Hilary Hodge: The scars of war
April 17, 2017
It was our fourth day in Barcelona. The weather was perfect, a cloudless 74 degrees. I was standing in the enclosed square of the Plaza de San Felipe Neri in Barcelona with 10 or so other North American tourists.
I was marveling at the cathedral in front of me, a large dark stone structure built in the 1700s. The plaza was enclosed and full of shadows. The square was beautiful, with a fountain and a few trees. In spite of the incredible display in front of us, the mood was dim. The façade of the solid stone cathedral was pocked with the memory of shrapnel.
Large chunks of the stone structure had been torn from its walls, crumbled from bombs of the past. The cathedral had been an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, fascist allies dropped a bomb on the church, collapsing the roof and killing 42 people, 20 of whom were children. As people arrived to help the survivors and recover the dead, a second bomb exploded in the plaza, destroying the surrounding buildings and damaging the façade of the cathedral.
Today, a statue looks down from above the door of the exterior, unintentionally surveying the damage, as though to bear witness to what had happened there.
We, as a nation, and as individuals, will make decisions about how to go forward in the context of nationalism, warmongering, and fear. What we choose matters.
As I stood staring at this dark proof of atrocity, it occurred to me that the United States doesn't live with the scars of war in the same way that some other countries do, the daily reminders of the force and fire power of 20th century and its legacy. With the exception of Pearl Harbor, we have not had to bear the burden of damage resulting from modern war within our borders. We remember the terror, sadness and chaos of Sept. 11, 2001 but have never, as a nation, witnessed the sustained and constant force of war. We do not see the daily reminders of what war really looks like on the ground.
Perhaps it is for this reason President Donald Trump seems so cavalier with our U.S. military, so careless with our show of force and firepower. Perhaps it is his ignorance that drove him to tweet last week, "I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A." Perhaps his high-handedness is a result of never having served.
In the last two weeks, the United States dropped 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian government airfield and then used a MC-130 aircraft to drop a GBU-43 bomb, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the known U.S. armory, the MOAB, an acronym for "massive ordnance air blast" but known colloquially as the "mother of all bombs."
Sadly, I don't think diplomacy is this administration's strong suit. We are in a new era of American foreign policy and American military operations, one of less negotiation and more show of force.
We have a commander in chief who is a self-described outsider, an inexperienced newbie using the toys of American firepower to sustain his egoism and machismo without any real background or reference of consequence. We have a president using Twitter to play a game of Cold War chicken with enemy nations who have real militaries and can retaliate.
Some may think that this forceful approach could be wise, that flexing our muscles is a good idea. It is careless and far too bold. We live in a time when international militaries have enough collective fire power to wipe humanity, flora, and fauna off the face of this earth. There is no Planet B.
We have a choice about how we go forward as humans and humanitarians. We have historical context for what we are facing. We can learn from the past before we go forward.
These next few moments in history will be looked upon as key turning points. We, as a nation and as individuals, will make decisions about how to go forward in the context of nationalism, warmongering and fear. What we choose matters.
In Barcelona, as our group of tourists stood in front of the cathedral listening to the tour guide tell us about the history of the Plaza de San Felipe Neri, the door to the cathedral opened and a line of small children started filing into the square. The cathedral now houses a kindergarten.
Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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