Kurt Vonnegut knew: "World War II was fought for near-Holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous." (Armageddon in Retrospect, p.44, Berkley Books, New York, NY 2009) World War II was the last war fought by the United States that was a declared war, in which there was the invocation of the provision to declare war set out in the Constitution. It was the last war which we can confidently say we were on the winning side. Now sixty four years later it is sometimes referred to as "the good war." Yet it was so horrible that its blasphemous carnage has scarred us all.
Even, as they say, beyond the grave, Kurt Vonnegut reminds us: Armageddon happened and those of us left in the world have no place to stand. The Armageddon of total war has left us all without moral ground. The virtues of the soldier have thus become personal virtues - personal heroism, love of country, love of companions, willingness to give up one's life for another. But there is no longer virtue in war. Memorial Day is a day to remembered the honored dead and we do. But we also remember now that war has become its own machine and the questions we might have asked - about the killing of masses of people, about collateral damage (that is people killed that you didn't precisely aim at), about retribution killing, etc - are now questions left without answer. Armageddon, the final war between good and evil, has been fought, and the good embraced evil and overcame it, but also with it spawned a horrid child - war without end.
Yesterday, Memorial Day 2009, I was mostly ill in bed from noon on. I read some of Kurt Vonegut's previously unpublished essays in Armageddon in Retrospect. The scars of Armageddon are deep in his psyche and in his writing. The nightmare of his experience repeats itself again and again, in flashes from the time of the bombing of Dresden to the distant future time-warped into the First World War. He writes wonderfully, but terribly.
And towards the end of the day I consulted icasualties and the number of US military deaths in Iraq had just reached 4300. There is, of course, nothing particularly magic or significant about the number 4300. Any more than there is about the 31,285 wounded, or the roughly 1,000,000 civilians dead as a result of the war, the devastation and the disruption of safety.
The numbers appeared on a few commentaries about Memorial Day, but very little is said about why these numbers are there at all or about the fact that they will continue to grow in the coming months in spite of our best efforts. There are lots of posts on Memorial Day. This is a post on Armageddon, rightly recognized by Kurt Vonnegut as having happened in the time line that intersects our own in total war. We have met the enemy and they are us indeed. Perhaps the churches can pray for God's mercy on us all, we being emptied and left to stare into the darkness. Otherwise the darkness may well overcome the light.
It would asking a great deal to have both mercy and blessing, but we ought ask for both. Otherwise there is only judgment and the picking at scabs.