Breaking Silence: A Few Words on a Fine Summer’s Day

Summer Dunes
Summer Dunes (photo by John Kaufman)

(Today I’m breaking my vow of summer silence on this digital domain. Silence until September will resume tomorrow.)

The violence of war in Gaza/Israel and Ukraine has reached new, ever more appalling heights while routine gun violence in the United States continues at a summer peak. Nothing like warm, pleasant weather across the world and access to deadly weapons to help bring out the worst in people.

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Concerning the latest outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel, the United Nations estimates, according to the NY Times, that three-fourths of the Palestinians killed so far (more than 200) have been innocent civilians, including about 50 children. The Hamas missiles are targeting civilians and have killed only one Israeli citizen so far, thanks to a U.S.-provided anti-missile system that helps protect Israelis but also makes the Israeli government more bold and militant. Israel sent tanks and troops into Gaza on Thursday night, and already one Israeli soldier and more than 20 Palestinians have been killed in the invasion. Some 2000 have been injured. Hamas did not help the situation by refusing to accept an Egypt-brokered cease-fire.

The U.S. response has been typically tepid toward Israel, with Sec. of State John Kerry urging not military restraint but a “precise” invasion that does everything to avoid civilian casualties and “further escalation.” War, of course, has always involved the killing of civilians, however much the warriors may regret it, and “collateral damage” has increased as the weapons have gotten more powerful. As the ongoing U.S. drone program’s “targeted killing” of terrorists prove–in which many non-combatants have died–there is no such thing as a precise war.  And there is only one sure way to stop a war from escalating: stop the fighting and killing. Even better, don’t begin in the first place.

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The government of Ukraine has unfortunately chosen to escalate the conflict and violence, breaking its own unilateral cease-fire in an attempt to militarily defeat/remove the pro-Russia insurgents. Over the last three months, 478 civilians have died in the fighting in Ukraine; this includes 30 women and 7 children. And yesterday a civilian airliner was struck by a military missile, killing all 298 people on board. Who exactly fired the missile is still unknown and why any commercial airliner is allowed to fly over a war zone is hard to fathom. But, again, this is what war does: its brutality and carnage cannot be confined. The American poet William Stafford wrote that “every war has two losers.” To this toll we can add the deaths and injuries of all the many millions of innocent, peaceable victims of war, as well as all the suffering, physical and mental, of the soldiers who survive.

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As for the daily gun violence in American cities, most prominently in Chicago, and elsewhere across the nation, it is the obvious and tragic fruit of our policies and culture: a political ignoring of poverty and economic justice; our media’s tolerance for and sometimes celebration of violence and stupidity;  a disintegration of families and communities; a nation overflowing with guns and gun-worship thanks to recent and willful misreadings of the Second Amendment. Not until we create a more compassionate, effective and intelligent politics and culture–when we stop kowtowing to the NRA and place our faith in things other than hatred, fear and weapons– will the senseless slaughter diminish.

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Happy Summer.



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