The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meets in London this week. Members haven’t been in agreement on a number of important topics for many years. The discomfort of disagreement is elevated in the current world leaders gathering.
Most of my adult life the U.S. has been at war. Men and women in camel fatigues drive next to us on the way to work. They shop at Target, pick up lunch at fast food places. Their kids play in our neighborhood. Their parents look for support from those who understand because the U.S. doesn’t feel like a country fighting a real war. Most of us don’t worry about our kids because they are wearing the U.S. uniform in a foreign land, or fighting the daily battles of post-traumatic stress or physical pain when they are among us.
For two years I have been working with another writer on a book project about an amazing Marine platoon that came into existence in the Pacific Theater in 1944. 40 Thieves on Saipan rose from the letters, photos, papers and hours of interviews with survivors of that platoon. My father was on a Navy ship involved in the clean up of the battle of Saipan. Thirty-five to forty thousand men, women and children lost their lives during roughly three weeks of fighting.
How do you tell a mother that her son was decapitated in front of you asks one nineteen year old Marine in 40 Thieves? Who pulls the trigger to end a buddy’s agony as the enemy torments his bullet-ridden body with a machine gun? How can the smell of a battlefield be described?
Watching documentaries and reading military history stripped away some of my naivete. Forcing myself to stay with a ninety-minute documentary when the images were terrible provided a thin thread of war’s reality. The dairy of an Army private gathering the bodies of his dead buddies on a battlefield in Europe read very real.
I have learned just enough:
- to pray frequently that those I love not experience life in a war zone,
- to wonder what short of something awful like genocide or terrible actions against humanity permit war as an intervention,
- to disdain the men of power who order soldiers into violent action for anything less,
- to wish governments could recoup the billions spent on weapons to invest in global climate responses and safer lives for their citizens,
- to understand that I will never understand how mass killing of our human family makes sense,
- and to hope the NATO meetings help leaders find common ground in our commitment to peace.