A Week in Reflection

bb-wirThere was a time, when I was much younger, when I was afraid to fly.

No more.

I’m not sure why the change, but since a few decades ago, no longer do I sit white-knuckled in the belly of those big mechanical birds as they defy gravity. Perhaps it’s something to do with my attitude to death. I’m no nihilist, but I don’t necessarily view death in a negative light. My death, that is. The death of others is quite another matter.

The morning after MH17 was shot down, I flew long-haul. I thought not of plane crashes but of the shocking consequences of war, its terrible futility and the immense trauma and devastation that it invariably causes to human lives; of those people left behind, forever suffering the reality of the obliteration of their loved ones. And how this suffering so often leads to an ongoing cycle of violence.

In my hotel room, on the BBC News channel, night after night, images of the crash site alternated with sickening images of Gaza. How to make sense of the human that strolls casually amongst the mutilated dead, picking through aircraft wreckage and strewn personal belongings as if he were evaluating fruit at the local market. And of the human that bombs sleeping children as if crop-spraying pests. How do we get to this?

A week later, on my way to Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport for my flight home, my hosts, who insisted on accompanying me in the taxi to the airport, chatted with the taxi-driver in Vietnamese. I heard the word “Malaysia” and asked if they were talking about plane crashes. They were. And they expressed their alarm that there had been three in one week. I thanked them for their tact, and we all laughed.

Once boarded, I started reading The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, and thoughts of the taxi conversation were forgotten as the book caused me to reflect on how human memory and the subconscious mind work both for and against us in life: the need for revenge versus the need for peace; how we dehumanize “the other side” to make ourselves feel better about what we do and about humanity as a whole; and how memories play a role in our undoing.

Eventually I slept but was bedeviled by catastrophic dreams – we ditched in the South China Sea, a flotilla of boats waiting to rescue us; we made an emergency landing in a busy city street, the fuel-laden left wing barely missing an advertising bollard; I rescued long-dead loved ones from a burning wreckage in a field of sunflowers..
.. the subconscious mind doing its best to exert control over that over which we have little.

Despite our best efforts, accidents happen; death happens.

But war does not just happen; it is made by humans, the likes of you and me.




27 thoughts on “A Week in Reflection

  1. This is a very moving piece and I ask myself the same questions.

    When we visited the Killing Fields and S21 in Cambodia a few years ago, our guide told us that former Khmer Rouge soldiers (most of whom were only 13 or 14 at the time of the massacres) and their families are not shunned as it is felt that to do so would be to create another generation of hatred and bring about a repeat of the genocide. I think many countries could learn from that.

  2. I made something like your point, bb, in a comment on another blog. Not so carefully and intelligently thought out, though.
    Throughout history man has sought war as a way to facilitate the desire for power, and I cannot think but that such desire can never been quenched; but there is also the other side of that coin – the revenge.
    The solution must be as H suggests – that it remains to us to prevent them both by dint of stopping the endless cycle. The Asian mind can accommodate that kind of thinking; but I seriously doubt if the western or middle eastern mind can.

    • Yes, the revenge aspect seems to be the fuel of it, M-R. I think it takes an evolved mind, not necessarily an educated one, to consciously choose a different path. Perhaps, as you say, to a large degree, the ability to look beyond revenge is cultural, underpinned by religious or other cultural philosophies. But it can take just one person to show the way.

  3. Senseless killings make
    no sense ~ logic stalls when faced
    with insanity

    When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
    ~ Jimi Hendrix

    • So much for progress – we just build bigger bombs and machines that enable us to strike at a distance without getting our hands dirty. Thanks, Charles.

  4. You have become philosophical, or you have lost a lively imagination? 🙂
    War feeds upon itself. The longer it goes on, the more ‘revenge’ justification it gives to both sides for continuing it. The unanswerable question for some of them, though, is: Should one submit to aggression, or retaliate?

  5. Always have been, Col. Just rarely put it down in prose unless for a uni essay. 😜 And doubt I will ever lose my imagination – the monsters under the bed have seen to that. 😉

    Those of us that perpetuate the cycle give into the basic instinct of rage.

  6. Very well said.
    I’ve spent a big chunk of the past 3 weeks reliving the horrors of WWII in my travels through Germany and Poland. While I would like to believe that we have learned from this horrible time, events in the Ukraine and Gaza and numerous other hotspots around the world convince us that we haven’t learned very much at all.

  7. There’s a lot to chew on here, BB. I ponder our need for war quite a bit. It’s so deeply ingrained, it must at one time have had a survival function. One tribe with limited resources – food and shelter – making sure “the other” could not take away what was so critical. We see this in our animal predator communities. Then war evolved into entertainment of a kind. Now I don’t know what it is. When hate, rage, and a preference for death over reasonable compromise rule the day, we are in deep do-do. What disturbing dreams to have while flying, or any other time — oh, my! And I love the Kristof article. He wrote the goose piece I may have sent you awhile back.

    We went backpacking in Yellowstone this summer. Yes, storms and oh, the mosquitoes. But a completely changed sense of time when one does not have to rush out before dark. I’m addicted now.

    Sweeter dreams, my friend.

    • Yellowstone is a haven from the madness, mosquitoes and all, Monica. How wonderful. Being out and about in the natural world brings a rare kind of peace.

  8. A beautifully thoughtful travel post and I mean travel post in the sense of writing inspired by the experiences one enjoys whilst travelling … the tactful hosts and cab driver’s conversations 😉
    War … I have attempted to explain the phenomena and weird desire to my young ones numerous times … they don’t get it and neither, really do I. Perhaps if I did, truly believed it could solve something could I instill in them some sense of the nationalistic or religious fervor required of such belief.

    ps … In other news … my domain lushpupimages.com (to which your blogroll currently points) is about to expire soonly and I’ve moved everything over to geoffreydunn.com.au . Everything works now because I have a series of 301 redirects pointing to the new site but when the original site is switched off … well, the redirects are switched off too 🙂


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