It is amazing what kinds of fireworks people can now obtain for personal use. We’ve come a long way from the sparklers, bottle rockets, and firecrackers of my youth. Today, you can have fireworks displays in your own back yard that would rival the displays towns put on for the fourths of July of my youth. This past Independence Day, my wife and I were driving back home from an afternoon visiting my parents. The drive takes about an hour and as dusk fell, we were treated to grand bursts of light on every horizon. There were impressive patriotic displays literally everywhere you looked as far as the eye could see. When we drove through more densely populated areas, we could hear the loud explosions along with the visual bursts of color and we drove through a hazy smoke that hung just above the ground. It was like driving through a battlefield. Then it hit me; what we were driving through actually was a reenactment of war, polished to a blood-free shine. I realized I was driving through a metaphor of how our nation was born of war, became powerful through war, and continues to hold power with the threat of war. Every July, we, mostly unconsciously, glorify the fact that war brought us here. We glorify it every time we sing, “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”. As we live our daily lives in the Land of the Free, we are continually walking through the fog of war.
War must be the worst aspect of the human race. When held up to objective analysis, war makes no sense whatsoever. Every war ever fought was started because of one or more of three things; religion, economic resources, or human rights. As often as not, all three of those themes are in the mix. And when it comes right down to it, the worst part of all is that wars are fought not by the men who start them, but rather by their armies of pawns whom they send to fight in their stead. Millions upon millions of lives have been lost and families have been devastated in the effort to serve leaders that, in the end, care only about their own greedy interests. Intolerance and greed of the “elite” are the engines that power war. And the machines that carry wars out are the least of these our brothers and sisters who are sent marching off as sacrificial lambs. It is utter madness, yet we have never evolved enough to find a way around it.
Part of the problem, as I see it, is that we polish and shine wars to make them seem honorable and even glamorous. I’ve yet to hear anyone who’s personally experienced war call it honorable and glamorous. If you can get them to talk about it at all, they’ll tell you that war is a hell they’d never wish on anyone. But we have a way of letting time erode away the horrors of war. We make movies that somehow make war seem cool. We write a version of history that clearly delineates the heroes from the villains. We redraw maps and add vast new territories, resources, and wealth brought by wars. We allow the fog of war in which we all exist to shroud the facts and delude our perspectives. And yes, we even celebrate war.
Many hide behind the shield of their religion to justify war. They see people who worship differently as a threat and act out in hatred and violence. A direct link to our current state of affairs can be drawn to a series of wars called the Crusades. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism spring from the same family, that of Abraham, and they all claim daddy’s home place in Israel. The true and peaceful nature of all three of those religions has been irreparably damaged over the centuries by intolerance, greed, and hatred. What’s left behind is an unrecognizable slurry full of misinformation, misinterpretation, and missed opportunities to come together in peaceful compromise and coexistence.
Ironically, it was the Crusades that helped bring Europe out of the Dark Ages. As European Christians were doing battle with Muslims, they were also inspired by how far their enemy had passed them by. The Muslims had by that time become the masters of the seas with new sailing technologies. This indirectly led to the Renaissance during which Europe began to explode with advancements. The Age of Exploration was soon to follow and Europeans began to scan the world for new riches under the guise of spreading Christianity. They came to the “New World” and, through war and disease, conquered and killed millions of Native Americans, setting up colonies on the natives’ land under their own national flags. From the seeds of these spurious endeavors eventually sprang the United States of America.
The U.S. was born of a war with her motherland. Seen as a just quest for the right to freedoms, both economic and religious, America fought and won–against all odds–independence. The founders of the new nation eventually designed a Constitution that gave the promise of equality and freedom for all, but greed and intolerance never went away. In the name of Christianity, millions of Africans were kept in bondage, millions of Native Americans were killed or driven from their homelands, millions of square miles of land and abundant resources were forced from the hands of Mexico, tagged with the glorious moniker of “Manifest Destiny” (meaning obviously God’s will).
The deadliest of all our wars finally brought an end to slavery, but not to the intolerance and greed that gave birth to it. In the name of Christianity, a terrorist group called the KKK rose from the southern ashes and began to wage a war of terror. We are still shrouded in the fog of that war, as well.
Today, we have an unstable, amoral president. His largest support group call themselves Christians. As his popularity continues to fall and his scandals continue to mount, he is using the threat of war to try to turn his legacy around. His supporters help him sound the clarions. Again, the target is near the home land of Father Abraham.
I’d like to think that we could see all of this for what it really is.
But I’m afraid we’ll always be blinded by the fog of war.
This essay stemmed from the following song I wrote after driving through the fireworks smoke the other day. Please give it a listen.