Subtitled “The War and Peace Issue,” this offering considers the stated themes from a wide range of situations and viewpoints. Aside from an introductory editor’s note, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is given the first word. In an address given in Chautauqua, New York, Roosevelt lamented that he had seen “the dead in the mud” and “cities destroyed” and declared how much he hated war. Unfortunately, the nature of war is such that the same man was forced to wage one several years later.
The editors have split the issue into sections: “The Life in Art,” “Life Lessons,” “The Life of the Spirit,” and “Private Lives in Public Space.” The first section introduces the reader to art exhibitions begun in April 2004. “The Light” is a series of portraits of survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. Each survivor has been immortalized in paint on canvas and is presented with a written account of where he or she was on August 6, 1945. Chautauqua reproduces eight of the paintings and each subject seems to stare from the page with haunting dignity. “The Light” seems to point out that human dignity is the first casualty when war is waged; it is willfully discarded by the aggressor and stripped from the victim.
“Life Lessons” is dominated by a powerful essay by Jeremy Collins. “When We Were Young and Confederate” accomplishes two complicated goals: to characterize the psychology of the Confederate South and to admit how that ethos shaped his development. Collins is brave and unflinching in dedicating his adolescent self to the page. Young Collins bought into the propaganda he heard dog-whistled by politicians. In a great scene, he describes winning a Black History Month essay contest. The prize? A front row seat to see Jesse Jackson speak. While shaking the man’s hand, Young Collins leans in and—“part recycled Rush, part teenaged prank”—asks Jackson, “How does it feel to be the most racist man in all of America?” Who can blame Collins for how he felt? He grew up surrounded by people maintaining emotional ties to a slavery-drenched past who simultaneously cheered Herschel Walker as he led the Georgia Bulldogs to victory. Although I would have loved to have seen more of his personal struggle with the dichotomy, Collins does a very good job of elucidating the Southern relationship with the past and its effect on the present.
The pieces selected for the section entitled “The Life of the Spirit” examine the way that people betray themselves and others. Kathryn Winograd’s poem “The Lives of Cells” is about and is seemingly dedicated to a seventeen-year-old Kurdish woman who was stoned to death in an honor killing. Winograd invokes the billions of years of evolution and tens of thousands of years of human interaction that resulted in the woman being born. Winograd’s breathless sentences immortalize the fate suffered by a single woman that decreases the quality of life for the rest of us.
The poetry and creative nonfiction in the “Private Lives in Public Space” section reminds the reader that participants in war remain individuals. Liam Corley’s “Unwound” is “a poem for the other soldiers / citizens who never fired back.” Susan Jo Russell’s poem “Today’s Little News of Death” indicts the citizens back home who wage war by proxy, “as if elsewhere were not a place.”
Perhaps the only hope for the elimination of war is enhanced understanding between people and cultures. This issue’s “New Voice” is Gerardo “Tony” Mena, a highly decorated veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who returned stateside, attended the University of Missouri, and “surrounded himself with music and poetry as a means of dealing with the events he experienced in the war.” Mena’s “I Was a Heisman Trophy” describes a brief on-campus incident in which he was hit by a car driven by a student who was speaking on her cell phone. Mena delights in feeling a strong jolt of adrenalin, but soon notices that few around him have noticed the accident. He is reminded of the lesson he learned in Iraq, as the work he and his friends were doing was “reduced to a tiny scrolling death toll residing in the bottom right corner of a TV screen.”