Poet defies the god of warBy Donald D. Kaufman
On my desk is War Is a God That Demands Human Sacrifice by Muriel Stackley, published by Wordsworth, Newton, Kan., 2009, $12.
In the preface to this book of poems, Muriel Stackley admits powerful motives drive humans to be warriors. Nevertheless, she says, we must “paint our Guernicas.”
Pablo Picasso painted his in 1937, the year Stackley was born. On market day, April 26, German and Italian bombers obliterated the town of Guernica, Spain, in three-and-a-quarter hours. Civilian shoppers were caught in the inferno. Picasso’s famous painting depicts the tragedy.
Aware of our civilization’s capacity to end life on Earth, the author dedicates this modest volume to “those silenced by war,” to “those who breathe no more.”
One might wonder why two Kansas artists, Stackley and illustrator Robert Joy, chose to focus their attention on the city-states of Greece, the Crusades, Chief Tecumseh in the War of 1812, the dismembered at Gettysburg and the perpetual U.S. wars. Is there a connection? Could awareness of a connection make a difference?
Stackley, a former editor of The Mennonite, clarifies the “blood spill” of war with candor and insight. Her verse and Joy’s visual art evoke both outrage at war and compassion for its victims. They lament the folly of war while creating a climate of hope.
In his foreword, Baptist theologian and ethicist Glen Harold Stassen notes that governments do not want us to see the body bags or to know that far greater numbers of civilians than soldiers die in war. Stackley jolts the reader with the estimate that 80 to 90 percent of war casualties are civilians. (Research by the author Wendell Berry revealed that 150,000 residents were killed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 as both armies destroyed everything standing.) If we could stomach seeing it, such human sacrifice would undoubtedly increase our opposition to war.
Why did Stackley write these intensely heart-moving poems? She declares: “Surely we have the intellectual and monetary resources to get along on this planet. Surely we can politically reward those elected officials who serve their constituencies. Surely we can shame those elected officials who line their pockets at the expense of their people… . Surely we can use our taxes for the good of humanity.”
The time is long past to stop feeding the god of war. Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder once wrote: “War is a cult, a form of worship: Mars is a god, functionally defined as one by the fact that he demands human sacrifice.”
Sacrifice is a quality humans venerate. The important thing is to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. We praise soldiers for bravery de-spite the millions killed. To what end?
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