Monday, July 5, 2021

The War to End All Wars Started on a Battlefield in Cortlandt (New York Times)



“ACCURST be he that first invented war,'' was the sentiment penned by Christopher Marlowe in 1590, and Western civilization has been paying lip service to it ever since. In the 1960's war was declared unhealthy for children and other living things, and that slogan was seen adorning posters nationwide. Yet, when one goes beyond the slogans and dreams of the pacifistic few, are we not truly a nation that prefers to march to the beat of a different and more warlike drummer? Who among us would sacrifice an opportunity to see ''Star Wars'' for a special showing of ''Brother Sun Sister Moon''? Our heroes are Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Bernard Goetz, our national motto is ''Make My Day,'' and weaponry is our grossest national product.

Are we doomed or is war merely popular for the moment because Americans haven't been involved in one for a decade? Ten years is about the amount of time it takes for collective guilt to melt away into nostalgia. If war's current popularity is temporary, can it be arrested before we go too far and ignite a new skirmish, simply because the Duke would have wanted it that way? Somewhere we must draw the line.

The war to end all wars has begun, and it is being fought at this moment in the State Courts and in Albany. It all started in the little town of Cortlandt, situated in the northwest corner of Westchester County.

There, the shot heard round the world was fired not by a soldier, but by a county judge, and his salvo, in the form or a preliminary injunction, silenced the guns of a Queens entrepreneur, who wanted to turn part of Cortlandt into a battlefield for mock war games.  Capture the Flag Inc. purchased a 200-acre wooded tract near a drive-in-theater and planned to begin operations on March 30. In the games, teams of 25 to 30 people (at $30 a person for women and $35 for men) try to steal the other teams' flags under simulated combat conditions.

I used to play ''Capture the Flag'' at camp, and I usually enjoyed it. It is an exciting game of action and strategy, and if Steve Marco, the company's president, intended to sponsor healthy, recreational games of Capture the Flag, I would have no objections. But I wouldn't pay money for it either.

No one would, and Marco knows it. It would be like paying for the opportunity to play Hide and Seek. So Mr. Marco added a few features to his game to make it seem more ''realistic.'' For one thing, he added guns. For another, he put bullets in those guns -not lethal bullets, but dye-filled pellets which, when they strike a player, brand him ''dead'' for the duration of the game. Furthermore, the guns make noise, and the residents of the neighborhood were understandably concerned about the potential noise pollution, in the truest sense of the term: the corruption of the environment. It is not easy to live amid the sounds of war, even if it's only a game.

I commend the town of Cortlandt for taking action against Mr. Marco, and I commend George Pataki, the Republican State Assemblyman, for introducing legislation in Albany that would give local municipalities power to ban war games without having to go to court.

But what scares me is that such legalities are necessary because, without them, not only would war games be initiated, they would thrive. Mr. Marco has hit upon a gold mine. 

What type of society are we that we must constantly prove manhood on the battlefield? ''Violence breeds violence,'' wrote the medieval Jewish poet Ibn Gabirol, echoing a tradition that has, for millennia, attempted to minimize the glory of war. The Jewish sages of ancient times did not even allow weapons to be worn on the Sabbath, although technically it could have been allowed. Why? ''Because they are shameful,'' they said. Golda Meir once said, ''A leader who doesn't stutter before sending his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader.'' Don't we wish that our Presidents of the Vietnam era had done just a bit more stuttering before sending over the troops. War is not glory. It is a nation's shame, mankind's menace.

At Passover seders, Jews spill ten drops of wine when reciting the litany of the Ten Plagues. Why? So as to temper their joy over the victory achieved against the Egyptians. One sage, Rabbi Judah, even contracted the list of plagues into an acrostic, desiring not to hear about them in detail. Let us not dwell on the misery of others. War means misery.

Mr. Marco feels this is all much ado about nothing. He says, ''I think they're afraid that when they see what we're doing it will bring out the little boy in them and make them want to participate.''

Actually, he is right. There is a little boy in all of us, and that boy loves adventure. But what of the mature adult that little boy is supposed to grow up to become? We seem too preoccupied with catering to the whims of that little boy. Do we no longer acknowledge adulthood as a desirable goal of the maturation process?

And what of these people: John Bowen Jr., Frank B. Sanders, Bobby G. Fields, and the 58,019 other Americans who gave their lives in vain in Vietnam? What about the millions who left behind grieving families in other, more justifiable wars? What about them, Mr. Marco? Does Capture the Flag Inc. not kick dirt onto their graves by trivializing the calamity and unspeakable horror that is war?

And why, Mr. Marco, do you stop at guns and pellets? Why not update your venture by adding car bombs, suicide drivers and maybe even a nuclear warhead or two to your arsenals? Wouldn't these make Capture the Flag more exciting and therefore more lucrative? This is not the little boy speaking, Mr. Marco. This is the enraged adult

We must all be enraged adults, pursuing to the end the only battle worth fighting for, the war to end all wars, the battle to eliminate every vestige of war and violence from our culture and from the face of the earth.

So go ahead, Mr. Marco. Make my day. Get out of town before sundown and take John Wayne's posse with you.

If public outcry succeeds at keeping Cortlandt a Demilitarized Zone, maybe there is hope for the rest of the world.

Rabbi Joshua J. Hammerman of the First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill lives in Cortlandt.

Rev. Joshua J. Hammerman of the First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill lives in Cortlandt

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