Dorothea Tanning: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943)

I was never a believer in The War on Terror. Its premise seemed fatally flawed from the beginning. While it's true that in every war so far, neither side had the slightest idea what it was doing, The War On Terror lacked even a tangible identity for any enemy combatant. It was as it was conceived to be, a Whack A Mole® undertaking destined to string us along for an eternity or longer. The only possible way to win such a war entailed refusing to engage in it. Once deployed, no exit could possibly present itself, except to just withdraw from it, though such a retreat would necessarily bring into sharp relief the underlying fallacies behind it. We stay engaged to save face, I guess, further sullying our reputation for the purpose of preserving our self-esteem.

When I was a kid, I often wondered what it would have been like to live through a war. I was grateful that I was not threatened, though some always insisted that we were forever teetering, but that was a cold war. I experienced no rationing. I was not force-fed brewer's yeast for breakfast. My mom never had to break a little orange capsule to color our cotton seed margarine, as she had done through her teen-aged years. Gas was cheap and available. We ate meat more than once each week. We weren't subjected to daily newspaper lists of the newly killed neighbor kids. Later, once Vietnam heated up, I caught glimpses of what war footing might have been like, but in a drastically filtered form. The nightly TV news images became increasingly disturbing, and many of us commenced to protest against that war, our DisBelief blooming in outrage. The true believers, though, always seemed to hold the stronger hand. They pelted us with window stickers pulled from the latest Reader's Digest exhorting us to Love It Or Leave It. Most of us stayed and lumped it, instead, but with a festering DisBelief inside us.

It might be that we have become a DisBelieving nation, one founded upon certain beliefs and principles that have since morphed into more cynical forms. I rather reveled in my DisBelief in The War On Terror, finding within it a sense of holding some higher ground. I refused to stand in homage to misbegotten effort, and I fancied myself somehow immune from its poison, but it poisoned me with DisBelief. Yes, the society fractured, but I believed myself to have chosen the guiltlessly good side of the schism. The Believers were fiercer, I fear, than the DisBelievers could muster. Though those Believers seemed so damned cynical, as if their beliefs were against rather than in favor of something sacred. Maybe they were just afraid and so they embraced a defensive negative instead of an empowering positive. Maybe we all started doing that.

Our Damned Pandemic almost beggars belief as a conflict. What I'd wondered about as a child, I'm witnessing as an aging adult. After a few generations of fighting good wars and winning them, and picking bad fights and never once winning, we've met an enemy finally worthy of the best of us and our ideals. I'm not ready to sacrifice my fresh butter for cotton seed margarine yet, but I have not been asked or compelled to. I do what I can do, which seems a sorry defense. Our now native DisBelief seems to have become the enemy among us. We have no handy Nazis strafing our innocent civilians to convince us of our peril, no severe rubber shortages. Our current conflict would seem fictional were it not for the body count. In 1939 Britain, everyone complained about being compelled to carry a gas mask with them wherever they went. They later proved unnecessary, but nobody could prove whether they would be needed or not, so everybody got one and were compelled to always bring it along. People complied or they were fined. A certain solidarity resulted. Everyone engaged with eventually no questions asked. They understood.

We ask questions now. Our DisBelief, further encouraged by our soon-to-be former President and his minions, has displaced our founding beliefs. A cynical blackhole philosophy replaces our guiding principles and it misleads us into temptation and even evil. We call this DisBelief freedom and liberty though it embodies the essence of serfdom and imprisons our responses. Choice, it peals. Not necessity or duty or even higher purpose, but choice. Our belief in DisBelief might have begun as a choice, perhaps even one innocently chosen. It became the opposite of its intention to become our compulsion. We might insist but dedicated dissenters resist, and our government, fueled by something quite different from dedication to defending the principles underlying our union, largely relents. We could not muster a common defense if we wanted to now.

Conscientious objectors during WWII were indentured to perform farm work for the duration of the war, essentially prisoners of war. My later legal conscientious objection during Vietnam threw me into the maw of a terribly conflicted machine, one which could not quite figure out what to do with me; a confused and confusing bureaucracy infected with DisBelief. This COVID war's Conscientious Objectors just refuse to comply and wander among us spreading virus like enemy combatants, in homage to a backhanded form of freedom and liberty: DisBelief. Belief and DisBelief are not simply two sides of the same coin, but utterly different currencies. Belief empowers and Disbelief imprisons. Anyone can proclaim a duty-free freedom while imprisoned within their DisBeliefs. Only believers, it seems, ever enjoy the benefits as well as the duties of freedom, not simply free to choose whatever, but free to choose what's congruent with their shared principles and not merely their individual whims. Our principles have been under continuous assault for generations. Reconnecting with them might regain us enough hope that we might actually win this one. If only …

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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