I went shopping for a Christmas card the other day. I found only one card on the rack that mentioned Peace. Not much of a sample, I know. One display in one store. But I remember, at least I think that I remember, a different sort of Christmas. When I was younger there was more talk of peace. More signs of peace. More wishes for peace. Peace and Christmas, they went together, even for Jewish kids like myself.
“Peace, Peace– but there is no peace.” The words were Patrick Henry’s. They were a call to arms. We are a country born in the arms of war. I too was born in a time of war, the Korean War. My adolescence was filled with images of another war, the Vietnam War. I have lived through the Cold War, Grenada, Panama, a surrogate war in Nicaragua, Iraq I, Iraq II, the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on cancer, on heart disease, on organized crime, on illegal immigrants. Now Afghanistan.
“Wait,” you say, “all of the wars that you have mentioned are not alike.” Some needed to be fought. Some were barely wars. Some were not even real wars. But these distinctions matter little here. Something has happened to us. Too many years of real wars and counterfeit ones, of war language and war games, have reshaped us. We are no longer a country that once fought a war to free ourselves from domination. We are a country that must now struggle to free ourselves from the banality of war.
Every child born at the turn of the 21st century has no memory of a time without war, and with the continuation of the war in Afghanistan, our country’s children will enter their teen years knowing only a nation at war.
Yes, Mr. President, agreed. There are wars that we must fight. Yet your elegant words in Oslo failed to address the toll that war has taken on the American people. They failed to acknowledge the extent to which war has become “the new normal,” as opposed to its travesty. Evil can kill us and so can a poison that we ingest daily, in however small and camouflaged dosages.
So forgive me if I indulge in an “idealistic” response on this Christmas Day 2009.