For next Thanksgiving, some hope for peace

by Rob Tiller

Bald eagles at Jordan Lake

Because of the pandemic, we had an extremely quiet Thanksgiving — leftover pasta, Netflix, and an extra glass of wine.  There were, as always, many things to be grateful for, including the hope that next Thanksgiving we’ll still be here and can do a big happy family gathering.

We’re also thankful that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and company were elected and will soon be taking over the presidency of the United States.  My anxiety level about politics has been falling, and I’m now able to go more than three hours without checking the headlines for a new Trumpian outrage or disaster.

Great blue heron at Jordan Lake

But Covid-19 is still rampant.  So far, the pandemic has killed enough Americans to depopulate a mid-size American city, or to fight a mid-size war.  Joe B has attempted to get and follow qualified scientific advice and model best practices on masking and social distancing, which is a big improvement over what’s his name.  With a true crisis in progress, it isn’t surprising that Joe has declared that we’re at war with the coronavirus.

But here’s a suggestion:  the war metaphor needs to be retired.  We’ve had the war on terror, which has killed many more people than any possible definition of terrorism, with no end in sight.  For generations, we’ve been fighting a war on drugs, which has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and drugs are more popular than ever. We’ve also had wars on cancer, on poverty, and on crime, not to mention continuing culture wars.  In none has there been anything like victory.

Bonaparte’s gulls at Jordan Lake

Our tendency to default to war language suggests a deeper cultural assumption:  that addressing our serious problems usually requires something like intensive violence.  You don’t have to be a full on pacifist to question that.  With a little thought, it’s not hard to see other options, like negotiation or Niebuhrian considered acceptance.  And the horrendous losses in life and treasure from our more recent actual wars (like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan) suggest we should always look for a path of non-violence.

Apropos of Afghanistan, I recommend an op-ed piece this week by Timothy Kudo, a Marine who served in Afghanistan, about coming to grips with our disaster there.  After spending some $6 trillion and with more than half a million people dead, it is difficult to argue we accomplished anything.  There was, of course, valor and sacrifice by honorable soldiers, but to what end?

Hooded mergansers at Shelley Lake

The new Biden administration will have plenty of crises to address, including Covid-19 and getting our remaining troops out of Afghanistan with as little additional damage to them and others as possible.  Even though they’ll be busy, perhaps our new defense establishment can take a few minutes to read Kudo’s piece, and reflect on strategies for avoiding future needless, bloody wars.    

I took the pictures here in the last two weeks at Shelley Lake in Raleigh and Jordan Lake in Chatham County.  As always, I was grateful to have some time with the birds and their world.

Great blue heron at Shelley Lake