I don't want to be funny today. Today I am remembering.
When I was a kid, I used to lie in bed and listen to the night sounds. Some soothed me and some frightened me. But one sound terrified me — the sound of an airplane flying overhead. I would worry, and then become convinced, that the plane I was listening to carried a payload similar to the one carried by the Enola Gay over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. I wondered if I should run tell someone that the end was here and that we were about to be engulfed by unthinkable heat and fire. Meanwhile, the plane droned on, a giant, demonic, metal insect.
Of course, such fears were ridiculous. Armageddon did not come in the form of a single prop plane. I lived in the safest place in the world — the lovely suburban town of Armonk, New York, in the most powerful nation on earth. I had nothing to fear.
But my fear wasn't so ill-founded. Eight years ago the unthinkable happened in lower Manhattan, forty miles from where I used to sleep as a boy. The unthinkable happened in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Americans also remember Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; Rwandans, April, 1994; Cambodians, April 17, 1975; German and Austrian Jews, November 9 and 10, 1938. For the Armenians, the date is April 24, 1915.
I can only imagine what it is like for children who live with the very real fear that bombs may go off at any moment, or that people filled with hate will come into their homes to terrorize, maim, and kill. And at some unconscious level we are afraid of the other possibility — that we will awake one day to discover we have become the monster, the one who hates and destroys.
Recently I have been reading The Second World War: A Complete History by Sir Martin Gilbert. In unadorned, compact prose, Gilbert conveys the horror of war for soldiers and civilians alike. I'm not certain what drew me to Gilbert's book this summer, but I am grateful that I was. We need to remember that we can fall into that abyss again; that our first duty is not to allow this to happen.
We go through our days trying to forget that we can be one or the other, a victim or a killer, hoping that nothing too bad will happen in our neck of the woods on our watch — that horror will remain a short segment of the world evening news, and that we will never be the subject of someone else's news.
But our world has become too small to pretend. We are a growing family, and we are running out of room. To quote one of the founders of the glorious, messy experiment that is the United States, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Only it is not us against an empire — it is us against ourselves. If we can claim our better natures and learn to live by them, then maybe the age-old dream — call it utopia, or heaven, or Moksha, or Nirvana, or simply peace — may not be entirely a fantasy.