“Never allow anyone to be humiliated in your presence.” Elie Wiesel
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called…” the masculine children of divinity, depending on which version of the Bible you may read. And yet many are those of varying gender identifications who make peace by the way they live their lives. Some stay real with themselves about their growth processes, seeking out accountability and listening to those who can constructively school them on their need for change, their toxic exceptionalism and passive/aggressive denial of systemic oppression. Some simply live it out, opening their hearts and minds to the viewpoints and lives of those who will expand their minds to move beyond the status quo, the status quo that lulls us all to sleep when our wakefulness is most needed. We are a many-varied and colorful tribe of humans hoping towards fulfillment on different levels as we struggle to recover from the oppressive backlash of centuries of authoritarianism and the resulting mindset. Some of us seek our recovery by means conducive to capturing truth, fostering freedom and encouraging growth and prosperity for everyone as we confront our demons, the darkness we all wrestle when egos clash and righteous rage collides with denial and judgement. And we wonder, “is it righteous, really?”. Apparently, according to the wise ones, we are all acting out in the wake of trauma. Some of us embody the traumatizers, and some of us war against them, but we all began in the oppressive authoritarianism that ultimately seeks to destroy soul. No one with even just a modicum of awareness will deny that abusers have been abused and neither will they deny that some who’ve been abused manage to avoid the abuser’s program through hard, painfully aware work.
The problem I have with identifying us all as victims of trauma is that such an identification could be seen as a uniting truth when there are those of the grand us who are not wanting actual unity or truth. (Truth like, love is what we do and not simply what we feel. And truth like, we’re all valuable, precious human beings. Not “truth” like, there is one God and one way and those who don’t believe will burn. Not “truth” like, we say so and so it is so.) So, sure, we’re all victims of trauma, participants in reactions against the power-over model of authority. But we’re not all growing and we’re not all seeking accountability, and on the other side of it all, we’re not all perpetuating violent and destructive acts that divide us. These distinctions deserve regard because they distinguish between those who seek to empower others and those who seek power over others, even if only vicariously.
While it’s likely true that those who are openly seeking dominion over others are victims of trauma, my experience in moving from a place of forgiveness and understanding with this slice of the population has only netted me betrayal, slander, loss, isolation and more trauma. I literally unknowingly signed up, in the name of forgiveness, unity and hope, for another round of soul-bruising loss. I thought my faith in love would prevail. It did not. I’ve learned that you can’t afford to smile and approach abused abusers with the assumption they want to actually be anything other than what they are. You can’t project your own hope for a truly noble, truly valuable, truly life-affirming legacy onto those who are “in the same boat” with you. It’s just not that simple. It’s like inviting Leviathan to tea and hoping the beast won’t be a beast. Sure, we all came from the same sea but some of us are walking on two legs and hoping to not regress to more beastly behavior while others of us are glorifying the beast by way of denial-based, narrative-skewing belief systems. The perversion of truth and rationality is unprecedented. Shift blame, redirect focus and make the victim pay. But hey, we’re all in this together? As much as we may technically be in this together, trauma bonds as they are, we are at least as much not in this together in unity, and we are not going to experience true unity with each other when anyone in the boat is eagerly perpetuating the power-over authoritarian model of “community”. The best we can do is sit on the other side of the boat and pray that our work to end generational carnage actually takes while hoping those on the other side finally wake up and join us in the work for emancipation from oppression.
And writers and historians like Rebecca Solnit help me solidify and give voice to what I see and feel during this epic time of both loss and hopeful growth here in the US. Solnit’s following expression fills up the gaps made real by a confusion of intentions on a boat adrift in the wild sea of meaning.
“The middle ground is not halfway between Nazis and antiracists. The reasonable position is not a compromise between rapists and feminists, slaveowners and abolitionists, Natives and General Crook. The truth is not midway between the liar and the truthteller. That has to be a factor in all those calls for reaching out and unity. The murderer and his intended victim don’t have to agree on what’s right. The people who were harmed don’t have to reach out to those who did the harming. The people who told the truth don’t need to make liars feel better about themselves or what they said. Those who were targeted by this war don’t have to do all the peacemaking. If reaching out and finding unity is good, the haters and liars can go find some olive branches and apologies and do the work to leave their will to destroy the rest of us behind. Then it begins. The party of hate never had a mandate; they lost the popular vote last time and this time; they may think of themselves as the real American and the gatekeepers but we don’t have to, and we don’t have to enter their gates or play by their rules. We don’t have to hate them either, but we don’t have to protect them from the consequences of their choices or sell out our principles for their comfort. When you stand on the ground of truth and justice, let others find their way to you. If you stand firm, many will in the end. Not everyone will; that does not change what truth and justice are.” Rebecca Solnit
My dad, L.S. Kelly, Jr., was born in the depression years and spent his early childhood in a nation swept up in World War II, a war that makes Memorial Day meaningful to many. He lived in Englewood, NJ at the time. He conveys the times, their import revealing just how different his world was from the one I now know. I read his words from an interview and find myself confronting the visceral impact of a time of upheaval, the imprint on his psyche, his perspective of the U.S. and of the military, of “us” vs. “them” shaped by circumstances more stark in their contrast to what we now live, more surreal in hindsight. No one could point at the term “axis of evil” and shred its hypocrisy because It applied. And it applied thoroughly in the minds of those shaped by the fallout.
In the only way I know how to memorialize a day that has become, to me, less about the idea of a noble U.S. military infrastructure and more about honoring those who bring integrity to a failing ideal, I’m posting my dad’s responses to the interview questions here. His heart comes through the lines he wrote for my son’s A.P. U.S. History class. The clarity of what matters shatters my hesitation to note the day, my frustration with the distortion our military might has become. The day should be noted and we should never forget, no matter our stance on the military-industrial complex, because there was a time…
What can you remember about growing up during WWII?
A feeling of heaviness and fear – dread – during the early years. The Japanese, Germans and Italians were portrayed in the media as some pretty awful folks. And they did some pretty awful things, which were shown at the movie theater before the main event. Newsreels were gross. Life magazine was as graphic as they could get away with. That changed a whole lot with military successes.
We had rationing of materials and food. Gasoline. Nylon – women went back to silk stockings. The war effort took a lot of stuff off the shelves of the grocery stores.
Cigarettes. We saved cans [-] like vegetables came in. Flattened them and took them to some point where they could be given up for scrap metal. Then came victory gardens. We had three plots in the back yard one summer, and after that five families that socialized together Kellys, Jim Kellys, DeSaussueres, Whitsons, Stokes, had huge garden in Cresskill, NJ where DeSaussaures lived.
Our next-door neighbor was the block air raid warden. When we had an air raid alert (practice of the system), we hung blankets over the windows, kept the lights down low so as not to disclose the whereabouts of a populated area to enemy bombers. The warden would knock on the door if light was showing around the blanket. He wore a white helmet and acted extremely seriously, as did we all. Just about everything we did was in the context of national defense.
The doctor who lived across the street was in the army in Europe. He had a son my age who received packages of souvenirs from his father, actual Wehrmacht uniforms, which he and I dressed up in and paraded around the neighborhood. Once. AS widow lady around the corner got all upset, and that was the end of my German career.
When the A-bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, I was 9 years old. We knew nothing could survive that and continue to wage war, and the feeling of relief brought a sense of elation and national pride. We had fought two wars at the same time and beat the bad guys. Which they were.
How did it impact you personally?
I got to eat a lot of organ meats, since they were undesirable and carried a lower meat-coupon penalty. Tuna, chipped beef.
Sometimes we had nightmares: Go to the movies on Saturday afternoon and come home, to go [to] bed and recall the newsreel. The boy next door was in the navy in the Pacific and we worried about him.
Mrs. Knowles’ 2nd grade class at Franklin School in Englewood, NJ would pray together every morning, the Lord’s prayer, and we’d recite the pledge to the flag and would sing the National Anthem. Often Mrs. Knowles would then have some story or inspirational thing she’d share with us. She had a brother who was a dog-face in France at the time. That means in the Infantry, in the mud.
One morning she held up a quite thick, yet shirt-pocket-sized thing, that turned out to be a book. It was her brother’s bible. He had been carrying it all the time. We watched as she opened it enough for us to see the hole in it, which still held the kraut bullet that her brother’s bible had stopped, effectively ending its deadly journey toward his heart.
That was the classroom where I broke down one morning when we were singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Boo hoo. Everybody looking at the simple goose crying. I couldn’t tell why. They called my mother, and she couldn’t tell them, either. When I got home, I couldn’t tell her why. I didn’t know. She didn’t know either. Nobody was gonna ask my Daddy. Who knows?
Any observations about that time and that war in general?
Nobody even thought about burning a flag. Not a stars n stripes. It was a time when the nation really seemed to be together about one thing: beating the Axis.
My 80+ year-old dad, who texts his daughters every night when he goes to bed – sending his love, who loves silly humor and growing tomatoes reminds me what shapes the minds of a nation, what lays the foundation for exploitation of fear: the real thing. Not that we have not known terror here in our time, but most of us have no point of reference, no way of knowing what war looks like. And the experiences of a child, his reflections over 70 years later reveal what we hope to never know but to also never forget, even if only for the sake of those who lived it. Here and abroad. Here’s to those who gave. While I may not want us to ever drop another bomb and though it hurts to think of the suffering of Hiroshima, this, too, is true: we must never lose sight of the humanity, the lives given in service.