Willful ignorance and chaos

The astonishing spectacle of a nation veering into cultural madness, in which ignorance is virtue, blindness is vision, and words of hatred are venerated as a courageous honesty, is new to those of us who are living through it, no matter whether or not it reminds us of other such moments in history. To call our present political cycle a renewed age of ignorance, while helpful to those of us who respect education, is to miss the point of what is going on in the people who support extreme political candidates and policies of xenophobia.

Ignorance does not explain the current candidates for political office; ignorance can be cured by information and education. Willful ignorance is not ignorance at all; it is evidence of a deeper problem. To say that people are angry with their government, while true and troublesome to a marvelous degree, is still an understatement. People are angry with their world.

Angry people do not want to see the truth, refuse to comprehend arguments that undermine their anger, and turn any fact within reach to their own advantage.

Many white people in particular are angry at a world that threatens them with information about themselves that they don’t want to be true, that they refuse to consider, no matter how logical. This subset of white people cannot be addressed through appeals to their human emotions; these emotions only apply to equals, and far too many white people do not see the world in terms of equality.

The root of this fear comes from the attacks on white male supremacy that are now open and successful. The presence of white privilege and the pervasiveness of white hegemony are so clearly demonstrated in our world that there is no real argument to overcome the overwhelming evidence. White men – white people – who refuse to take this message into themselves are left with nothing to stand on except willful refusal to admit that they are wrong.

The only argument left to white supremacists is to retreat into the ideas that always supported this way of thinking, namely, that white people are superior and that white men are entitled to run the world. To their way of thinking, the clearest example of this is the degraded and criminal state of black people in particular, who are the opposite of white people and therefore the ethnic group who are marked out to be the most despised. Other groups can sometimes be admitted to a kind of whiteness, and individual black people who support the ideas of white supremacy – whether explicitly or implicitly – are also all white in their way.

Calls for white people to examine our racism are met by the same responses, all of which fall into familiar categories.

Someone will write to say that all people are racist and that no progress will be made on the issue until everybody admits this. This ignores the fact that racism is different from prejudice, requires a structure of power to support it, and cannot be practiced by groups who do not have power. The argument amounts to saying that we all have to be perfect before anything can change. History clearly demonstrates that white people have played a special role in the promotion of racism in our country, at the very least, and most likely in the wider world as well. The idea of white supremacy was applicable to the whole world, after all.

Someone will write to say that white people have invented nearly every good thing in the world, that we have clearly demonstrated our superiority, and that any argument to the contrary is simply based on political correctness, whining, or jealousy. This argument usually comes with a list of the good things that white people have brought to the world, and nearly all the time a simple online search of the history of any of these good things will clearly demonstrate that very few of these inventions or innovations are attributable to white people alone or at all.

Someone will write to attack black people, using words like “thugs,” asserting that black people are inherently criminal, that “they” ruin schools, neighborhoods, cities, by their willful destructiveness, and that any effort to keep “them” in line is justified. The historical roots of this argument go all the way back to the earliest justifications for the slave trade. The fact that a discussion of racism veers immediately into the reasons that racism is justified is clear proof that racism is a problem without the need of any further debate.

Often the author of any statement about white racism or white supremacy will be invited to move to Africa; this happened to me recently in the aftermath of the publication of my memoir about school desegregation in 1960s North Carolina. The underlying foundation of this statement is clearly that the U.S. is a white country, founded and operated for the benefit of white people and their supporters, and anyone who has ideas to the contrary should go elsewhere.

The pattern of these arguments against the pervasiveness of white supremacy is self-perpetuating; every debate on this issue is followed by the same litany of response.

It is easy to misinterpret these statements as ignorance, but they are in fact something much worse. These arguments and all their kin – including the similar constellation of reactions to writing and thinking about sexism, which is the other pillar of white male supremacy – are evidence that smart people, educated people, and so-called decent people, have developed sophisticated, conscious strategies to refuse any truth they find difficult or inconvenient.

Ignorance is not our problem. People have abandoned the idea of objective truth altogether. Our idea of whiteness is so precious to some of us that we would trade anything in order to keep it. That’s a much more dangerous state.

So Who Are the Racists?

I was raised to be a bigot in the ways that were common to nearly every white southerner of my generation, having been born in the mid 1950s and sent to school during the era of 1860s.

I grew up in the segregated south and was part of the generation that saw the ending of separate schools for blacks and whites. In my childhood I heard adults talk openly about their disgust at the notion of sharing bathrooms with black people. On the playground I chanted vicious rhymes about “niggers.” It would be easy to say that my heart and mind, even as a child, rebelled against such practices, but to make such a claim would be a lie. Because I was a child, I accepted what I heard. Only later, when black and white schools were consolidated in rural North Carolina, did I come to question these early lessons.

I say that nearly every white person of my era, in my place, was trained in this same bigotry, but in my heart I believe that the training was common to all. In the same way, I say “white southerner” when in my heart I believe that these teachings were common to all Americans.

I have good friends who discuss racism, white people who are constantly sharing information about this or that event in which a black person figures as a victim or a white person has made some outrageous comment about people of one color or another. These days, such discussions often take place on social media, or after a story like the shooting of Trayvon Martin becomes widespread.

These are well meaning people who believe they are doing their part to end an evil that has been with us for far too many centuries already, a murderous prejudice that shows no sign of ending in any future one can foresee.
Yet I have rarely heard any white person say the words, “I am a racist.”

In my own head I have confessed to racism, and I have made this statement about myself at times in the past when I was involved in a conversation about black-white relations. I have confessed to my own racism in mixed company, when there were black people present to force the discussion of oppression, and onto whom the conversation was assigned as a kind of burden, as if they were to absolve me of my sin.

An article that I have read in various forms, in print and online, reads something like, “Ten things a white person should not say to a black person when discussing racism.” But never have I seen any guide to how white people should talk to each other, nor have I found the slightest hint that it is the responsibility of white people to have this conversation with one another, about ourselves.

Racism only exists when there are black people in the room, or this seems to be our message. The racist is always somebody else. The bigot is someone obvious, like members of the Aryan Nation, or followers of the Ku Klux Klan. Why do we refuse to understand that our first job is to see inside ourselves?

So often I hear white people say, “I’m not a racist,” as if that blanket declaration removes all the training, all the programming, that has come into us throughout the years of our childhood.

The truth cannot set you free unless you face it, and what I mean is that all white people from my generation down to the present have some level of programming that says white people shaped the world, white people are the authors of civilization, and white people are and should continue to be the natural leaders of humankind. This lesson is the beginning of racism, since it sets the white race above the rest.

Even in the sharing of information about the victimization of black people, even in our most earnest declarations that all people are equal no matter what skin they wear, so many of us are missing the point in an essential way. White people need to talk to white people about our racism, and the first conversation should be face to face with a mirror, each of us looking into our own face and understanding the truth. I am the problem. I am the racist. Maybe I can begin to recover if I take that path.

No one can erase racist programming that is ingrained deep into the mind, early in childhood. Like the addict, the racist must learn to recover from this training, and must realize that recovery will never end. I am a racist now, and will always have that flaw inside me, but I do not have to act on it, and I can change the way I live. We don’t argue about whether white dogs are better than black dogs. Why do we think color makes such a difference when it comes to human beings?

The Second Best Thing

I am aware that an advertisement that makes me notice its utter stupidity is just as useful to a marketing campaign as one that arrests my attention for some other reason. This is of course one of the more inane first world problems with which I deal, and I am a bit ashamed of my need to whine about it. But nevertheless I shall do so. I have been feeling much too serious of late.

My manner of accomplishing this task is to award Kevin Botfeld a prize for the most utterly stupid character in an advertisement of the moment. Botfeld, you might know, is the person who, upon receiving a check for one million dollars – from a very nice but soon-to-be-perplexed gentleperson who rings his front doorbell – announces that this is the second best thing that has ever happened to him.

The best thing that ever happened to him is soon revealed to us through the car-dealership flashback during which Botfeld delivers a laughable martial arts kick upon receiving the new-car deal of a lifetime.

Naturally we are supposed to pause at the idea that a fabulous deal on a twenty thousand dollar car is better than a one million dollar cash prize, ignoring the fact that for a million dollars one could buy approximately fifty such new cars. The fact that this is a ludicrous claim on all levels is the point, of course, and in writing words to protest this bit of stupidity I am simply perpetuating the marketing ploy. But this is not the first time I have been the dupe of the market, and it will not be the last.

In terms of idiocy, this is very much of a piece with the lizard who tries to sell me car insurance or the fairy who tries to convince me that buying the more expensive paper towel will quickly deplete my savings account. While I am grateful to have a savings account, I have no fear of buying the more expensive paper towel, and furthermore I have a loathing of winged fairies, oozing with hopeful cuteness, who try to gull me into degrading my stock of paper products.

Take this complaint for what it is worth, a brief moment in which a person giggles at the stupidity of the world in lieu of tears at its brutality. In all ways we appear to be lost in the dim side of the force.


About six weeks ago I had lunch with a dear friend whom I met in Governor’s School in 1972, the year before I was to head off to college. Governor’s School was a kind of summer camp for gifted students from all over North Carolina, held each year on the campus of Salem College in Winston-Salem. I had never been away from home for such a long time and felt all at odds in the opening days, though the awkwardness quickly passed as I made friends.

Among those friends was Sheria Reid. I was introduced to her by one of the other students and quickly became part of the circle of friends that gathered under a tree on the yard to outdo one another in wit while Sheria played guitar. Never content to provide mere accompaniment, Sheria used her music and her personality to illuminate the lawn, and I grew to rely on her big laugh, her amazing smile, her easy sarcasm, her sardonic take on the world.

As it happened, we both entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the same year, and ended up sharing a co-ed dorm by the time we were both sophomores. Once again I attached myself to the inevitable circle of friends that formed around Sheria, who held court in her small room, dressed most often in comfortable caftans, seated or reclined regally on a bed that looked altogether unworthy of her pose.

She was an unforgettable friend, a person to whom others were drawn, who nevertheless possessed a fierce core of loneliness to which I was sometimes witness. Later, when we reconnected as middle-aged adults, I learned some of the reasons for her occasional plunge into feelings of isolation. She had come from the same part of the state as me, the eastern coastal plain, and like me she was going through the years of school integration in North Carolina. Since she was black, she faced the racism of white peers at school; since she had been mostly educated in Catholic School before she went to high school, she faced animosity from black students as well. She found herself caught between two worlds.

I learned much of this at our lunch back in mid June. We met in Raleigh at an Indian restaurant with a fragrant buffet, and there we sat for hours, nibbling, drinking, talking, and giggling, only moving to pay our bill and leave when the restaurant began to shut down the buffet line. By then we were the only people in the restaurant. I paid the bill while Sheria stepped to the restroom; when she returned, she was a bit piqued, because, she said, it was her turn to pay. So we laughed and agreed she would catch the next lunch tab, and we hugged and said good-bye.

Only a few weeks later I read a shocking post on Sheria’s Facebook page – Sheria was a fierce Facebook warrior, commenting on a wide range of subjects, railing at the stupidity of the human, critiquing events involving the North Carolina state legislature, where she worked, and sounding off about American race problems, injustice, favorite music, good books, and sometimes just posting plain silliness.

But that post I read in early summer was written by Sheria’s sister, who had been called by the people at Sheria’s job that morning when Sheria did not show up for work. Her sister found her collapsed in her apartment, suddenly gone from us all, without warning, unfairly removed from the vast number of us who loved her and needed her voice in our lives.

Since that day I have been stunned and a bit lost. Sheria was one of those people who cannot be replaced, who carved a space for herself that will be empty forever now that she is gone. Through the power of the internet I had come to feel her as a daily presence in my life. Now that same internet shared with me her death, her sister’s grief, and the loss that will be felt by those who knew her.

I have never written a eulogy before, since I have not lost anyone quite as dear to me since my brother died decades ago. So I wanted to mark Sheria’s passing with these words, and to say that I will miss her as long as I live. I am so grateful we were able to get together one more time, and even more grateful we had no idea it would be the last time. Sheria, take care of yourself, if you are still out there somewhere. I hope our paths can cross again. I owe you a great debt for all you shared with me over the years. And it’s your turn to get the lunch check, too, so please remember.

A Real Southern Heritage for a Better Tomorrow

Many of my southern friends and relatives are upset at the removal of the Confederate battle flag from its appointed flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina, and are defending it once again as a symbol of southern heritage. The Stars and Bars, they say, is meant to stand for the Southern way of life, its ease and graciousness, its courtesy, and the love of the region itself. The flag is a symbol of a war that was about northern imperialism, not about slavery. It reminds us of an ideal time in which a group of states stood up to oppose the idea of a large federal government taking away the rights of the individual states who had agreed upon a union that was voluntary, not compulsory.

Nearly all of the people talking along these lines are white, of course, and the argument they are making is one that has been made for a long time to defend nostalgia and even reverence for this flag. But it is an argument that is empty at this point, and the statement ignores the fact that there are other people in the South who would have to be in agreement with any symbol of our joint heritage. What defines the South is a matter for all the people who live here to decide in common; the process by which such a commonality is determined is not a matter for the majority race to impose on the rest.

While I have read a good deal of rhetoric about what makes the south different, I cannot agree with much of it. The notion that our people were more gracious or polite in the old South, that they were more genteel, and that nobility and honor were paramount, is a self-serving notion. I would prefer that others tell me that I am noble and honorable; it is empty to make the claim for myself or for my ancestors. The history of the South does not bear out any idea of gracious, genteel living, unless one narrows the focus to the old and fabled planter class, and it is hard to see what is so genteel about making a living by forcing labor out of one’s slaves.

As for that other idea, that the Civil War was not about slavery but was about state’s rights, it seems to me that this argument will never be settled to the satisfaction of all parties. In the case of the Confederate flag, the very fact that so many southerners oppose the public display of the flag – black, white, and brown southerners – settles the issue. While you can hold the flag to be dear to yourself and your idea of history, you cannot insist that others do so. White people cannot dictate to black people that they should agree with our idea of history; to do so would be simply another act of white supremacy. If you are a person who does believe in grace or gentility, then the way forward is clear: move beyond the need to fly this flag in public. Do this for the sake of your fellow human beings. They are more important than your idea of the past.

The debate will continue, of course, and even as I write this, Confederate monuments are being defaced in many southern states. This issue of what to do with monuments for those who died on the southern side of that war will be more painful than the flag debate. We will be discussing this issue for a long time. For myself, I am willing to see the monuments pulled down and the flag tucked away. The dead have long forgotten that war and that moment in history. It is the living who must now learn to let go.



Atticus Finch and the Good White Man

The shocked response to Harper Lee’s further – or original – portrait of Atticus has people showing a good deal of naïve outrage. How could a white hero like the immortal and kindly attorney, who will always look like Gregory Peck in our minds, express racist views and flirt with Klan membership? How could he speak out against integration? How could Atticus be a racist?

Confusing paternalism with goodness is a common error we make when examining the past, and this is particularly true for the South. Atticus defended a black man who was being railroaded for rape in such a romantic display of heroism that all the black people in town loved him, didn’t they? They stood up for him in the courthouse, didn’t they? And what a rush of warm empathy that gave us all. One brave white man standing up for justice.

To Kill A Mockingbird, as fine a work as it is, stands as a testament to the way white people prefer that the race narrative be shaped in our fiction. At the center of the story, alongside the suffering black victim, stands the fine white hero, the person we all would have been had we been in Atticus’s situation, called upon to stand up for an innocent man, to fight for justice.

We would not be like the evil Ewells who were, after all, the real racists in the book, the poor white trash who caused all the problems.

The world of To Kill A Mockingbird is the world of paternalism, rendered to such perfection that one cannot but love the book and feel better for having read it. The love clouds our vision of what the book really shows: a world in which childlike black people need white Atticus to protect and defend them. But in this new book we are to see another side of Atticus; we are to understand that Atticus, while fighting passionately for justice, nevertheless harbored racist ideas of his own.

There is no contradiction here, only a stripping away of the golden glow that disguises reality. Racist ideas were held (and are held) by all southerners (and all white people) to some degree. Atticus as an attorney can find the railroading of an innocent black man to be abhorrent at the same time that he prefers his public life segregated from black people. He can defend a black man in court and yet see black people as childlike and inferior without any sense of contradiction whatsoever.

This is the truth of the South, that Atticus and men like him flirted with the Klan, opposed integration, and saw dark skin as a mark of inferiority; even good people entertain bad ideas, and even people who rise to heroism have deep flaws. Clearly Harper Lee saw this and struggled with it.

The Great World Database, the Great Machine

I think it interesting that we define privacy as related to what the government does with information about our lives, when it is increasingly the case that privacy is something we have squandered in our insistence on constant connection. One cannot be a private person and at the same time use the internet in all its permutations; electronic devices are designed to share data, not to protect or conceal it. But we make heroes of the people who tell us that the government is watching us as if that is extraordinary, and we celebrate laws that limit spying agencies from performing certain kinds of actions on the great world database when we know that spying agencies rarely limit their actions to what the law allows.

Soon enough we will have smart houses, which means that those who watch us will not only know what we do in secret, they will know what lamps we burn and what doors we lock during our secretive moments. We already have smart cars, but when they begin to drive themselves we will not only be making an electronic record of our activities that is even more complete than it is now, we will be putting ourselves in the position of allowing the great machine to hijack us wherever it wants us to go.

The great machine is sometimes the government, sometimes corporate entities, sometimes entities that are more shadowy; the great machine is the manifestation of the world database that can move beyond recording our transactions to predicting and manipulating our transactions at any time it chooses. We are drowning ourselves in the great machine every day; we are dissolving into it.

And yet we celebrate a court telling the government it cannot look down at our feet where we have spilled all the data about ourselves into a puddle in which we are standing. We pretend that this court ruling or that law means we have more privacy today than we did yesterday.

I am more bemused by this than paranoid, maybe because I am old enough to see the end of the tunnel from which I will exit into whatever comes after this life of absurdity. I am aware that I have ceded any real privacy to the ether, and that I am as diligent about recording my movements into the world database as anyone. Whatever real privacy I have comes not from the ability of the government to spy on me but rather on its indifference to me. As long as the great machine does not care what I do, I am as private as I can be. If I want more than that, I can try to unplug myself from the database, to live without smart devices, to recreate a paper life rather than a digital one. But I am not likely to do that. I am more likely to remain a part of the data stream and to rely on the fact that nobody cares to find out what I do. For if anyone wants to know about who I really am, the truth is out there.

Privacy exists, but it is something a person has to earn. We want to think of it as a right, and perhaps it is, but if that’s true,  it is a right that we long ago allowed to erode into something that is nearly meaningless. Information, like water, runs downhill and pools.

Saving the World Again

I had been reluctant to watch Guardians of the Galaxy even after I heard from comic book fans and superhero fans that it was a good movie; so finally, last night, with family visiting and the need for a way to pass a couple of hours pleasantly, we queued it up to play. It was a safe enough choice given that a more serious movie would have required a good deal more commitment than any of us were apt to give it after overeating for most of the afternoon, a Sunday tradition. So it would prove, too, safe enough and pleasant and hardly much more than that.

More fun than the movie itself was figuring out who the actors were and where we had seen them before. Glenn Close was minor but well chosen given that she sported such a splendid hairdo. Vin Diesel saying the same line over and over again provided a good deal of sport. His casting as a big-eyed moveable tree might have struck me as an unlikely choice but proved interesting enough to discuss with my family. I told the story of Chris Pratt’s weight loss since I had read about it somewhere but I had no idea what movies he had been in before becoming buff, and really had so little interest in it that I couldn’t even be bothered to search online. I was pleased to recognize Zoe Saldana and surprised when I saw that Karen Gillian played the sister with whom she had to fight to the death or whatever during one of the movie’s pre-climaxes. Bradley Cooper should always play a raccoon, in my opinion. I recognized Lee Pace’s name before I realized I had seen him in the perfectly endless adaptation of The Hobbit. He had a role in which he did a good deal of shouting and such, and it was his job to play the powerful, evil villain that everybody fears who is ultimately defeated in about twenty minutes.

The script was funny and even made my mother laugh at moments; she usually plays Farm Town when we watch a movie like this one, so that says something for the film’s amusement value.

What struck me most, however, was the tiredness of it all: the evil villain, the ancient relic too powerful to control, the hero who turns out to have a mysteriously powerful father in the background, the threat to destroy the world of the heroes; the foe too powerful to defeat who in fact crumbles in fairly short order; in fact, all this is so tired and second hand that even my complaints about it are tired and second hand. Yet this movie was a tremendous hit and made fortunes for some people and assured long careers for others. Capitalist art at its finest.

Yet on a Sunday night for tired old people this was what we chose even when we had other more interesting choices, not because we are failing at life but rather because we preferred a movie we could make fun of and pay scant attention to rather than art that absorbed and moved us. The point of the movie was to serve the function of a campfire at which we could stare; anyone who could claim to be enthralled by such a movie as this would be far sadder than we, who simply watched it halfheartedly as something to keep us in the room together. Still, there is something intensely meager about a culture that recycles the same script-lines, exploding cities, alien bar scenes, and space fights; along with the superhero movies in general, now so numerous that one needs a family geek to keep the scorecard straight.

Pulpwood Queens, Beauty, and the Book

Pulpwood queen logo

When I was visiting New Orleans in March, having been invited to the Tennessee Williams Festival and the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, I was seated in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone, awaiting my first event. I was scheduled  to discuss the presentation of the self in memoir on a panel with a very fine moderator and some strong fellow writers. Since I had arrived at the hotel a bit early, I was attempting to contemplate what it meant to present the self, one of those terms that could be deadening if discussed in purely academic terms in front of an audience of general readers. Nevertheless I found the idea to be intriguing, since our life in this modern world of constant media is a performance in so many ways.

As I was seated in a nice stiff-backed armchair beside the entrance to the hotel restaurant, a group of women walked past me, decked out in a motif of beige fabrics and leopard prints – scarves, blouses, jackets. My impression of them was that they were very much connected to one another, maybe even family, similarly tall, blonde, with carefully done hair. They carried themselves with an air of the regal, so much so that one could see at a glance that they understood the idea of the presentation of the self, the performance of even so simple a matter as a walk across the hotel lobby. One of them glanced at me and appeared to recognize me, though I decided quickly that I must be imagining this. The women processed into the restaurant and then out again, maintaining their stately grace, moving as if they were aware that people would probably watch them, as I was doing.

A few minutes later, as the panel discussion began, on the front row of the audience sat these singular women who made leopard look like exactly the thing to wear at a morning literary event, and who managed to sit with the same sense of purpose with which they had glided through the hotel. At that point I understood there was something special about these people, though soon enough the business of the conversation on the panel took over and I did what I was supposed to do. I talked about my book and stepped into the conversation with the other writers. From time to time during the hour that followed, I glanced at the row of women and wondered who they were.

Later when I was signing books in one of the side rooms on the Monteleone mezzanine, the leopard group swept into the room and asked me to sign one of my books, and at that point they introduced themselves as representatives of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, with Kathy Murphy as the queen herself. As I would earn later, hers was the vision to found the book club group, which at present comprises 700 chapters, adventure trips, international reach, good hair maintenance, and a movie deal. Kathy knew of my work from her days as a book sales representative for Algonquin Books, my publisher. We chatted. She told me a bit of her story, which is extraordinary, including her career in the book world, subsequent turbulence both professional and private, the founding of a salon called Beauty and the Book, and her book club empire. At the end of the conversation I was left with the feeling that she was the one who had been on stage that morning, and I was part of her audience. I suspect this is a reaction that people often have when meeting her. She is one of those people who cannot help but change the world wherever she touches it.

So a few weeks later I heard from Kathy that she had chosen my memoir as an official bonus book for June, putting me on the list of authors selected for the worldwide Pulpwood Queens to read, and therefore eligible to attend the Girlfriends Weekend in January. The notion that I am affiliated with the Beauty and the Book movement is a real highlight, and I am grateful to have been taught a lesson in the presentation of the self by one of the masters of the art, Kathy Murphy, book goddess.

Memorial Day

If you are a person who wonders about why wars happen and whether they are necessary, then a holiday to celebrate those who have offered their lives for the cause of war is troubling. This sounds like a dangerous thought for such a day as today, but what I mean is simply that one suspects that many such sacrifices could have been avoided, and in fact that the giving of a life for a war cause is defined as a necessary sacrifice by those for whom war is an advantage. This thought must be weighed against the fact that countries, nations, territories do need to be defended from aggression, and one has a duty to offer one’s blood in defense of home, and to honor those who do so. If life is sacred, then death is also sacred, and war is sacred, and sacred things should not be invoked lightly. My step-father served during war-time in a war seen as a conflict against evil; my cousin died in a war that is now largely regarded as unjust, unnecessary, and avoidable. It is easy to celebrate my step-father’s service. For my cousin I feel only a sense of echoing loss, a sorrow that his life was given to a conflict that perhaps should never have happened. Yet men and women who are willing to fight to defend the nation in which they live are heroes. It is the people who choose and frame the wars we should question.