No One Owns the Future

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024

By Robert C. Koehler

Even the international condemnation of the Israeli devastation of Gaza often feels tepid.

Consider, for instance, the words of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in the wake of Israel’s April 1 drone strike on a convoy of cars from World Central Kitchen, a disaster relief organization bringing food to starving Gazans. The strike killed seven aid workers.

Noting that a total of 196 aid workers have so far been killed in Gaza’s six months of bombardment and starvation, Guterres said: “This is unconscionable. But it is an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted.”

Yes, of course, this is unconscionable, but the implication here is that there are decent, moral ways to conduct a war, to “defend yourself” from an impoverished, occupied population. Wage war if you must, but don’t commit war crimes! When I hear such words, I feel my soul start spinning wildly. War itself is the problem. It cannot be reduced to a just and strategic video game — yeah, soldiers will be killed, but not civilians! No dead children, please (especially under age 6).

The logic void here is that war begins with dehumanization. Those people are evil and we have to defend ourselves against them, which means killing them. And this attitude never stays neat and tidy — especially not on this insanely militarized planet, which (with America in the lead) regards nothing as more important than keeping humanity on the brink of nuclear and eco-suicide.

Condemning “war crimes” is nothing more than a shrug. It’s war itself that must be not simply “condemned,” but transcended. Utterly transcended. The time is now. And the lack of any official acknowledgment of this, let alone a movement in this direction with real political traction, feels . . . uh, personal.

Two nights ago I had this weird dream, which left me gasping in terror and despair. In the dream, my wife, nine months pregnant, suddenly disappeared as we slept. Where did she go? I felt lost and clueless, but made my way to the hospital, thinking she’s about to give birth but forgot to bring me with her to be part of the process. At the hospital, I eventually find the delivery room, but there’s a line of people ahead of me, waiting to get in. I have no idea who they are. I’m filled with desperation — my God, my God, our child is about to be born, I need to be there — and rush to the front of the line, then try to lift myself into the delivery room through an opening, but am unable to do so.

Then I wake up. Huh? This is totally weird. In real life, I had been present throughout my daughter’s delivery (36 years ago) and remain immensely grateful that I could help my wife endure the pain of birth and eventually dance with our newborn.

I had no idea what this dream was telling me, but I remained deeply stressed by it, as though a spiritual theft had occurred. I felt robbed of my family, at the deepest level of love. And then I started reading and watching the news — a daily flow of suffering from Palestine . . . moms, dads, children in unimaginable grief over the deaths of loved ones. Spiritual robbery! My God, this is the daily news. We absorb it was we go about the day. Perhaps the dream was trying to link me to this suffering.

And then I thought about Larry Hebert, a U.S. airman who recently began waging a hunger strike in defiance of his country’s complicity in the genocide of Gaza. He stood in front of the White House holding a sign declaring: “Active-Duty Airman Refuses to Eat While Gaza Starves.”

And Hebert was influenced by Aaron Bushnell, also an active-duty airman, who stood in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 24, doused himself in flammable liquid, lit a match and set himself on fire, shouting “Free Palestine!” as he burned to death.

War is personal, even when it’s occurring on the other side of the planet — or it can be. Hebert and Bushnell — and all the others on the planet who feel the same connection with the victims of war— aren’t simply “being critical” of how Israel is “conducting” its war. They’re screaming from their souls: “No! No! No! Stop blowing the limbs off children! Stop killing moms and newborns! Stop dehumanizing them, stop doing what you’re doing. War is wrong!”

And here in the United States, this cry is directed at the president, Genocide Joe, and his ever more wimpy “expressions of concern” about Netanyahu’s conduct of the war, even as his administration supports it and supports it and supports it, recently, for instance, transferring “billions of dollars in bombs and fighter jets to Israel” — including thousands of 2,000-pound monster bombs. Use them carefully, Benjamin!

And we can’t refuse to vote for Biden without bequeathing another term in office to would-be dictator and Bible salesman Donald Trump — wow, what a lovely democracy we have here. Maybe Palestinian children are terrified, but the Military Industrial Complex has nothing to fear.

Attention, patriots! Attention, mainstream journalists! Waging war doesn’t keep us safe. Diminishing the humanity of others, then killing them and stealing their land, while it may be embedded in our history, doesn’t make anyone safe. It guarantees endless hell. But guess what?

“Just as individuals can relinquish their righteous rage and compulsion to punish indiscriminately, so, too, can groups and nations. But doing so requires leaders who can reach across divided communities and provide hope in a seemingly hopeless time to override the all-too-human drive to retaliate.”

These are the words of psychiatric researchers Jessica Stern and Bessel van der Kolk, who continue: “They must understand that a legacy of trauma makes Israeli Jews and Palestinians vulnerable to reactive violence, leading to a seemingly endless cycle of bloodshed.”

Think of Mahatma Gandhi. Think of Martin Luther King. Think of Nelson Mandela or Susan B. Antony or Frederick Douglass or a million others. Real change is possible, and it’s rarely — perhaps never — violent, but creating it involves the loving wholeness of who we are. The future is a vast unknown, but no one owns it. We have to create it together.