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One of my closest and oldest friends just told me last night that he wants to join the Army. I was completely shocked. He had never seemed interested in this before and never really mentioned it, and now he’s decided to not go to college but sign up with the military instead.
At first I just didn’t say anything, but then I got really pissed off and told him not to do it. I believe in peace and am just so upset at the idea of someone I’ve known and loved for so long participating in this kind of violence. I basically told him that if he goes through with this, I won’t be able to be his friend anymore. I can’t stand by in good conscience and let my friend go kill people or get killed, can I?
Pissed Off Pacifist
Dear Pissed Off Pacifist,
Take a look around at your life and where you are right now. How do you think we got here? Millions of humans literally going through hell to carve out this convoluted, if comfortable, version of reality from the raw and brutally indifferent earth. The ground we’re on has literally been built on the blood and bodies of countless lifeforms who died in a raging battle to build the world as it is now. It’s a world that is deeply flawed and full of ugliness, needless suffering, blind cruelty, and screaming insanity, but it is the world we have built together, one way or another. No one can exist and say that this is not their world — you built it too, and we are maintaining it every moment we live in it. No matter how badly we want to avoid violence, we must acknowledge the violence that we emerged from — the sacrifices of so many often nameless people and creatures who really did die and kill to make what we all are engaged in now.
We are always standing on hallowed ground. Everything is stained with blood, and to exist at all is to benefit from the sacrifice and savagery of the countless victims and villains who came before us. We don’t have to be happy about what they did or how we arrived to live in this luxuriously decadent moment, but we must acknowledge that nearly everything we interact with daily has come with a price. Much had to be lost for anything to be gained. Many people truly did give up everything, or had everything taken away, in order to help build what we now can take for granted, in all its complex and flawed beauty.
War is the hell we create for ourselves on earth. It’s horrifying and nightmarish and brings out the best and worst we have to offer, over and over again, only then to be destroyed back into the mud of conflict and darkness from which we summoned it. But we cannot be so ignorant as to forget that the moments of heaven we’ve also been lucky enough to enjoy are intrinsically bound up in the hell they’ve often emerged from, or survived in spite of.
This isn’t to say that peace can only exist with war — we realize that is a perverse and twisted mindset — but it’s to say that there is something painfully inseparable about the heaven and hell of peace and war and how one seems to imply and necessitate the existence of the other. To be at war — with nature, with each other, with oneself — seems like an inescapable aspect of the human experience. The tireless need to build the world the way we want it to be, based on what we consider our highest ideals — the unquenchable thirst for not simple survival, but to build and perfect our own version of heaven, whatever the cost. This is an impossible endeavor, and ultimately punishes us and requires us to exist in hell while we torment ourselves, and everything around us, in our pursuit of heaven — our ideal version of the world.
You and I and your friend are all living in the midst of this pursuit of heaven. And therefore, we are also living in the midst of the hell that our pursuit creates. Both exist together as a result of each other and also as a motivating force propelling each into further amplifying the other. The better things get, the worse they get. And the worse they get, the more we try to make them better. Will this dizzying and nauseating cycle ever end? Or is this part of some larger game playing out on a cosmic scale that we can’t even fathom? Do any of us really know why the world is the way it is? And if we do think we know, what do we intend to do about it? And how do we know that what we want to do to fix the world won’t actually make it worse?
Your friend thinks joining the Army is what he can do to help fix the world, and if you really are his friend, you can’t really try and strip him of his ability to think for himself. You mustn’t try to interfere with his independence and his freedom to do as he pleases. Naturally, and rightfully, you are afraid for him. You don’t want him to have to experience the horrors of war. You don’t want him to die. You don’t want him to kill. But killing your friendship with him does not fix anything, either. It would be just another loss — another casualty of war — it would be a deeper loss if war took not only your friend’s life, but also your love and respect for him.
It will be challenging, but this is a chance for you to see how big of a love you can develop for your friend even though you disagree with him. This is a chance to love him because of who he is — not what he does or what he thinks — for that intangible and incredible thing we call him. The part of him that you’re able to love and respect despite differences of opinion. The part of him that you appreciate even when you don’t think the same way all the time. The part of him that you hope he also values in you. The part of a person that makes them who they are, and not someone else. Your friend will need your love now more than ever. He is going to venture into a dark place where the power of love is sometimes all you have to cling to. You don’t have to love or support his choices, you just have to love and support him. It can be extremely difficult, but we must be strong enough to keep this kind of love alive and in first position in our hearts and minds — ahead of everything else — especially when we feel the most compelled to stop loving entirely.
If there ever was something that could end war forever, it is this unconditional, unwavering, and illogical love that we can have for each other. It might not be the perfect solution, but it’s by far the best thing we’ve got. If you really believe in peace, then love your friend, with all your heart, and don’t ever, ever stop.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 17, 2014
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