Irony Is


I grew up anti-war, anti-nationalist and anti-militarist, before ending up in this place, a resident of one of the “most heavily militarized spots on Earth.” I’ve had ten years of trying to understand it. I still have more questions than answers. For example, why doesn’t it bother me more than it does? The answer to that one is a little disturbing, because it looks related to the degree to which the description of this place is true. A frontal ground assault anywhere along this line will meet stiff resistance. Attack by air or water will go no better. The most likely approach the cousins will choose is to hang back and lob ordnance, including poison gas and possibly biological agents as well. Whatever they do, it will be ugly. I don’t think they’ll do it.

What does it look like when I go out in it? I can drive 30 km in any direction but for a segment of arc from northwest to southwest, and when I do, I will encounter an installation for one military purpose or another every kilometer or two. I have no doubt that, in doing so, I pass a few unmarked ones as well. Those ones are the nastiest, I’m sure.

That arc isn’t all real estate, and it is not quite so infested with firepower. A trip in that direction, and I’ve made many on my bicycle, ends short 10-20 km away. I could ride into the Han River, but for the triple row of concertina-topped chain link fence rows, monitored from multiple posts, and sowed with sentry posts, one every few hundred meters. I’m sure they haven’t overlooked landmines in the security plan, either. Beyond it, just there on the horizon, lies North Korea. I trust next to nothing I think I know about it, for nothing is what I’ve seen and heard directly. In all my reading, only one or two “experts” convince me of their authority.

I do know that the northern cousins lose their grip on the handle every year or two and launch against a peaceful target suddenly, if not unexpectedly, at least not anymore. They invite tourists to stay at hotels that are joint ventures with the South Korean oligarchs, custom built to yield desperately sought-after foreign exchange in ways that don’t include counterfeiting, smuggling, kidnapping and other crowd-pleasing schemes, and then put their sentries under orders that permits, if not orders, them to shoot one, a simple housewife in this case, who strays beyond a poorly marked boundary in early morning fog. They rain artillery shells on offshore fishing villages, killing several civilians. They condemn any slight by word or deed from the outside world, while simultaneously building nuclear weapons capability and starving their poorest citizens. The South Koreans and Americans reward them with free rice and flour.

So, how tenable is my loathing of things martial, when the reality of my position, my place, is that, if north and south opt to finally go for broke with their tens of thousands of pieces of ordnance and the rest of it? Curiously enough, such an exchange will reach its apex somewhere near a perpendicular from this spot, on their speedy trajectory between Seoul and Pyeongyang. If I’m lucky, there will be wind enough, and from the right direction to disperse the gas away from me long enough for me to Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and Cowbird my friends and family goodbye. Then may all the militarists, nationalists and warmongers breathe a sigh of relief, because if I could have heaped all that destructive potential on their heads and detonated it all at once, I surely would have.

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One response to “Irony Is

  1. Militarism seems universally to grow out of failure, like a toxic fungus growing on feces — an inadequate metaphor, really. When my didiot brother in law claimed enthusiasm for the (then) prospective Iraq war, because only by doing stupid things that get large numbers of people killed and maimed can we guarantee the safety of American businesses, and because it was a strategic focus in the war on terrorism, I gave up on him as a human being. But, as my sister explained to me, he just didn’t know.

    He grew up in Berkeley, surrounded by the shattered and fucked up veterans of our past wars, but for him they were just part of the landscape. He resented them, along with the hippies and other local color. I was probably one of those hippies, back then, who wandered past his alienated, Heinlein-and-Ayn-Rand educated sneer.

    Not many militarists have any experience of modern war. America has been the reserve engine of militarism worldwide, precisely because none of our wars since the Civil War were fought here, on our own ground. The Balkans have had three wars since then, plus enough skirmishes and atrocities to count for a fourth. And all of these wars since the first one were largely funded by Americans of Balkan extraction, who have little or no experience of war themselves, but long for revenge the way a fourteen-year-old boy longs for sex.

    Because of this, I am not among the optimists who think, with every year that passes, that a second and more horrible Korean War is less likely than the year before. My understanding of the laws of militarism is that the longer the peace, the more inevitable war becomes.

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