In 1966 Allen Ginsberg reasoned that if somebody could declare war, somebody else could un-declare it. (Of course, the Vietnam conflict had never been officially initiated according to America’s guidelines for war-declaring, so that only added to the irony.) Next came the Phil Ochs song “The War is Over,” which has, by the way, some kick-ass lyrics.
“I declare the war is over” was a brave, quixotic, flower-childy kind of an idea. The decree didn’t stop the Vietnam war, but if Phil Ochs had lived long enough, he would have seen wondrous things of a similar nature. One day everybody in Germany decided “let’s take down that stupid wall.” All of a sudden everybody in Russia decided that being Communist was no fun, and decided to stop it. Sometimes the course can be reversed. Sometimes it happens overnight.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2006, when the mood seemed to be “no more need for protest,” a feeling that we could all go home now and resume normal life as it was before Bush. As if people were saying the war is over, not in a wishful-thinking Sixties way, but in a way that meant they were sick of hearing about it and had better things to do. I didn’t quite get it. I wrote,
I wish Americans would learn more about the countries they carpet-bomb. That novel The Kite Runner I read last week about Afghanistan before everything went pear-shaped, was real good on illuminating the charming, civilized aspects of Afghan culture (and in reminding us that not everyone is a religious fanatic.) Here’s an example. Somebody is thanked for a favor. They don’t say “de nada” or even “You’re welcome.” They say, “For you, a thousand times over.” Wouldn’t you think twice about invading a country where they have such nice expressions?
That was written to Marc Madow of Earthblog.net (both now deceased) and he sent me a copy of Addicted to War, written by Joel Andreas and published by Frank Dorrel, which knocked my socks off. Dorrel made me a screamin’ deal so I bought 10 copies and set aside a day to bike around town. I left copies of the book at the public library’s admin office, at the library’s discard and donation shelf, in a Methodist church library, and at six coffeehouses. On the first page of the coffeehouse ones, I had written,
I was donated for lots of people to read. Please leave me here. If you must take me home, please bring me back or pass me on to a friend.
The establishment at the nearest major intersection to where I live was called Mugs, and on their bookshelf I also left a copy of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, an excellent companion volume to Addicted to War.
Three or four weeks later I was back at the shopping center, for groceries, and as usual I cut through the alley by the coffeehouse. There, on top of the dumpster, along with a couple of weekly papers, was Addicted to War. It couldn’t have been there long, it was all clean and no snow had fallen on it. From the evidence of the spinal creases it had been partly read at least once, before the staff rejected it. And just by the merest chance, I happened by at the exact right time to rescue the book.
Aren’t coffee houses supposed to be hotbeds of dissident thought? When such a place throws out such a book, what is America coming to?
Not long afterward I visited the coffeehouse again, and enjoyed a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, and put the same copy of Addicted to War back on the bookshelf. I hope it freaked somebody out when they found it there again, a reproachful revenant back from the grave.