As I write this, details are still being sorted out about a new round of terrorist attacks in London, or at least it seems like terrorists – things are still very sketchy. More people are dead. More nothingness, signifying nothing. Absolutely nothing being proved, achieved, or affected in any way, beyond the ruination of individual lives. I can’t write another indignant post like my prior “Manchester”, I just don’t have it in me, and anyway it does no good. Nothing does any good.
Instead I offer up this song I first heard back in the mid 1980s, a favourite, by an Irish singer named Paul Brady, of whom I know almost nothing at all. Looking him up on Google, he’s apparently well-regarded and a figure of some significance in the circles within which he travels and plays, but all I know of him is this one mournful song, The Island, which I first saw him play on MuchMusic in my flat above the greasy spoon on the corner of Bleecker and Carleton.
It’s anti-war, and also, I think, anti-terrorist. There seem to be clear references to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and allusions to the sheer futility of inflicting violence against the innocent as a way to effect political change. It’s very sad, and terribly weary, and wise, and heartbroken, and yes, as I’ve commented before in my essays on song, there’s nothing all that impressive and edifying about offering up the thoroughly unremarkable insight that war and killing is bad. Who doesn’t know that? Yet the war and killing goes on, and we still seem to need the remedial math; we still seem not to really understand, or far worse, not really to care so long as it’s somebody else.
I’m a realist. Indeed, most truly humane and gentle folk would think of me as a nasty hard-ass. I’m the last guy to tell you that anyone can be safe who doesn’t have on staff a cadre of vicious killers trained and ready to tear the living guts out of anybody who would do him harm. In this shitty world, that’s just table stakes, and if you feel differently, then to me, you’re just a fool, maybe a loveable, gentle fool, maybe the sort of harmless, decent fool I’d detail my trained cadre of ruthless killers to protect, but you’re still just a fool.
This is a terrible world that only respects power, where very often the only thing the foe understands is bricks and baseball bats.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t try to create safe spaces. It doesn’t exclude the idea that while I may need my frothing, barking, homicidal Doberman, it can’t be that within that attack dog’s sphere of protection will exist a place where the lop-eared bunny chews his lettuce, safe and sound. It especially doesn’t mean that the teeth of my attack dog are the only thing I should ever have to show you, the only way forward, the only means of persuasion. I need to be safe, sure, and that’s what my terrifying pet carnivore is here to ensure, but shit, it’s so tiring, so empty, so useless, if that’s the only thing we have to say to each other, isn’t it?
They may not know it, or they may not care, or they may actually relish it for all I know, but soon, now, the ones who just murdered the innocents in London will become acquainted with our Doberman, and his terrible fangs. We will exact our retribution, and after the blood and screams, after their throats are torn out, nothing will have changed. There will be a pause, until the next time. There’s grim satisfaction in imagining our attack dogs ripping out the windpipes of the intruding murderers, but really, it’s just empty. Empty.
The way it seems, just now, I need that dog. Yet I’d very much prefer it if, instead, they could just tell me what they want, and I could reflect upon whether there was some way I could give it to them and still sleep at night. Perhaps I’ve behaved in ways that have helped spawn this madness? Perhaps there’s a better way to put an end to this? Maybe I can be strong yet accommodating at the same time? Is there a way out of this cave in which neither of us has to kill the other?
Maybe they’ve already run that scenario. Maybe they know that everything they want runs so counter to every cherished value I clutch tight to my heart, that it just has to be this way, in which case, I’m the one being foolish now. I’ve studied these things for decades, understand, I have graduate degrees in this shit, yet still I’m just as much in the dark as any average adolescent. All I can possibly know, at this point, is the simplest thing that any moron must know. It can’t help to simply make other innocent people suffer and die. Not when we do it, not when they do it. It can’t help. I wish I had more. I wish I had something brilliant to offer.
Let me stress: there is no moral equivalence here, in my view. Let me also stress: if you live somewhere in which a guy with whom you’re acquainted is likely to get blasted clean out of his sandals by an orbiting, pilotless thing named Reaper, using a weapon first devised to defeat Soviet armour, you may have a different view of the rights and wrongs of the bigger geopolitical picture. That doesn’t make you right, necessarily, but it doesn’t make you crazed and utterly unreasonable either, not necessarily. Maybe, sometimes, it just makes you hurt and afraid and angry. Like I am.
Look at me. I guess I wrote another indignant post after all.
But hey, don’t listen to me. This wasn’t meant to be no sad song.