My first glimpse into the horrors of war did not come until after college. On a surf trip to the Basque Country of Spain, I asked a local friend what I should do since the waves were flat. He said I should go visit Guernica.
“Why would I go there?” I asked.
“It’s the city depicted in Picasso’s painting,” he said raising both his hands high in the air.
I had no idea what he was talking about. I never took art history at UC Santa Barbara. To tell the truth, all I really cared about as an undergrad was getting “some tasty waves and a cool buzz.”
When I finally saw a print of Picasso’s painting, I buckled at the knees. Something about the look on the horses face captured my attention. This was the first time I had thought about war from the perspective of innocent civilians. I had loved war movies my whole life. From Tora, Tora, Tora to Platoon, I had seen them all. Yet all these films were from the point of view of the soldiers. Like most American boys, I played war as a child, Risk as a teen, and first person war video games as a young adult.
Walking around the Basque countryside near Guernica, I could feel the surprise, dread, shock, and suffering of those innocent villagers who were the first to be bombed from the sky. Suddenly, war didn’t seem so cool anymore.
Later in life, I saw those same expressions of dread, shock, and suffering in the photos of a Japanese mother holding her dying daughter after the bombing of Hiroshima and in the photo of 9 year old Phan Thi Kim Phuc after a napalm attack in Vietnam.
Then in 2001, I felt those feelings myself after the 9/11 attacks. Once again art, this time in the form of spoken word poetry, forced me to empathize with the victims of senseless violence. Listening to Suheir Hammad I started to realize that the real enemy is not a Muslim, a Nazi, a Red Chinese, or even a terrorist. The real enemy is hatred. The real enemy is war.
“Affirm life, Affirm life.”
A friend of mine has a three-types-of-people saying: “Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say ‘What happened?'” I think about the confusion in the eyes of those who have been innocent victims of warfare and I know I have to be someone who makes things happen. I never want my wife, my sons, or anyone, for that matter, to ask in confusion “what happened?” as they hold the hands of the dying.
Bloggers for Peace is my way of making things happen. If I could paint like Picasso, I would create a new Guernica. If I could write like Suheir Hammad, I would spit my poetry of peace on every street corner. Instead, I blog, but my intentions are the same:
“Affirm life. Affirm life.”
Thank you for reading, sharing, and/or smiling.
How do you “affirm life”? Please share.
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