Reality War

Steve Olweean

Perspective magazine, April 2003
(At the onset of the 2003 Iraqi war)

One of the many troubling aspects of this most recent war is the lack of public “touch.” We are well insulated from the immediate, concrete reality of violence and death inflicted on others, and at the same time presented with countless repeated myopic vignettes, screened for their media marketability and often presented in a flavor reminiscent of sports competition or reality TV voyeurism. For all the 24 hour, big screen coverage we still receive a remarkably sanitized formulation of the veracity of war.

In the midst of this heady saturation of high tech media it becomes important to ask ourselves, what happens when our treatment of others becomes too virtual-like to be real in our own lives?

Among the rationale often given for this insulation from the hard details, are that it is necessary for some larger benefit, or simply unavoidable in the logistical scheme of things. Regardless of differing opinions on the justification and validity of such reasons, removing ourselves from being in full touch with the profound effects of our actions toward others brings with it the potential for unknown, unintended consequences – consequences that impact the very character and expression of our individual and collective identities.

Add to this detachment the cultivation of pervasive fear within the hearts and minds of those insulated – fear of attack that we are told will come at any time at our very doorsteps – and we have a perilous formula. Fear spawns many expressions. It preys on the best of who we are and can often compel us to act in ways that ignore the pain, injustice, and mortal dilemmas of others in an effort to compensate for our own insecurity.

The consequence of devaluing and destroying innocent lives in the course of getting rid of the bad guys, by mistake or plan, is so logically expected in war that it is fully acknowledged in standardized terminology we are becoming all too familiar with. It is called “collateral damage.” The term itself is disturbingly incongruous. It is damage to be sure. But of what? Damage of the security; damage of the human value; damage of the well being, safekeeping, sanctuary, and life of the innocent. This is the price that is deemed necessary, by design, for the larger good; the larger purpose. It is the necessary evil; the unavoidable consequence of eliminating the larger threat, which, if not eliminated through a course of violence, would wreak havoc on … the security, the value, the well being, safekeeping, sanctuary, and lives of the innocent. I find it difficult to hold these two concepts in my mind at the same time without a strange thing beginning to occur: They begin to simply not make sense.

The thing is, this is not just an indictment of “this” war. It is an indictment of “war,” including this latest rendition. The trance-become-nightmare lies to us that violence can accomplish something. That there is room in our construct of a good, righteous, and compassionate world that allows for Righteous Murders and Just Wars. That the right “kind” of war can actually eliminate war. There is ample evidence of the seductive power of this construct throughout our human history. There have been innumerable worthy, noble acts of war and violence, holy crusades, wars-to-end-all-wars, that carried with them such deceiving hope, pride, and even joy. What has always been demoralizing and disillusioning has been when someone somewhere in the world has not yet had their own war-to-end-all-wars. When they have only experienced the receiving end of a just war and do not necessarily agree with the premise, or the last word.

This is not to say there are easy answers; even easy alternatives to war. However, it is blatantly clear there are certainly “better” alternatives; and attempting to extinguish the fire of violence with more fuel can not be seen as anything but a ludicrously failed and bankrupt mind-set.

When we are kept at a safe, comfortable distance from other peoples’ pain, we lose one of the most valuable qualities of our humanity, and the most powerful weapon against our own existential fear and trembling – our compassion.

Until we gather ourselves together to remove war and violence as an acceptable tool – for anyone under any circumstances, and until we can co-create these better alternatives for transforming and healing conflicts between each other, the least it seems we can do is to actually feel what is happening between us.

Steve Olweean
Perspective magazine, April 2003

Copyright by Common Bond Institute, unless otherwise noted in the article.
All rights reserved