When Can We Write the Requiem for This War?

Miss Music Nerd is not an overtly political blog, and it is, for the most part, a lighthearted affair.

But there are times when I am moved to take a stand.

This video is from a performance of Benjamin Britten‘s War Requiem. In the piece, Britten intersperses the Latin text of the traditional Requiem Mass with poems by Wifred Owen, who fought and died in World War I. The War Requiem was performed at the 1962 reconsecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which had been bombed in World War II. It’s an amazingly powerful and moving work, and I encourage everyone to listen to it in its entirety. I also recommend Derek Jarman’s film version. I could go on at length about the piece, discussing the text and analyzing the music — and at some point, I will. But my purpose today is different.

I mention the connections of Britten’s piece to two different wars in order to call attention to the utterly absurd and senseless idea that here we are, again, at war. No cautionary tales, no lessons learned, no historical awareness that war is never simple, clean, or quick. No recognition that even a “just” war is a war to be grieved.

At some level, we human beings must be enamored of suffering, since we seem so unwilling to refrain from participating in it. I’m speaking primarily of those in positions of government and leadership, who make the decisions and carry out the plans that perpetuate the Sisyphean tragedy we’re trapped in once again. But I believe it is the task of humanity — all citizens and governments — to work to make our current situation unimaginable. It requires effort at every level — from interpersonal to local to federal to global.

In Buddhism, there is a concept that the separate self is a delusion. There was a time when I would have taken offense at such an idea, jealous as I was of my uniqueness and individual autonomy. But lately I find it both comforting and instructive to consider that when we hurt others, we hurt ourselves, and vice versa. I think this is also perfectly in keeping with Christ’s commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” not to mention his radical challenge to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Clearly, humanity has yet to put these ideas into practice in a sustained fashion.

blgswrm2.jpgToday is the 5th anniversary of the beginning of war in Iraq. Approximately 3990 members of the U.S. Military have been killed since March 2003, as well as untold numbers of Iraqis, including civilians. And of course, not one of these deaths has brought back to life anyone killed in the September 11 attacks, or anyone harmed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, or anyone involved in any incident for which it might arrogantly be imagined that this war is any sort of effective remedy or justifiable retaliation.

You might ask what the 3 preceding paragraphs have to do with music; I could also go on at length rebutting the notion that music, and art in general, is (or should be) apolitical and “pure,” an oasis of benign aesthetic stimulation in a world that continuously requires us to tolerate discomfort. But for the moment I simply wish to add my voice to an ever-growing chorus that demands: END THIS WAR NOW.

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    One Response

    1. If you haven’t already, may I encourage you to visit the old and the new Cathedrals, which are side by side. There is a spiritual air about the two which is impossible to ignore. I wept as I stood in the ruins of the old church, open to the sky, and wondered yet again about man’s inhumanity. I wonder about the parishioners who attend the new cathdral, and cannot help looking out that big glass wall. What do they think? How do they deal with it? Does it become easier to ignore? Like we seem to be ignoring the 5 year war, and the 4000 of our dead, and uncounted numbers of Iraquis.

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