Thursday, August 9, 2012


Today is August 9. It was a busy day in history, filled with good things and bad. Jerry Garcia passed away on this date in 1995. Sam Elliott was born in this day 68 years ago.

In 1936 Jesse Owens anchored the USA men's relay team and won his fourth gold of the Olympics, held in Munich in front of Adolph Hitler. Owens outclassed every "Aryan" the Germans could put up in the four events, and he was a Black man. Controversy might follow him after the Games, but for one brief mnoment Owens was America's shining star.

In 1945, on this date, the US dropped a second atom bomb on the Japanese at Nagasaki, killing at least 70,000 people in a single blow. It remains the most devastating single act of war ever committed. Whether the bomb was dropped to shorten the war -- which it did accomplish -- or to show the Russians the power we had at our disposal as we arranged the peace -- which seemed to make the Russians rush all the harder to get their own bomb -- is still a matter of debate. Ask any GI preparing to invade the main island of Japan, and he has no doubt. Regardless, it ushered in the nuclear age in brutal form and remains the last time such a weapon has been used in combat.

Japan surrendered five days later.

I think of anniversaries when they come up. Yesterday marked the fourth year since Sheri left us. On the 6th -- Hiroshima Day -- ten years ago Diane's mother passed. A week earlier in the same year a good friend, Jim, died suddenly. I remember them, I remember them all and I remember mostly the times they made me smile, or laugh, or feel loved.

The Dutch seem to have as much reverence for the day someone died as for the day they were born, calling it their cross-over day. It is the day everything changes for those who were left behind, and they remember it fiercely -- an anniversary of remembrance. It is a sad moment, but easier with each passing year, to find joy in the life that we were privileged to share.

But when I think about war and war anniversaries, I cringe, duck, hide, cry. We watched the last episode of Ken Burns' "The War" last evening, seeing grown men so many years later moved to tears by the nature of human cruelty. They could not even be comforted by the thought that such things will never happen again -- because they did, and they do, and anniversaries like those that mark battles won and lost stick in my throat. War is obsolete, and yet war happens. All the time.

I once thought we had outgrown war, or were finally about to outgrow it, when I was in the thick of protests against the war in Vietnam. Then I realized that every generation has its own version of "The War." Some have colorful names, others simple ones, but all include "war" in the title. I think of the children killed, the women violated, the young men slaughtered. I think of the symphonies and novels that will never be published, read or heard. The inventions that might have helped mankind that lie rotting inside a crushed skull.

I think of the utter irony of war: better ways to kill lie buried with the dead.

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