War and the Soul of Desperation

Wednesday, March 27th, 2024

By Robert C. Koehler

I call it “naked insanity,” as in: the emperor has no clothes.

He has no sane and transcendent values, no wisdom — not when it comes to survival. Global governance is consumed by power. Those who have it insist on keeping it, no matter the cost. Hence: nuclear weapons . . . and the threat to use them! Hence: climate change, a.k.a., ecocide.

I stroke the unknown,
the dark silence, the
soul of a mother. I
pray, if that’s what
prayer is: to stir the certainties of
pride and flag and brittle
God, to stir
the hollow lost.
I pray open
the big craters
and trenches of
obedience and manhood.

This is the beginning of a poem I wrote a few years ago. I called it “The Gods Get in Touch with Their Feminine Side,” by which I meant “Mom! The world’s all messed up. Can you fix it?”

Now is the time
to cherish the apple,
to touch the wound and love even
the turned cheeks and bullet tips,
to swaddle anew
the helpless future
and know
and not know
what happens next.

Sometimes, when I’m bleeding political confusion, I try to patch the wound with poetry, that is to say, I try to define and understand the present moment, with all its chaos, suffering and cruelty, from the perspective of the future . . . the helpless future, the great unknown, which is at our mercy.

What I cradle continually these days is the transcendence of a divided world: us vs. them. Indeed, this is an ironically understandable concept. “Us” is a linked portion of humanity; “them” is a dark force out there, apparently also linked but hating us and, therefore, linking us ever more tightly as we go to war with them, as we try to eliminate them. How can we escape this paradox? How can we avoid committing ecocide and suicide, which seem to be the inescapable outcomes of our high-tech global separation from one another and from the living planet as a whole?

How can we transform and reorganize ourselves around a belief in connectedness? How can we make it our guiding political principle, even when we’re surrounded by doubt, uncertainty and fear? Let’s take this question out of the realm of abstraction: How can we transcend the borders we’ve created?

Addressing this question, Todd Miller, in his book Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders, writes about a town called Ambos Nogales, which is actually — against the will of its own population — two towns, or rather, a town divided in two, with a national border running through it. Ambos Nogales, which means “both Nogales,” is a split community on the Arizona-Mexican border. It was whole until the so-called Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Even so, for most of the time since then, Nogales residents were able to ignore the invented “boundary” and cross it with impunity — when, for instance, they wanted to visit family members.

But by the early ’90s, U.S. border police got increasingly serious, pointlessly dividing family members from one another in the name of . . .what? “. . . communities on both sides of the border share deep familial, community, social, economic, and political ties,” Miller writes.

“The border cannot stop the roots of trees and the vast mycelium networks symbiotically entangled with them from reaching across to the other side.”

Yes, there are natural borders and natural differences between people — culture, language, whatever else — but to arm those differences and make them absolute, utterly, utterly ignores the connectedness that is also present and crucial. And to militarize national sovereignty, in the process dehumanizing the designated enemy so that “they” can be killed when necessary, so that their existence can be obliterated, creates a state of permanent hell.

Humanity’s worst instincts, you might say, have seized control not only of the present but of the future. After the end of the Cold War, for instance, back in those same early ’90s, when peace could have bloomed across the whole planet (right?) . . . those still in power had a different agenda. They created a new enemy! The new “them” were terrorists, not communists. War was — and is — still the emperor.

The emperor has no clothes.

And the wars we wage get messier and messier, cutting ever more deeply into the organic connections across the whole planet. As Tom Engelhardt writes: “We’re on a planet that can’t take it anymore.

“Think of climate change,” he goes on, “as a kind of slow-motion World War III. After all, it couldn’t be more global or, in the end, more destructive than a world war of the worst sort.”

We know this. We stroke the unknown and call out for peace, awareness, wisdom. Can we birth an awareness bigger than militarized sovereignty and the paradigm of us vs. them? Can we birth a sane and lasting — loving — future?