Due to my failure to carry out my home duties this Spring, there are thousands of healthy weeds in my back yard. Frustrated by the mess, last week I compelled myself to work into the darkness to pull up many of the largest weeds, which mostly were the tall and sturdy foxgloves. The correct strategy is to grab each weed as low to the dirt as possible so that the roots come out with the stalk. But at night, creatures roam across the moist soil whom all of us garden warriors love to hate.
I wasn’t wearing gloves, and I didn’t have a flashlight. I had only moonlight and my stupidity to guide me. Thus, I guided my left hand through the fog of battle to a vague silhouette of a particularly thick foxglove stalk which I grabbed with all my strength. It turned out that half of the stalk’s thickness was accounted for by the fat girth of a six-inch slug, which I didn’t see until it was too late. As I pulled hard with my naked hand, the slug instantly converted itself into a palmful of mortally wounded grease. I almost fell on my ass!
This was my third intimate encounter with a giant slug in the last two months. My previous encounters were transmogrifying and had left me feeling emotionally damaged. But this night’s encounter affected me differently. This time I had already accepted the risk and potential cost of such an encounter, and I understood my obligation to recovering my lost territory with minimal use of deadly chemicals.
I wiped the slime from my skin with handfuls of dirt. After surprisingly little cursing, I bent into the same patch of weeds and continued pulling up the foxgloves as the clouds above me extinguished the last of the moonlight. There are many greater insanities than this.
They say that war makes sane men do insane things. I believe it. I also believe that after you’ve sent a few dozen anxious bullets toward vague shapes stalking the shadows of broken buildings and dead orchards, your regard for other lives changes, along with your regard for your own life.
The moral shape of war requires that soldiers don’t ask the wrong questions. The reality of properly functioning soldiers requires their willing resignation from life before the battle’s first shots are fired. Their commanders have the difficult tasks of ruling the battle field while calculating and accepting casualties, administering rules of engagement, ministering to the surrendered lives of the surviving soldiers, and not asking the wrong questions.
After a battle there is time to wonder. The survivors may curl on their cots and measure their luck with each breath. But it’s a rude respiration that has a tired soldier inhaling a familiar soul into his altered mind before needing to exhale it once again in time for the next battle.
I never joined the military. Partly, I didn’t want to die young, and I didn’t want any bullet of mine to take old age away from someone else who didn’t want to die young. More than just partly, I’ve always worried that I would have been too good a soldier to question the insanity of war.
June 26, 2011