as long as there is a television in the house, but I will try my best to focus on the small things that bring me joy and make my daily life as meaningful as it can be.

My war, the one I couldn’t ignore, made me miserable for a long time, but it also made me aware of how lucky Americans really are.

If I’m luckier this time, my revived awareness of just how much misery there is in the world and how much misery will inflict on others will somehow make my moments of happiness more precious instead of eating away at them.

Puff the Magic Dragon

A dragon lives forever
But not so little boys
Puff the Magic Dragon

When I was in Vietnam we called the AC-130, or an earlier version, "Puff the Magic Dragon" because it magically appeared at night when the enemy attacked, shooting out steady streams of flame, vanquishing our enemies.

I’m sure that the Vietnamese children had another name for it, just as I’m sure that the children of Afghanistan will soon have another, less loveable name for it.

Randall Jarrell understood the tragic attempts of children to make sense of a war that makes no sense.

Come to the Stone …

The child saw the bombers skate like stones across the fields
As he trudged down the ways the summer strewed
With its reluctant foliage; how many giants
Rose and peered down and vanished, by the road
The ants had littered with their crumbs and dead.
"That man is white and red like my clown doll,"
He says to his mother, who has gone away.
"I didn’t cry, I didn’t cry."
In the sky the planes are angry like the wind.
The people are punishing the people-why?
He answers easily, his foolish eyes
Brightening at that long simile, the world.
The angels sway above his story like balloons.
A child makes everything-except his death-a child’s.
Come to the stone and tell me why I died.

Randall Jarrell The Complete Poems

Thirty years after Vietnam, I still am startled awake by distant noises at night. Sometimes lately when I am startled to awareness, I lay awake and worry about those children in Afghanistan.I worry about those who will not make it through the night, who will "come to the stone."

Most of all, though, I worry about those who will live on. How will they answer the question, "The people are punishing the people-why?"

And what will that answer mean to my grandson and his generation?

Some of the media, primarily the alternative media, have begun to ask these questions, too. Two of the best are Save the Children and AlterNet — Living Up To My Beliefs — For My Children And The Children of Afghanistan.

However, the media as a whole seems obsessed with showing fuzzy green-and-white lightshows of our air raids or sterile overhead shots of targets surgically removed by our missiles and bombs, ignoring or denying that any people live down there where those bombs come skipping in like giant rocks thrown by some angry god.

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