Moral Questions in God-Awful Times

  • Posted on: 14 November 2016
  • By: Jay Oyster

The ball turret on a World War II bomberRecent events have me thinking on many unpleasant things. But the forefront among these is that I have two young boys and we're heading into a decade that will likely define the coming century, much like the teens did to the 20th.  We like to have the illusion that we are in control of our destiny, but when the world changes direction and moves in its inexorable way, we are dragged along with it, like a man chained to the back bumper of a fucking Dixie pickup truck. They're too young now, but in only six years for our older boy and in only twelve years for his brother, they will be old enough to be drafted, if that old tradition should ever be revived.  And who knows what we'll be asked to do for our country in the strange days ahead?

Thinking about authoritarianism and intolerance, and the way we become mere pawns in the hands of the idiots running things when the times go pear-shaped like they have now, my mind keeps drifting back to the famous poem by Randall Jarrell:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

When the State is inhabited by men who've seen the horror of war, or at least who have a concept of it; men who have a moral code built on compassion, even compassion for the enemy, then . . then the State can be benign, even potentially a benefit to humanity. But when the State is inhabited by men and women of short attention spans and petty gripes and puerile motivations, then it has the potential to becomes a true horror to all.   

Fundamentally though, I know one thing, and it's starkly illustrated in Mr. Jarrell's poem. The State doesn't care about my boys.

My mother's father served in that War to End All War's back in that decade that defined the last century, in the Kaiser's Own Army. He served, but not happily. I don't know the story of what action he saw, but just the fact that he lived through that exercise in State indifference to the individual tells me that he was fortunate to survive. But when Hitler rose in nearby Germany, he took and uprooted his whole family from the artificial country they lived in, the one created out of Slovakia and the Czech Region after the War, and got them all to North America. And they had a hard time those first few years, with relations taking advantage of them as almost slave labor. But my grandfather was no fool. He saw what was coming and decided the upheaval was worth it.

I don't know if we're in similar times or not. It may be more similar to the U.S. in the 1850s, than it is to Europe in the 1930s. But I don't know. The fools seem more foolish now. The bigger problem though is that there may be no way to get away from what's coming.