Pathetic

     When I taught high school English, a student who I never thought would amount to much was arrested on Christmas Eve for breaking into a house to steal a teddy bear. He stole it as a Christmas present for his own kid. Nathan, as we will call him, had the no brains to make his getaway by hitch-hiking away from the house he had burglarized.
     Another student, whom we shall Luther, never did anything in my English class. He was not a behavior problem; he was a smiley guy; he just never did a goddamn thing. Took his Fs with a smile. He was not mentally deficient; he just may have been the laziest kid in the history of the world.
     One day I told him, “Luther, you are going to do this assignment. You are not going to sit here and do nothing. I don’t care what you write, but you are going to write something for me.”
     So Luther set to work. More than a quarter of a century later, I remember his essay word for word. Here it is: “Last weekend my mom told me to feed the cat. So I put it in a bag and took it outside and shot it about ten times.”
     That was it.
     These stories are pathetic. They arouse emotion – a contemptuous pity – but they leave us with no outlet for the emotion.
     We do not know if Nathan and Luther are worthy of our emotions at all. We do not know whether they should be pitied or condemned, or both, or neither, or something else.
     Nathan, after all, was trying to be a good dad. He wanted to give his son a Christmas present.
Luther, after all, finally did an English assignment. Should I have busted his chops when, after months of nothing, he finally produced something?
     Both of these stories – true stories – bring us to a point from which it is impossible to escape with any sort of satisfaction: emotional, intellectual, or narrative. The stories are not quite pointless, but there seems to be no point to them either. They are just sad stories about humans.
     There is simply no good end for either of these stories.
     We are in a similar situation today.
     “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”
     Karl von Clausewitz wrote that 175 years ago.
     Here is another statement about war: “The enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive. The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: He has to drag out the war in order to win it, but does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long, drawn-out war.”
     Vo Nguyen Giap wrote that when he was still fighting France – before the United States had even entered the Vietnam War.
     No one in the United States, or in any country, wants to lose a war. Everyone wants to win. Yet no one today can say what will be required for the United States to be able to say that we have won this one, or, if we are able to say that, what it is that we may win.
     This war is as senseless as the war that began 28 years ago between Iran and Iraq, a war that killed 1 million people and accomplished nothing. In “Republic of Fear,” Kanan Makiya wrote that one reason that war was senseless was because it was created by the mere will of two men: Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini. Each of those men was, in a real sense, the only free man in his country. Neither man knew much, if anything, about the world beyond his circle of sycophants; neither man brooked dissent; the war continued, for no real reason, merely because these men decided it would.
     The United States is in a war very much like that today.
     That’s pathetic.
     There is simply no good end to this story.

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