I lead a sheltered life. Apart from visiting Afghanistan once during a war, the closest I come to danger is in sports, and the closest I come to violence is in emailed death threats from war fanatics — and even those pretty much dried up when the president became a Democrat.
When rats moved into the garage, I trapped them one-by-one and let them go in the woods, even as people claimed the same rats were finding their way back over and over again, like local troops getting guns and training from the U.S. Army over and over again so they could “stand up” and attack each other someday.
I’ve been arrested for using the First Amendment numerous times but never had anyone try to use the Second Amendment on me. I’m mostly a vegetarian, considering becoming a vegan.
My weakness is seafood. But I don’t have it all the time. If I ever eat crabs, I buy them already cooked, already red instead of blue, already still instead of moving, already a product like a sausage patty or a granola bar only different.
Recently I found myself at a friend’s house on the bay dropping cages into the water and pulling them out full of crabs. One should accept hospitality. They throw back the females. They throw back the babies. The crabs are plentiful, local, organic, non-processed. If I eat them from a store I’d be a hypocrite not to eat them from the bay.
But these crabs were blue, not red; rapidly moving, not still. We dumped them into a pot and poked them back into it as they tried to crawl out, noisily scraping their claws on the metal. Their intentions were quite clear, and we knowingly frustrated those intentions as we slammed the lid on the pot and set it on the stove for 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes. Long enough for an enhanced interrogation.
And then I ate the crabs.
But the crabs kept crawling around in my head. Surely there are greater evils than hypocrisy, my thoughts said to me.
Peace activist friend Paul Chappell spoke recently to a large group. If you spent the day playing with and getting to know a five-year-old girl, he said, could you take a baseball bat and kill her with it? People shuddered.
Of course you couldn’t, he said. But what if you did it from 10 feet away with a gun, with her head turned, with her blindfolded, as part of a firing squad, or from 100 feet, without getting to know her, or from an airplane high above, or with the remote control for a drone, or by ordering someone to order someone to order someone else to do it, and with an understanding that the girl was part of a subhuman race out to destroy the good people of the world?
When Barack Obama reads through his list of men, women, and children on a Tuesday and picks which ones to have killed, he knows he won’t be doing the killing. When he killed a 16-year-old boy from Colorado named Abdulrahman and his six cousins and friends who were too close to him at the time, was it Obama’s choice or did he pass the buck? Was it John Brennan’s choice? Let’s suppose that one of them was presented with the argument for bestowing the royal thumbs-down.
Were they shown a photograph? Was a portrait of evil painted? Abdulrahman’s father had said seditious things. Perhaps Abdulrahman had once cheated on a biology test. Maybe he hadn’t meant to, but he had seen an answer and then not spoken up — no saint, he.
Had a recording been played of Abdulrahman’s voice? Could his killer, could his ultimate killer whose policy trickled down to the pushing of the button on the videogame that beheaded, burned-to-death, lynched, and drew and quartered him all at once — could that person imagine what his voice would have been like had he been in an oversized metal pot trying to crawl out?
Seven young friends trying to scrape their way out of a pot of steaming water, as Gulliver pokes them back. Their words are articulate, followed by inarticulate screams. Could Obama cook them? And if he couldn’t cook them, how can he conscionably murder them with missiles, along with dozens and hundreds and thousands of others killed with all kinds of weaponry at his order and through his proxies and through the recipients of his weaponry given and sold to other air-conditioned killers?
If forced to do the killing in person, which president or secretary or chairman or senator or congress member would do it? And would we want them to take a stand against hypocrisy out of loyalty to their former self, the distance killer? Or would we want them to awake to the evil of their ways and cease and desist forthwith?
The distancing of killing doesn’t just make it easier. It also hides important considerations behind gleaming temptations. The crabs are dying. You know it. I know it. We all know that we all know it. The oysters are dying. The crabs are dying. The ecosystem is dying. And the fact that they taste good, combined with some vague fatalism about overpopulation and six-of-one-half-a-dozen-bits-of-bullshit doesn’t change what the right thing to do must be.
I am going to eat no more crabs.
The wars are self-defeating, creating enemies, murdering innocents, destroying the environment, eroding civil liberties, savaging self-government, draining resources, mashing away all semblance of morality. And the rush of tasty power that comes from ordering deaths on a check list like a take-out menu doesn’t change any of that.
There has to be a last time we tolerate war.