Peace Memorial

I haven’t written in a while.  A long while. Why?  Because I think it is pointless.  Not because I believe that telling that which one believes to be the truth is pointless, but because I think no one is listening.  Oh, they may look your way once in a while when you say something really dramatic, or unusual, but then the novelty passes, and they go back to watching movies, TV, playing video games.  And feeding an economic monster that rapes, and kills, and maims, and commits genocide against humans and other species, and is willing, enabled and ready to absolutely annihilate the only vessel we know  in this entire universe to contain this precious thing known as life.

Why then am I writing now?  The same reason Winston wrote in 1984.  To communicate with himself.  To unleash the petering words of a dumbfounded conscience at mountains of silent stones.  For when no one listens, walls do.

Today, my thoughts regard the relative absence of totems to peace in the world around us.  This idea first hatched in my mind during a train ride, on a day this country I was in uses to glorify its own indulgence in orgies of violence and destruction known as wars.  A holiday, a war memorial day (I swear it is merely a freudian slip of the conscience that this post is going out in the wake of what some call world peace day, a day which isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, recognised as a public holiday anywhere in the world).

On that day, in that train, I saw an old man.  A very old man.  He wore a colourful outfit, with gaudy buttons, and a rather funny looking hat (to me, you might have found it haute couture).  All across the front of his pocket where many colourful bits of fabric, beneath which hung many ornaments.  He wore strange large shoes.  He was no circus clown.  He was a warrior clown.

I gathered from the decorations on his garb that he had killed many, far more than those who didn’t win those little colourful ornaments.  I gathered that he was a man who had been retained many decades ago, when he was young, strong, and “idealistic,” to slaughter in the name of king (or queen, or president), country and ideology.  A job he had taken very seriously.  And still did.  Judging by the effort with which his old bones  were fluffing up his geriatric chest.  As if he was expecting a salute from everyone in the train car.

The train stopped at some station somewhere, where I presume his kind were being given special attention of some kind (there were others like him standing on the platform), something that was probably costing tax payers a pretty penny.  At that point he got off.  As he left, something which had been bothering in the back of my mind became a tangible thought.  I wondered, what was this old man so proud of?  I just didn’t get it.

If I had instead met an old, retired janitor, a cleaner of human excrement, who had put on his faeces covered overalls that he had worn every day for the decades of his life that he had spent wiping the stains of our collective existence, and came out to be recognised for the service he had performed so laboriously and so diligently, on a day that the citizens had set aside to honour his work, I would have understood that.  But I couldn’t imagine, nor had I seen, a janitor as vain as that who thought that his excrement shovelling was more noteworthy than the efforts of doctors, and teachers, and bus drivers, and road workers, and brick layers, and miners, and factory workers, and dozens and dozens of people who do their duties for their entire lives that benefit us all on every blessed peaceful day.   Besides, we just didn’t have a special day to recognise such honourable albeit odiferous work.

Why were there no sewerage memorial days?  Which is, from every angle that I can conceive of, a complete analogue of war.  For what is war, but the fetid, stagnant sewerage pond of our collective id, that oozes its vile infectious bubble of evil indulgence in death and destruction every few decades?  Into which we have shovelled uncountable numbers of our young men (sorry ladies) over and over again.  Why do we celebrate one type of putative hygiene effort, but not the other?

This little thought train took me back to another incident many years earlier, in a small college town in USA.  There I met another old man, this time in a coffee shop.  I don’t remember how I struck up conversation with him.  He wore no uniforms, he had no medals, and he was just another old man in a coffee shop full of old men.  He did look really old.  Maybe that was what got the conversation started.  I have a habit of starting conversations with the elderly.  I think probably trying to find out what it is that they know, that I don’t know.

Well … he had a story to tell.  He was 80 something years old.  When the second big war of last century was fought, he was a young man.  An idealistic young man. A pacifist.  An unshakeable pacifist.  Who wouldn’t kill no matter what, for any country, or any ideology.  Or any Fuhrer.  Yes, he was a german pacifist in Nazi Germany.

Though he wasn’t an active rabble rouser, he was discovered fairly quickly soon after the rise of the Nazis.  When they were drafting every able bodied young man they could lay their hands on.  He naturally refused to enlist, which led to his arrest and sent to prison.  Where he remained in prison for the entire duration of the war, getting repeatedly beaten and tortured to renounce his beliefs and join the german army.  He pulled his dentures out, and said to me that his teeth weren’t missing because of old age.  He hadn’t had them since that fateful day in prison when a bunch of guards knocked out every one of them with rifle butts.

He didn’t know exactly why he had survived, they mock executed him many times.  Throughout his prison days he never met another like himself.  He thought that may have had something to do with it.  He was such a novelty, he was almost like their unfortunate one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable pet.  Maybe that is why they never killed him, and instead prolonged his torture until the war itself ended.  A few moments later both our coffees ran out, as did his willingness to talk anymore.  We exchanged phone numbers and parted ways.  I ran into him a few more times after that, but he never brought up the subject.  Nor did I.  If he isn’t a hundred years old now, I am guessing he is now dead.

Up until that day in the train I didn’t know where this story of the german pacifist fit into a broader meaningful picture with which I could understand not the world of yesterday, but the world of today.   Its been a little over two years since the thought triggered by the warrior clown in the train began.  The story of the forgotten pacifist had become apparent as a piece of the puzzle.  I have since gone past many days, and monuments, and museums that commemorate and celebrate and glorify the worse primitive cultural strain that is common to every corner of the planet inhabited by humans.  The culture of war.   Every time I do I tell myself to lookup the nearest monument to peace and pacifism, a grave of the unknown pacifist perhaps, into which I may intern the name of this old german.  And maybe read about a few others like him.  Sadly, I haven’t found it yet.


One Response to “Peace Memorial”

  1. Blessed to read your post. I feel many of the same frustrations. But then, once in awhile, I see a glimmer of hope., like these quotes from a famous Christian pastor:

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