We who live in regions of relative stability and prosperity in the so-called developed world, we who are free of the uncertainty and the unpredictability that are part of daily life in war zones, will occasionally be startled out of our false sense of security and certainty. Such occasions are generally rare. Yet we seem determined to maintain our sense of privileged steadiness in the face of a constant stream of disturbing images and reports that fill the electronic and print media. They remind us daily of the reality of ongoing wars, the horror of terror attacks, and the despair of vast numbers of families and individuals who have left everything in order to seek refuge from violence and danger, from ruined streets and houses, from bombs and bullets.
The psychic numbing we collectively experience is a peculiar aspect of contemporary reality. Images of cars and trucks crashing through crowds of people, smoke and flames issuing from the explosion of precision-guided missiles and cluster bombs, grief and carnage from the acts of suicide bombers in mosques and churches, though ever-present on our screens and in our printed media, are all somehow strangely distant. It was therefore as a great personal shock to witness at close range the immediate human anguish of catastrophic injury in a young man from a nearby town.
While waiting to be discharged after spending most of the day in the Emergency Ward of the local hospital, I became aware of some commotion outside the double doors that separated the ward from the outside world. The doors suddenly sprung open and a young man in his middle to late twenties, barefoot and dressed only in a pair of shorts burst into the main corridor in extreme distress. He repeatedly cried for help and in his agitation, ran straight past the monitoring station where several doctors and nurses were quietly gathered. I noticed that shards of skin were dangling from one of his arms, and that both of his legs and much of his torso were bright red in colour. A doctor called out, “What happened?” Between his anguished calls, he cried out, “Petrol fire!” I heard someone say “Get him into a shower” and two doctors sprinted after him as he headed towards the main body of the hospital.
Some ten minutes later, he was escorted back into the emergency ward and led into the cubicle alongside the one in which I was situated. I could see that much of the skin from one of his arms had been stripped from his flesh. He was still in a state of extreme distress. Between barely muted screams he continually called out, “Help me! Help me!”
Among those present was the head of the Emergency Department, a senior practitioner who gently and firmly reassured the young man that the situation was well in hand. He calmly and repeatedly drew the young man’s attention to his breathing while simultaneously instructing a younger doctor to slowly administer a 10 cc injection of the powerful dissociative anaesthetic ketamine. He quietly added, “You may need to do this four or five times” while continuing with his quasi-hypnotic instruction to breathe slowly and deeply.
My thoughts were then overwhelmed by a flood of images, many of which had been dormant for decades. I saw the image of a young Vietnamese girl, running naked down a road after she had been caught up in a napalm attack. I saw a Buddhist monk fixedly sitting within a storm of raging flame. I saw the flayed inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wandering dazed and despairing through their smouldering streets. Then came the memories of Dresden, of Auschwitz, of the vast charnel grounds that Europe became in the first and second World Wars. And then a wave of images of the children of Gaza, of phosphorus bombs streaking through a UN compound, of furious explosions in Kabul, Baghdad, Mosul and Aleppo. And I recalled the vast arsenals of nuclear weapons with which the earth is so heavily seeded.
I thought again of the extraordinary privilege which we who are free of the terror of war zones and the horrors of extreme poverty, drought and famine so freely take for granted.
At a time when military planners intensify the demonic work of softening the world up for a normalisation of the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the ever-growing fields of war, let our hearts more fully awaken to the pain of the world, and particularly to the pain of those innocents caught up in war and preparations for war.
(The Curse of Tyranny)
Desert Storm II
(Remembering Rachel Corrie)
It All Depends On Who You’re Fighting
We are all held subject by determined nations
And the determinations of planners
Intent on lashing the flanks
And not restraining the reins
Of the dark horses of night.
They champ and thunder
In anticipation of the silence.
You who thread the darkening looms,
Who kindle the currents coursing through wires
And charge the air, earth, and water of our being,
Beware the fruits of your projections.
The dangerous matters you have gathered
Softly seethe in darkened silos,
In hollow vessels plying silent under ocean storms
And glowing cores of hellish boilers.
And still you plan for more.
The Curse of Tyranny
Thus contained the Lords of War
Confined in finite time
Bound and fixed
(At least for now)
Wretched slayer of love and time,
Your dead stretch beyond you to impossible horizons.
The innocents you burned now blaze brightly before you.
They gather in a soft fury of light
Winding to the edge of the world.
Remain within that prison
Held fast by the golden light
Of those you bathed and burned.
And you, so false in name,
Playing the worse and not the better part,
You who rained ruin in proud and bloody storms
Be ye fixed until your fires burn cold.
River bright streaming from the brow of love,
Strengthen further the keepers of these Satans.
What was it like when Dresden was sleeping
And the sky shrieked metal then crashed all around,
When the town was a furnace, a fiery hell-world
For mothers and children now under the ground.
And what was it like that big sky morning
When Little Boy cried then howled down the day,
The crashing of atoms, the tempest of terror
The unknowing mothers all gone away.
First in Kabul and then on the Tigris
Silicon soldiers tore open the night,
And wounded yet further a people near broken
And brought further darkness in fulminant light.
The hatred now stored in the cones of the missiles
Will rage and release in ruin and woe,
And the heart of the night pierced again with fierce metal
The blood and the water continue to flow.
I wait for the turn of a cheek that was promised
I wait for the love of a world now in woe
I wait for the call of a sorrowing mother
For terror on terror can nowhere go.
When your nights light up over vast distances
And the days of the many be cut short,
Shall they then prevail,
Those broken gods of war,
To burn again to cinder the work of ages?
Trouble enough there has been.
Trouble further we have seen.
Here, at the end of days,
We stand by the edge of ruin.
Still, my father tells me,
The universe is vast beyond imagining.
We have been away for far too long
From the pull of the world and the day to day
From time of work and time of play.
The debt of the day too deep to repay
Has gone too far, has been too long,
Tell me now which way to turn
Which tune to give to the sacred song.
As newer nails of fire and metal
Pierce the armour and spoil the earth,
They burn the children before their birth,
For want of love, for want of worth.
In times now past upon the lake
The swan would slow and silent flow.
Yet in this time and in that place
The deadly metal seeps and soaks
Through riverbeds to ocean deeps.
And mother weeps.
Now time to call this to a halt,
Time to call this to an end,
There is no more that we can spend.
Make your way despoil no more,
Enough of blood, and death, and war.
And we will make our way in peace,
Find a hearth and till the earth,
Toil to turn the damage round
Regain again the sacred ground
Restore anew this broken place,
Through love and song, through sweat and grace.
Notes: During the first Gulf War, 300 tons of depleted Uranium was used in armour-piercing bullets and artillery shells. It was irretrievably dispersed through many parts of Iraq. Iraqi midwives increasingly despair over the many deformed and damaged children that have been birthed and that continue to arrive in areas where such ordnance was used.
Joseph Stalin, being most impressed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, lost no time in having his own versions of the same. The Soviet nuclear program at Chelyabinsk/ Mayak was fast-tracked into existence in 1946. The dross from uranium extraction processes was poured into the Techa River that conveniently ran through the town. Within 4 years, Geiger counters in the Arctic Ocean – many thousands of kilometres away – began to crackle furiously. Thereafter, the wastes of Chelyabinsk were poured directly into Lake Karachai, a lake some 50 km2 in size situated nearby. Anyone standing on the shores of Lake Karachai at the time of writing this poem would receive a lethal dose of radiation in the time it takes to eat a small meal.
Hope was crushed that blue-sky morning
Leaving nothing but longing hearts
And empty days for those who stayed.
We are none of us innocent, these rampant days.
Were brothers those
Who flew their flaming swords
Into the concrete pride of a history
Hardened by new acts of war carried out at safe remove?
(There is no safety in such acts)
This now brought home in the New City
And claimed as an act for God.
Were brothers those
Who bunkered down and wide-eyed marvelled
As the first proud cloud made glass of desert sands?
They sent for priests to bless the plane Enola Gay
That later stripped a city raw
In great green searing of women and wailing.
I saw a bull tear at the earth with savage horn and steaming hoof.
Eagle spied afar the rising cloud of fire and dust.
The horses champ and strain at rein
But riders hold them firm and still
Until the time when thunder roar and fiery vent
Will tear away this veil of false civility.
And unconcerned you calmly sit
And plan the next incandescent move
Upon the desert people
While in our restful comfort here,
We smile and order the next drink
There are not many upon the earth
Who make such judgements as these.
The clay gods of war once again take command
This time of troubles.
They will silence the protest
Heighten the fear
Deepen the deception, distort the perception
Include us in their schemes, nullify our dreams.
So mark the smile, discern the eye
As the next target is set upon
In a lengthening line of hubrist serpentry.
The naked king reveals to all
The deadly purpose he commands.
DESERT STORM II
We do it differently these days.
Faultless execution by clever machines
All done at a safe distance.
But fault lines form
And logic lines run foul.
The surgical strike has become a woeful massacre.
Neither blood nor bone remained
When the fire of those two suns
Atomised all in the furious core.
But at the margins, we beheld the new flaying.
It hung in strips from wailing women and burning men.
We do it differently these days.
We break the roads and burst the mains,
Foul the water and choke the air,
Seed the earth with deadly fire,
Burn the future of young mothers.
This shell of wondrous blue and green
That sits so still on fiery sea
Is slow to fracture.
But ruptured worlds of fire and metal
Now shake the mother, awake the mother.
Man of clay now grown too strong,
Too cruel the fire, the blast of metal.
And we, away for far too long
From rise and fall of gentle breast,
From silent song of softened breath
From rush and gush of your sweet water.
Remembering Rachel Corrie
No cursed bullet fired nor stray shrapnel this, glancing off stone road
To rupture the lives of young women.
She stood her ground with her friends and called for peace.
They were all shocked by the suddenness of it all.
A year before, the ambulances were kept away in those bloody days
When siege was called upon His place of birth at time of crucifixion.
Oh David, how dark has become your star.
And from lean and fattened fools we heard the whine and drawl:
“War zones are danger zones”.
No war zones those but family dwellings and meeting places,
Joys and hardships married true.
We stood in the light of day.
Now we sit in the dark of night
Awaiting simple presence
And a return to the very moment.
From this small cell
The day seems too hard driven
By those of might and power.
But listen still.
Soft footsteps fall upon the dust
And stir a gentle storm
That slowly gathers force.
And when the drums beat louder still
The soft foot fall more fierce becomes.
The earth can shake when men do dance
And call upon the Hidden One
As surely as it heaves and quakes
When atoms fuse and atoll breaks.
Beat the drums my stalwart men
And fill the night with pulse and promise.
Bring to heel the sacred force
Bring to hand the living light
Sing the song and dance the story,
Call the tune and turn the earth.
The blood of our sisters dried slowly
Upon the hardened shells of hell’s promise.
Mild-hearted women swung the hammers of mercy
And loudly tolled us from our thickening slumbers.
No angel can pass lightly over such held furies.
The gravest of dangers sits silent
In steel cones in dry deserts.
The silos of Colorado hold a poison harvest.
(Similar stories undershadow the Negev)
Keep them in the ground, for Christ’s sake.
They can always be dismantled later,
Though we know not how.
How are such furies to be fixed beyond dispersion?
Where will you have us, Lord?
Where will it be?
Notes: On October 6th 2002, three Dominican nuns – all long-time peace activists – broke through the enclosure of an unmanned Minuteman III missile silo near Greeley, Colorado using wire cutters. On reaching the silo, they poured their own blood in the shape of crosses onto the silo. They then pounded the concrete lid of the silo with hammers, singing and praying for world peace while waiting to be arrested.
The judge described them as “dangerously irresponsible” and sentenced them to extended periods in prison. Sr. Jackie Hudson, aged 68, was imprisoned for 30 months, Sr. Carol Gilbert, aged 55, was imprisoned for 33 months, and Sr. Ardeth Platte, aged 67 years, was imprisoned for 41 months.
This is the wall of stone faces
This is the plain of dry skulls
How much blood must fallow
Before we’ve had enough?
No spear, no arrow
No shield or sabre close at hand
Blast of cannon barely muted
As thunder of jet and hiss of missile
Shake and shatter this careless time
Who can remember the two small suns
That flashed and crashed and flayed a people
And who can recall those white-hot suns
That trashed the cities ashed the people
In an empty triumph of stolen glory
Two wretched clouds of infernal fury
That burned all hope and poisoned the story
Be careful now
Because we’ve had enough
We’ve grown too accustomed to spin and slaughter
To soft commands of deadly purpose
To haughty laughter in high places
So let us look further
Let us pause longer
Let us recall those welcoming faces
As night draws nigh
Shape and shadow of glistening mountain
Sibilant stream and falling fountain
Whispering water chilling wind
Gold-streaked clouds at the close of the day
As night draws nigh
This is the wall of stone faces
This is the plain of lost skulls
How much slaughter does it take
Before we’ve had enough?
IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHO YOU’RE FIGHTING
Light armour and swift-footedness
Can overcome giants
So long as you keep your distance.
They also serve those who would walk city streets and high roads
Deflecting and evading occasional dangers.
Brute force is hard to handle at close range
Without diamond-fast sight or diamond-hard fist,
Not to shatter
But to block the shattering blow.
The warlike man in times of peace
Must now make peace within himself.
Stay light on your feet.
Be swift in smile and presence.
Well conceal the mental blade
That cuts through all obstruction and deceit,
The ocean too long travelled now to harbour doubt.
Make peace, not war within yourself
And then the rest will follow.
Vincent Di Stefano is a retired osteopath and practitioner of natural medicine. He is author of “Holism and Complementary Medicine. History and Principles” published by Allen and Unwin in 2006. His website “The Healing Project” extends the ideas presented in the book and his blog “Integral Reflections” offers an occasional more interactive medium addressing those ideas.