Life During Wartime
You disagree with war. As a concept. Of course you do. You're the product of a liberal education. And haven't there been enough wars already ? In your lifetime alone ?
But you're also a mature person - mature enough to know that harsh decisions sometimes have to be made...Mature enough to know that this war is necessary. After all, just look at what they did. Unprovoked. Without reason. The scale of it...the suffering...occasionally you have to fight for justice. That's what this war's all about.
So you support the war. Even though your life will be different. You tell your friends: 'What are we supposed to do ?' you say. 'Sit back and take it ? Sit back and put our hands in the air ? Abandon our values ? Abandon our freedoms ? The way we live ? Everything we hold dear ?' You get heated when you say these things. A little angry, even. You feel passionate because for some people this war is a matter of life and death. 'I just think of that explosion...the sight of the rubble...' you say and light another cigarette. Because what happened was incomprehensible. It defied all rational thought. The scale of it...the plume of dust...the sight of people fleeing the city...the sheer audacity of bringing death and destruction to a bright and breezy day.
Then a friend of yours - a good friend, a friend of some years standing - says that the war is wrong. Just like that. This generalisation...this sweeping statement...He advances it so nonchalantly, sitting back in his chair...It's stunning. You can't believe it. You stub out your cigarette. This just can't be right.
'How can you think that ?' you say. 'For God's sake - where's your idea of justice ?'
You thought you knew this person. Clearly you were wrong.
There follows a long discussion - back and forth. Friends arguing. You fight your corner. You point your finger (a long time since you've pointed your finger). Then your friend, your nonchalant friend, equally angry, leans forward and, hitting his chest with his fist, says: 'We've done bad things too. We've killed and maimed too. Do you think we are guilt-less ? The roots of this war...the oppression...Don't you understand ? It isn't just about now. It goes back years. Hundreds and hundreds of years. Atrocity upon atrocity. And if you don't believe me, go take a look. Go read up on it. In fact I think you need to. Because where this war's concerned, you're plain misinformed...'
His eyes disturb you. And as for the hitting...You've never seen a person do that before.
Later, when everybody's gone, you take a look - read up on past world events. One thing you've always prided yourself on is being informed. So you skim the pages of history. And now here's the surprise: the more you read the more you're forced to admit that yes there is another viewpoint to this war...a view you've completely overlooked. It's as your friend said: things aren't so black and white. There have been injustices on both sides. You close the book, turn off the light, and grudgingly accept that yes we've done bad things too. But still you support the war.
It drags, this war. Days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months. (They said it would take some time). Still, you follow things closely because war is important stuff. Even though it's taking place thousands of miles away, in a far-off country - another continent - altogether. At night you arrive home from work, settle in your armchair, and switch on the TV to update yourself on the war.
Here's what's been happening today:
There's been more bombing (newsreel of planes queuing up in the sky). And there are a lot of refugees (women, children, old men in rags). A building has been hit (a 'mistake') belonging to an aid charity, killing some workers. A now a new twist, so terrifying you can barely believe your ears: our enemies are sending letters containing deadly anthrax spores through the post.
You shake your head and say to yourself: 'This is madness. This is insanity. This really can't go on.'
There are pictures of our allies on the TV update - young, unsmiling men rather comically dressed in their civilian clothes. One of them looks at you through the screen. He's sitting in the back of a truck holding a gun. He says he wants the bombing stepped up because 'it's a great help.' 'Even though it means more civilian casualties ?' the reporter asks. 'Even though more of your fellow countrymen will be killed ?' The man, our ally, shrugs his shoulders: 'The more bombing the better.'
Jump-cut to another man. This one's on an aircraft carrier, loading a plane. He's dressed correctly in military fatigues. Hard at work (not sitting around with a gun). Twenty one, twenty two maybe. The same age as your son.
He too is being interviews by a reporter. He calls the reporter 'Sir' and you like that - it's reassuring. This young man, like your son, knows his manners. He's a credit to his parents. You listen to this young man and your mind begins to drift. You think of his parents sitting proudly in front of their TV. You think of a girl - shoulder length hair, a homemaker - waiting patiently for his return...
But just as you're thinking these things - just as you start to relax in your chair - he does something, something that makes your blood boil. He points to one of the bombs being loaded onto the plane and shows you a picture he's drawn on the tail. A skull and cross bones carrying the flag of our allies. There's a message too...a dedication. He says the artwork will 'remind our enemies of who's boss'.
You shake your head again - you don't care for any of this. Pictures...messages...it disturbs you. It disturbs you in the same way that your friend disturbed you when he pounded his fist on his chest.
Irritated, you switch off the TV and go about some other business.
'Everyday life will be different.' This is what they tell you - the men in suits who dominate the evening news. And it's true. The truest thing they've told you so far.
You're aware of it already - of how different your life is. Walking along the city streets (familiar streets you've known for years) you find yourself looking up into the sky, just in case. And even though you don't like to admit it (after all, you were a supporter of the anti-Nazi League back in the early 80s) the sight of a turban, of a woman in purdah, of Arabic language, of Middle Eastern skin...it tenses you up.
And you're not interested any more in receiving letters. No way! The post can go to hell...
You've also started playing a game - a game entitled What if I'm the one who's being bombed ? The rules are simple. You close your eyes and empathise with the people on the ground...try and connect with those people dressed in rags fleeing the rubble of their houses. You imagine the noise, the fear, the expectation...the drawings and dedications tearing people to shreds...
Even in bed you can't stop playing this game. You toss and turn - wake for no good reason. And that can't be right: usually you sleep so well.
How else is your life different ? Well, you don't go out as much as you used to. And when you do go out you tend to get drunk.
Oh yes...That friend (the one who said the war is wrong) well, you've lost touch with him. He's no longer part of your circle. He seems to have taken the war to heart, joining marches and sit-ins. You shake your head at the thought. What can he hope to achieve by doing that ?
Sometimes, watching TV, you switch over from the war, even though you like to try and keep informed. (Recently the news updates told you about new bombs - bombs that incinerate everything within a radius of five miles. Who wants to listen to that ?)
No - you've had it with this war. War stinks. You want your life to return to how it was.
Yet, however much you try and avoid it, you can't seem to shake it off. The war remains with you, clinging, like a cold shadow. It's there everytime you look at the sky, everytime you cross the street, everytime you wake from your sleep for no good reason...