WE CANNOT BE reminded too often that the largely middle-aged or elderly politicians, generalissimos, and assorted heads of state who declare war on each other take no part in the dirty business of actually waging it, but leave that instead to the young. The attempt is made to secure their participation by stirring them up into a patriotic fervor, but if that doesn't work there are laws to compel it, with the result that they find themselves faced willy-nilly with having to fight to the death if necessary for a cause that a great many of them neither understand nor in their hearts consider worth paying anything like such a price for. When their bodies start coming back in bags like rubbish, they are honored as having given their lives for their country, whereas the truth of the matter is that more often than not they did not so much give them as have them wrested from them whether that's what they had in mind or not.

Can there be any doubt that if the fighting were to be left to the leaders themselves, the story would be a very different one? It is a thought worth pursuing. Many of them are overweight. Many can't see without glasses. A few wear hearing aids or pacemakers and feel faint at the sight of blood. Even the younger ones who have kept in some kind of shape have in all likelihood never so much as punched another human being in the nose, let alone aimed a gun at one in anger. But no matter. Theirs it is to do or die, and one pictures them in their business suits and long dresses, their burnooses and caftans and saris, as they head off to do it armed with weapons they have no idea how to use and ultimatums, principles, and slogans that suddenly seem equally useless, and with their hearts in their mouths.

Can there be any question as to how long it would take them to turn around and go home? Can any crazy scenario we manage to dream up be even half as crazy as war is crazy? Can there be any doubt that Jesus was speaking only the simple truth when he said that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword?

The lucky ones are the ones who perish all at once and get it over with. The others are those who still have years and years left for remembering the handsome young men and strong young women who were once the fairest and dearest they had.

-Originally published in Beyond Words

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