Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.
– Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Reference.
Saturday’s come and Saturday’s gone – November the 14th 2015 – marking the 75th anniversary of an event we Coventarians call the Blitz; an exercise in destruction that the Nazi’s had named the Moonlight Sonata, a more elegant title, I suppose, full of grandeur and poise.
Coventry’s Moonlight Sonata is often touted as one of the most devastating air-raids of the entire Second World War. This I find an unfortunate indictment of our species: how sad it is to live in a world where a life is reduced to a simple statistic to be catalogued and filed, only wheeled out when underlining just how truly terrible we are to one another.
Imagine having to tally our species’ frequent and bloody attempts at righteous eradication:
Coventry? Well, it had been no Tokyo, not by any stretch of the imagination, and it had certainly been no Hamburg. Berlin got it a lot worse, oh, and we mustn’t forget London either! Or Swinoujscie, of course, Pforzheim and Darmstadt
and so on.
We may well have fought on the beaches, at Omaha and Sword and Juno, and fought on the landing grounds of Arnhem. We may well have fought on the fields of Borodino, the streets of Villers-Bocage and the bloody slopes of Crucifix Hill. But it was as we dropped our high explosives and our incendiaries and our oil bombs where we, the Homo sapiens sapiens, really put the pedal to the technological metal in terms of murdering one another in a spectacular and fiery fashion. Some three hundred thousand years after the Schöningen Spears marked the beginning of our perpetual arms race, we finally kicked it up a notch.
Coventry, with her broken talismans and feverish dreams, would never be the same again; dolefully haunted by the trace of dreadful melody lurking just out of reach. Jean Taylor would reminisce of a dog she had seen running down the street with a child’s arm in its mouth whilst walking to school the morning following the bombing, lines of bodies stretched out on blankets lying upon the ground as the city’s sandstone brickwork glowed red.
The horrific events in Paris and Beirut on November the 13th and in Bamako on November the 20th stand as a horrible reminder of just how little we have changed in the intervening years. Savagery still pollutes the primal recesses of our minds as much as we might and deny it. Our manic and insatiable lust for that ancient stench of blood and death perseveres, blighting the lives of oh so many, from Syria to Libya, Pakistan to Nigeria, Iraq to Eritrea, from Afghanistan to Kenya to Sudan and to Palestine. We are immersed, neck-deep, in the piceous sludge of some inexorable and endemic insanity we cannot seem to live without, some wraithlike yearning for a wild fire better left behind.
It has always been the innocent left trampled by the deranged ideology of a broken few, lashed to a merry-go-round both gelastic and putrid. It has always the innocent whom succumb to the anguish and the horror and the pain doled out in veneration of some abortive and senseless crusade as the corrupted Führer and the fake Caliph hole up in a bunker sight unseen.
It often seems we lack the understanding or the empathy to truly build a coherent policy needed in order to stem this self-perpetuating tide of hated and fear. We will retreat instead to the now tired and discordant trope of GOOD vs. EVIL by demonising an entire religion or an entire people due to the vile actions of a crazed few thousand.
Sit back and watch the spurious and the nonsensical uncoil like serpentine wildfire across our crowded social media, as it so often will in times of confusion and crisis. Myopic demands to CLOSE OUR BORDERS echo across the infobahn like a crippled amplifier. The fiendish and the foolish are on the march again, demanding we KICK THEM ALL OUT (whomever this THEM may be), with no hint of rationalisation – or coherency – as to what exactly this might actually entail.
(You can do little more than stand back and admire the mad menagerie of preposterous accusation and deluded philosophy posited as the truth, the whole truth and nothing fucking but; abhorrent declarations smelt a mile away, such is the stench of the idiocy, rolling in like some muddled tide of shit.)
I was unfortunate enough to catch sight of a Britain First meme on my Facebook feed the other day. It bristled there like an unexploded bomb on a crowded beach, spewing something to the effect of all those who follow Islam have the potential to be a terrorist! It described how each Muslim man and woman and child was a pressure cooker waiting to explode, a latent disciple of Al Qaeda or Daesh ready to take up arms at any moment. It was an accusation as ridiculous and shameful as claiming that every Christian is a closeted constituent of the KKK and every atheist is fated become the next Joseph Stalin, a bizarre proposition muddled by fear and stupidity; a poor excuse for the truth.
But when the world seems set to burn, we will often kick out. You may have spotted those who have rebuked our own government and their crude, brutish and often incoherent foreign policies. They laid the blame at the table of our masters (already crowded with the Louis Roederer champagne, the maple glazed Gressingham duck with Cranberry Mary sauce, savoury wild mushroom bread and butter pudding and parsnip cream and a whole host of severed pig heads) as if it had been solely down to the barbaric actions of our own regime which lead directly to the barbarity inflicted by the others, whitewashing a complex and deep-rooted situation which has been in existence for centuries.
But, of course, I have no answers. Has that not become clear yet? As far as I can tell, we’re all just pissing in the wind.
I lived with the Coventry Blitz for around three months or so whilst writing A Moonlight Sonata, my attempt at finding some through-line to help explain exactly why what had happened had happened.
It was a struggle.
I had used tales of Jung’s prophetic dreams and Erich Ludendorff’s worship of the Norse God Odin to provide a least a hint of magic and wonder to the tale, an event almost too harrowing and heartbreaking to bear. I had endeavoured to at least attempt to understand those who could have committed such monstrous deeds, those who could order an entire city to be set alight or those who could live with committing such a an act. I ventured to comprehend the reasoning by the retaliatory firebombing of poor Dresden, a vicious onslaught which had claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives.
I tried and tried and tried.
Who were these people who had found it all so easy to separate the heroes from the villains? I spent three months writing and researching the horrors we humans so monotonously inflict upon one another, three months of splashing around in the blackness of our depravity, and Good and Evil had seemed even more of a sham.
I came away with no answers, of course, because there had been none to find. Reality is anarchy, all too big and all too complex. You cannot, no matter how hard you might try, bring sense to what is essentially senseless.
Chaos does indeed reign.
One of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, once described our species as terrible animals during an interview with Jon Stewart, a line that always stuck with me, I think that the Earth’s immune system is trying to get rid of us, as well it should. It was on Friday the 13th, 2015, as Paris and Beirut were being torn asunder in veneration of another abortive and senseless crusade, when I recalled those words. I had been watching the unfolding news; watching as the lives of oh so many became cold, hard statistics. I watched that manic and insatiable lust for blood and death eat away at those cities like a cancer.
It had been impossible to disagree.
We were terrible animals.
But then, on the days that followed, an attempt at solidarity for the victims began to materialise. It had not been absolute, of course, nothing ever is. Some had complained that this sudden rush of concern for our fellow man had been little more than a fad, the sheeple running in with their measly two cents. Others quickly resorted to guilt shaming and name calling, macro to micro, as people are so often wont to do. But it did not matter. People had sought to bring some small measure of light to the bleak and immeasurable darkness, a glimmer of hope in the maw of the endless void. Most had simply used the integrated multi-coloured filter as a small show of unity, a declaration of how sad and pointless the horror had proven to be. Could that not, just once, be enough?
This had not been about a race or a religion or the vast invisible borders which keep us all apart. It had been about people being people, a small glimmer of light in the dark.
READING: Crécy, by Warren Ellis.