By Contributor on November 01, 2010

By Terry Tempest Williams

In the town of Blue Hill on the coast of Maine, there is a field of small white flags, one flag placed for each soldier killed in the Iraq War. Since 2003, I have watched this field move from green to white, from spring to winter. This piece of land, located between the First Congregational Church and the public library, belongs to Rufus Wanning, an arborist, known throughout Hancock County as the tree specialist who helped Blue Hill save the American elms that stand in the community like elders. He has given permission to the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center to use his property as a meditation and memorial to those who have given their lives for their country.

Across the field of flags is the American Legion, Duffy-Wescott Post 85. I recall a vigil in 2005. We gathered in support of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Specialist Casey Austin Sheehan, after she had simply asked to have a conversation with our President. Her son died in Iraq on April 4, 2004. At that time, the rising numbers of dead painted in black on a white wooden sign read: 1,873 American soldiers; 26,559 Iraqi civilians.

Five years later in 2010, my eyes turn once again to the field of white flags and the magnificent elms that shade them. The numbers have changed. And so has the emphasis on Iraq. The sign now reads, “In this place, we remember those lives lost in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. 5,618 American soldiers; More than 1.3 million civilians.”

But something else has changed, as well. The care. The vigilance. The field looks unkempt, grown over. Many of the white flags are now stained with rust from the weathered posts. Queen Anne’s lace, astragalus, clover, and various tall grasses have moved in. Crickets and grasshoppers create an incessant dirge. The bench, once beneath the oak, has not only been moved but replaced by a worn wicker one exposed in the sun. The field of flags looks tired like us. Seven years. We are all suffering from war fatigue.

Randolph Bourne wrote, “War is the health of a state.” We are tired of two wars that have shackled us to a military economy at the expense of education, health care, and energy alternatives. It is difficult to rally opposition against the wars when “We, the People,” are suffering from apathy, indifference, or, perhaps, worst of all, cynicism.

There is another war in the Gulf. Not the Persian Gulf but the Gulf of Mexico on our own home ground. We try to remain optimistic. We grasp at the false headlines that falsely give us hope. “On the Surface, Oil Spill in Gulf Is Vanishing Fast.” This headline ran in The New York Times on July 28, Day 100 of the BP Blowout. It was front-page news, above the fold.

The next day, Time magazine asked the question through its headlines, “BP Spill: Has the Damage Been Exaggerated?” In the article, writer Michael Grunwald sided with Rush Limbaugh (who calls it “a leak”), saying, “Limbaugh has a point. . . . It does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage.”

And less than a week later, Carol Browner, White House energy adviser, said, “75 percent of the oil appears to be gone.”

Over.

Done with.

The media message to the American people continues to be “move on.” End of story.

The BP blowout and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are the same story. The plot is oil. The arc of the story moves from our complicity to our complacency.

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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