The Sun always opens my mind and my heart, but I have never been as inspired as I was by Leslee Goodman’s interview with Paul Chappell [“Fighting with Another Purpose,” April 2011]. My father graduated from West Point in 1953, and were he alive today, he would have signed up on the spot to “wage peace” with Chappell. I am spreading the word about him. Thank you for bringing his work to light.
I didn’t renew my trial subscription when the reminder came in the mail, but I just sent in the one-year subscription card that came with the April issue. Why?
The quotations about war on the April 2011 Sunbeams page grabbed me with their pungency, wisdom, and balance. Then I read the Dog-Eared Page excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, with its backwards-movie images of World War II bombers flying over Europe, taking bombs back into their bellies, and German fighter planes sucking bullets out of the bombers and their crews. What a beautiful, healing reversal of the madness of war.
In the interview I learned about veteran Paul Chappell’s conversion from soldier to peace activist. That was the clincher. How could I not continue to read and think and write and act with all your other readers, who believe in and hope for the best, not the worst, that the human race is capable of?
I grew up on a farm in central Kansas in the 1950s and ’60s. At my two-room country school we were taught that our best defense in a nuclear attack was to crouch under our desks with our hands over our heads. Near my family’s farm was a bombing range where fighter jets and B-47s did practice runs. As I plowed the north forty I would watch the planes maneuver and think of how futile hiding beneath a desk would be in a real war. Humankind had become the angel of death. I went from feeling awe at what we could do to feeling the importance of restraining ourselves and evolving beyond greed and ego.
Paul Chappell is right: the move from being Americans to becoming citizens of the world is essential to our survival. As a society we must give up the bravado of adolescence and take on the wisdom of adulthood. If self-absorption gives way to compassion, anything is possible.
The Bush years numbed us into inactivity, but there are millions of us out there who know in our hearts the futility of war. Chappell calls to us to once again assume our responsibilities as humane beings.
The interview with Paul Chappell is electrifying. Here is someone with military experience telling us eloquently and decisively that we have gotten it wrong. It made me want to pick up a placard and take to the streets to decry the stupidity and savagery of war. Fortunately for me I live in Canada, where most of my neighbors share my distaste for armed conflict.
Chappell should be running the U.S. military machine instead of big businesses, lobbyists, and their political cronies, all of whom fill their pockets at the expense of innocents. History will look at our track record with revulsion.
I find Paul Chappell’s characterization of war true and insightful on all points but one: the role of the soldier. Soldiers are not trained to protect, although that angle is an effective recruitment-propaganda strategy. They are trained to kill.
Many sources claim that for every combatant killed, at least ten noncombatants die. The British medical journal The Lancet puts the ratio at more like a hundred to one. Far from being the noble warrior Chappell describes, a soldier is someone responsible for slaughter. Should we honor this?
Paul Chappell responds:
Neal Herr is right: one reason we must end war is because, since World War II, the majority of people killed in wars have been civilians. But if we want to stop such tragedy, we must not only criticize but also offer a better vision of how things could be.
I believe the purpose of the American military should be to protect the American people. It upsets me to see soldiers deployed to benefit the economic interests of corporations and the wealthy few. One of the best ways to protect Americans in the twenty-first century would be for the military to provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid around the world, rather than occupying other nations and waging wars that kill civilians.
Some might ask, Why not eliminate the military altogether? But unemployment in America is already high, and it would be much higher if the military were disbanded. Transforming the military into a relief-and-aid organization wouldn’t threaten the livelihood of our troops and their families and would be a more practical strategy for protecting the American people. General MacArthur said, “The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war,” and the idea of soldiers serving as protectors as part of a new American security strategy is appealing to many.
We must also change American foreign policy. America has some of the most wonderful ideals: freedom, human rights, democracy. But the rest of the world, for the most part, isn’t angry at our ideals. The rest of the world is angry that we don’t live up to our ideals. It is not enough to transform soldiers into protectors. We have to end the hypocrisy of politicians who preach democracy and freedom while supporting dictatorships.
I had to smile at Sy Safransky’s suggestion that the elderly be conscripted for military service [Sy Safransky’s Notebook, April 2011]. I was reminded of my eighty-five-year-old father’s prescription for world peace: reinstitute the draft but require all soldiers to be eighty and older. With their frequent naps, difficulty lifting a weapon, and general hobbling around, not much fighting would get done.
One of my favorite features in The Sun is Sy Safransky’s Notebook. He faces his terrible blank page every morning with all the enthusiasm of a cow being led to slaughter. But, with fear and trembling and a gift for laughing at himself, he fights the good fight again and again. Reading his battle communiqués, I shuck off my own self-doubt for the umpteenth time and believe that I can write a good sentence or two.
In the April 2011 Correspondence Elisheva Kirschenbaum protests a picture in the January issue of a woman with a mastectomy scar. The letter writer says the picture is “rubbing in” a reality that “we all dread.”
I have been an asymmetrical person since June 1997. I decided not to wear a prosthesis because I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that someone as young as I was — forty-two — could have breast cancer and to show that I felt good about myself even with that scar.
The existence of breast cancer is conveniently disguised by reconstructive surgery and prosthetics. I imagine all those women carefully hiding behind that armor, maybe feeling less attractive and alone.
I find the picture in the January issue inspiring. I’m encouraged that there are others besides myself who will bare their scars proudly. I hope that Linnie Krauland, the woman in the picture, knows how beautiful she is.
Cole Thompson’s photos of cancer-survivor Linnie Krauland have touched me deeply. Her face reveals so many feelings: sadness, of course, but also anticipation, surrender, anguish, destruction, and, yes, hope.
Maybe it’s because of my own experience with breast cancer that I am able to recognize all these emotions in the photos. I feel gratitude to Krauland for sharing her vulnerability and to Thompson for capturing it on film.
Thomas H. Mallouk’s childhood experience with singing [Readers Write, March 2011] mirrored my own. As a child I loved to sing, but when I was in second grade, my teacher told me just to move my lips. I was devastated. Singing lost its joy.
In spite of this I went on to play several instruments and to major in music in college. I have taught music to schoolchildren and adults and have also directed church choirs. As a young mother I gathered my three small daughters around me at the piano and played and sang songs with them.
Now I have the privilege of sitting at the piano with my first grandchild and playing those same songs. He doesn’t seem to mind that my voice was once judged less than perfect.
In response to some of the negative correspondence you’ve printed concerning the Dog-Eared Page: I think you shouldn’t change a thing. While it may be true that we can all seek out such works ourselves, it’s obvious that we don’t. If we did, maybe the country wouldn’t be quite so screwy. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who have not read Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, J.D. Salinger, and so many other great authors whose books should be required reading but aren’t.
I have read every issue of The Sun for twenty-four years. Three months ago I let my subscription lapse for economic reasons, but come the first of the month I went to the store to buy it. Last month I decided a new subscription was cheaper than therapy. I’ve renewed. It’s like coming home.