Not an Armchair General

I left the US when I was 27 and I spent the entire first year in a huge transition. (I’ve written about this before). I was 5 months in the hospital with a difficult pregnancy, the rest of the time I wanded the coastline with all of the abandoned trenches and bunkers from the years of Nazi occupation. I talked to people whose houses were commandeered by generals. Who worried about who to trust.

All these things I had read about in school, but never knew as anything more real than a fairy tale.

My grandfather fought in WWII, but didn’t bring it home. For me, taking part in armed conflicts from America seemed like politicians sitting in a deer stand and deciding where and when to shoot based on the angle of the story – the more profitable alliance. While Peter Paul and Mary protested interventions in South America. While famous people negotiated with people “over there”.

But “over there” is here now, and in part because of my age and situation, it all became real.

When my kids were in elementary school, they walked a block to enter the building that was a Nazi-run hospital during the war. When we walked the dog, we passed the graves of the British pilots who crashed here trying to reach the resistance fighters.

A few years ago, at a party in the south, the host showed me the bottom of the plates in the cupboard – they had the Nazi eagle on them. “What do I do with these?”

One of my kids is now in the military and stationed on the Russian border. My husband is on active reserve – goes on exercises a couple of times a year. There are some things they don’t tell me, and some things I don’t ask about because I know they can’t answer. The government tells us to have iodine on hand.

The line between paranoia and caution is thin right now.

All of the Americans in my feed saying, “Why don’t we just…”, “We should just…”, the Americans thinking NATO is about American interests only. I get it. Been there. Where it is theoretical. Where it is all “just”.

One woman wrote that NATO should engage because Putin only has “short-range missiles”. That’s well and dandy for America, as my grandfather would have said. (At least until the submarines reach the range.) One guy writes that the main point is to break and humiliate Putin.

That’s not what I think the main point is.

The national news’ clickbait has become propaganda, “This is the photo Putin doesn’t want you to see.”

That makes me nervous.

There is a wrong way to put out a fire. Not that I know the right way, but at least I know what I do not know, and I know that nothing is ever “just”.

In any sense of the word.

This is why I am not writing poetry of witness at the moment. I am too aware of what I am not actually witnessing. Too confused by the distances and the very real tug of what I am not able to fully comprehend.

I am not turning my back. I am listening.

One Reply to “Not an Armchair General”

  1. I think I’m feeling the same as you about the poetry of witness right now. I have written one poem so far, and that’s about the complacency in British politics about the war. I have thought about writing about what I seen on TV (I referenced it a few posts ago) but it doesn’t feel real enough or honest enough to put into words. The only sources I trust are those of the Ukrainian government as far as the war goes (and even those will of necessity be one-sided). I so like some of the cartoons coming out of the region. The thing about technology is that it can be used to manipulate. I send hugs to all of your family – the problem here is that English island exceptionalism still holds sway, and the war is more about the price of fuel than about a clear and present danger. Rx


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