World weary in a weary world

The faraway fight over oil and religion blights all our futures

Like many people likely to read these words, I am troubled every day by the events in the Middle East. Like many people likely to read these words, I feel utterly powerless as these events unfold. Like everyone likely to read these words, my entire life has been lived under the clouds of this conflict, clouds that sometimes scatter, sometimes darken, but never leave the sky. The ongoing hatred and carnage makes the human race seem immutably stupid and wicked and impaired by allegiances to religious differences that would be impossible to explain to extraterrestrials, should extraterrestrials deign to visit a planet inhabited by such a dangerous and imbecilic species, a species capable of detonating big explosives in areas where their children are at play.

And, like many people likely to read these words, I find my opinion buffeted by events, by the words of other people as troubled and as frustrated as I, that this cavalcade of killing can’t be made to stop, can’t be made to go away. Like many people likely to read these words, I am sometimes drawn into the anger against first one side and then the other, and then I am torn and confused by the politics, the allegiances, the varying accounts of the history of the region, and the competing rights and claims of the warring peoples. I have tried at times to put the matter aside, as others surely have done too, attempting to ignore the omnipresent news stories about conflict in the Middle East, flipping past articles in thousands of newspapers and magazines in favor of more manageable stories, events that could be turned into narratives with some hope for resolution. Like many other people, I utter idle expletives under my breath—crude little odes of frustration—directed at the incompetence, the venality, the pride and the folly of the world’s leaders whose inability to find a formula for peace continues into yet another generation.

And, though these events unfold far from where I go about my life, like everyone else on the planet, my entire life has been shaped by those events far away. Forces beyond my sphere, and much beyond my ken, determine how much money I pay for the gasoline that has allowed me to get to the places where I do my work or my shopping, and the cost of that gasoline has helped set the price of everything else I ever needed. Beyond that, my view of the nature of human life has been shriveled by the pettiness of this dispute, the squabbling of babes in a vast sandbox, egged on by other children on the edges of that sandbox who supply them weapons of mass destruction with which to play.

If the world could be compared to a human body, the Middle East would surely be the heart. Flowing from that heart is the oil that thrums through all the arteries of commerce and culture, keeping the organism alive and, ironically, threatening it at the same time, because the blood is bad and the heart is dark and riddled with disease. And the disease spreads outward to the other organs. The brain is the first to die, but the disease spreads to the very corpuscles and cells and atoms of the body until all is sickness and despair. Meanwhile, the ice caps melt, and the temperatures rise, and leaders rush from place to place to hold meetings that yield nothing. And then the nightly news comes to us with a musical background to accompany pictures of ordinary people whose limbs are severed or whose ears bleed because of concussive shock. Rubble becomes the monument commemorating our time.

Would peace descend if all the Jews on the planet were airlifted en masse to Idaho on the first of Never? Would the internecine warfare between all these Semitic peoples come to an end if Israel ceased to exist tomorrow morning? Would Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis embrace in a paroxysm of love and understanding if only the evil Jews were plucked from their midst? Would Palestinians stream back to Palestine to build a golden state where all were welcome and tolerance for differences was the order of the day? Would oil wealth spread throughout the Middle East, eradicating poverty and advancing the civilization there? If the United States were more even-handed in its policies, would things suddenly clear up and the flow of oil be assured, and the flow of blood cease? Would terrorism cease around the globe if … if what? Terrorism seems to run on its own energy now, and the concessions that would make it stop evade the imagination of even the people who use acts of terror to achieve aims they no longer can quite identify.

Like most of the people who might read these words, nothing I say, think or feel about any of this matters in the slightest. Nothing I say, think or feel on this subject is of any measurable consequence and, like most of the people who might read these words and even those who never will, the sense of impotence is a daily weight on the spirit. The warfare blights all our futures, diverting money and energy from a host of things that need our attention now, from the environment to the education of our children. But blowing things up always has been easier for our kind than building things, and so the rubble piles ever higher, and the death tolls mount, and the children cry on the nightly news. Meanwhile, the people whose words, thoughts, and feelings might have power to change things lack the will, the wit or the wherewithal to implement those changes.

And so we sit and spin on a diseased globe, at war with our brothers, our sisters and our very selves, in the only home we will ever know.