atheists in foxholes

Katz Bagels was full of foxes today. There was a drop-dead-pretty punk-ass kid, a ringer for John Mayer in the clip for “Your body is a wonderland”, cheekbones up the proverbial wazoo, drinking Diet Coke and grinning adorably at his girlfriend. Then this lovely Japanese girl came in with her boyfriend, who would have been memorable in any other company but who just kinda paled into insignificance beside her.

Sally quoted Maude from Harold & Maude the other day: “Of course I like people. They’re my species.”

Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Lately I’ve been reading hundreds and hundreds of pages about the war to end all peace, which seems to have started some time around 1914 and continued with only brief breaks to this day. It’s disturbing, to say the least, to turn from Buruma’s visit to Auschwitz to Joe Sacco’s visit to Gaza. I think of my friend Eben describing the girls on the beach at Tel Aviv, and I think of the Sydney University dig at Pella in Jordan, and I think of the trip I’d like to make in the footsteps of Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt’s first expedition to buy horses from the Negev tribes, except that their tracks lie across Syria and Northern Iraq. Um. Maybe next year.

Try and make sense of any of this and your brain will bend. Sharon’s fence, for example: I’m not the first (and won’t be the last) to note its striking resemblance to the Berlin Wall, but beyond that purely superficial point, where does the analogy get you? The East Germans built a wall to keep defectors in; the Israelis have built theirs to keep bombers out. Stratfor gloomily wonders whether cutting the Territories off economically will put pressure on Jordan’s government and cause the Hashemites to fall, giving Israel a far more powerful and unfriendly neighbour on its Eastern border. What a joyous prospect that would be, eh?

The best I can do, and it’s pitiful, is to think of the Wall and the Fence as mismatched bookends framing the dangerous illusion of peace I indulged in the 1990s. Learning more about Croatia and Bosnia and Rwanda and the African World War and East Timor and Iraq and Afghanistan puts the lie even to that naive dream. Wired Magazine’s Long Boom never reached far beyond the limits of the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston’s Route 128. People, like wild dogs and rats, apparently need walls and razor-wire and UN-mandated safe areas backed by NATO bombs to prevent them from slaughtering each other en masse. They may be my species, but apparently we’ve got problems.

It’s weird and scary reading this stuff with Claire gurgling and playing with blocks beside me, but I think it’s Claire who gives me the courage to tackle it. More than that, I think being Claire’s mother gives me an obligation to look these things in the face, to think deeply about the world and how fucked-up it is, and to figure out some kind of provisional response, some way of tackling a future that’s clearly going to be much stranger and more frightening than I can at present imagine.

To step back a bit, critical consensus is that Wartime isn’t quite as good as Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. That’s not to disparage Wartime so much, because The Great War is a modern masterpiece. Wartime is still a knockout. This time around it made me incredibly, viscerally angry (What doesn’t? inquires the peanut gallery), to the point where instead of writing the short story I was reading it to try to research, I went and wrote a completely different short story about growing up Christian and the misuse of language and the perversion of the imagination.

This, it seems to me, is close to the root of the problem: the ongoing effort to persuade members of my tribe that we alone possess the divinely mandated secret of eternal life, while your tribes are all hell-bound infidels hell-bent on persecuting us and therefore worthy only of death. Having believed this once, I do appreciate what a comforting fantasy it is. But I no longer subscribe.

So when I was walking back to the office with Katz bagels in hand, thinking these and other thoughts, and a clean-cut Chinese boy thrust a pamphlet at me, saying

“Jesus loves you!”

…I regret to say that I laughed out loud in his face.

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