Bernie and I like to go out to the Hadley diner for blueberry pancakes on Sunday morning. We did that in late January, two days after Trump instituted the first ban denying entry to people from 7 Muslim countries, including refugees, other folks with visas, people who’ve lived in this country for years, etc. We sat at our own table by the large counter, above which two large televisions, suspended from the ceiling, broadcast news. One showed people stuck in various airports, faces tired and shocked, not knowing where to go and what to do. The other showed video game championships taking place, I believe, in Las Vegas, where mostly young men sat in front of computers and competed to see how many images they could quickly kill onscreen.
I looked from one television to the other inn disbelief.
I feel that for various historical and geographic reasons, many people in the United States don’t feel part of a bigger world, and of that world’s narrative of war and bloodshed. This country was invaded by the English in 1812, who burned down Washington. It fought a bloody civil war over 150 years ago, and many of us still can’t see or appreciate the freshness of those wounds. People of color have endured discrimination and violence in education, housing, jobs and on the streets, but chances are good that if you’re a white civilian whose family has lived here for generations, you may have suffered from addictions, unemployment, lack of opportunity and poverty, but not necessarily from war and violence.
And that’s a history that the civilian populations of most of the rest of the world have known all too well. When I talk to Europeans, even young ones, they seem to have both World Wars, not to mention the Russian occupation of East Europe, in their genetic memory. They know what it’s like to have soldiers marching into their land and taking over their government, or else using their towns and farms as ground in which to stage such terrible battles that bones of the dead are still uncovered there by children many years later.
Other lands know what it is to be pockmarked by thousands of land mines or have razor-wire fences criss-cross towns and farms. Still others know all about militias coming in at nights, carting off or killing boys and men, raping women, at times wiping off entire villages. Or else they know how their children get conscripted or required to do military service after high school. They know how to live under occupation or at least have their national government subordinated to a more powerful government next door. I’m not talking about things from the distant path.
Having been brought up on stories of war and Holocaust, I am not turned on by violent video games. If I want to be a hero, that’s not the way I’d go about it. Personally, I also don’t like firecrackers or explosions of any kind going off on the streets or in backyards (I can watch beautiful fireworks for about 20 minutes, after which my nerves feel too raw). I feel I have a different make-up from many people here.
When the American army rolled into Iraq under George Bush, stores did a brisk business in army fatigues, helmets, various kinds of military gear, not to mention Saddam Hussein targets for gun practice, golden guns, and all other kinds of paraphernalia—for people who wanted to play at war but nowhere near Iraq. As if Shock and Awe was a theme park, with its exploding bombs (couldn’t they have more color please!) and floodlights like at a big movie premier. Everybody wanted to be a walk-on but nobody wanted to die.
I remember as a little girl watching one of Hollywood’s movies on the war with Japan during World War II. At a certain point in the movie the heroic band of American soldiers is hunkered down in a small bunker while being bombed by overhead planes, and William Bendix, John Wayne or some other actors like that began to talk about God:
I wonder if this is about the time you start to believe in God.
You mean you don’t?
I never thought about it very seriously, till now.
I looked over at my mother, who I knew had dug up and huddled in bunkers in Israel’s War of Independence while being bombed by Egyptian planes, and asked her if she also thought about God then. She started laughing: Believe me, when you’re down there and all those bombs are going off, you’re not asking about God or anything, you’re just scared out of your mind and hoping none of those things land on you!
I also remembered the story of an American woman recalling her arrival in the United States after going through concentration camps in World War II. There was nothing to eat, she told Americans when they asked her about her experience. Tell us about it! they often responded. Food was rationed here and there were times when you couldn’t get meat or coffee. She said that after that she never talked about her Holocaust experiences again.
So that Sunday we watched people’s faces on one television screen, scarred with tragedy and loss, bullied into silence, looking pale and exhausted as the reporters asked them what it felt like to be denied entry to the US after three years of vetting following years of terror and starvation. On the other screen young men competed fiercely and deliberately in the video game championships, clicking with immense concentration at keys and buttons as images on the screen were shot, blown away, burned to a crisp, and thoroughly eviscerated in lots and lots of creative and imaginative ways.
Make A Donation