Basho, Wisdom, and War

This morning, after the U.S. sent bombers and fighter jets perilously close to the airspace of North Korea over the weekend, the foreign minister of that country countered with a chilling statement:

Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho – CBC News

“Donald Trump [in a Tweet in which he said that Kim Jong-Un ‘won’t be around much longer’] has declared war on us,” and added that N. Korea has a right, as any country at war has, to shoot down American planes even outside their air space.

Friends, this is horrifying.

After I read the foreign minister’s words, I glanced down at my desk where a yellowed index card has rested, hidden under scraps of other notes and desk clutter, for years. It contains a translation of a haiko by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). I picked it up and re-read it, and it brought tears to my eyes:

How fortunate the man

who sees a flash of lightning and

does not think “how brief life is.”

When I see the flashes of lightning striking out between Trump’s tweets and the madman of North Korea, I cannot help but think how brief life is. We are still bearing the burdens of the longest war of our country’s history, yet our president wishes us into another that will dwarf the agonies of Afghanistan and Iraq. And those countries have no nuclear arms (although our last Republican war-mongerer lied to us that Iraq indeed posed such a threat). We stand on the brink, once again. And again, we’re asking, Why?

How brief life is. I was a little boy during the Korean War, a teen and young adult during the Vietnam War. As a young man, I watched the invasions of Panama and Grenada and then the first Gulf war. In my middle age, it was the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. How brief life is when you can count your years by their wars. And how full of rage–or cowardice– my country’s leaders seem, as they stand silent while Trump strains to unleash war—by words, and, he seems to desire, by weapons of mass destruction.

Basho was so right—how fortunate the person is who, hearing yet again the drums of war brought out and pounded, does not think how brief life is.

My ten-minute timer just notified me that my time is up. I pray that our leaders find the sanity to hear their alarms before all our time is up.

Author: Bill Percy

An Idaho and Minnesota writer and psychologist, Bill has been writing fiction and non-fiction for 40 years. His 2014 novel, "Climbing the Coliseum," wass a Finalist for the Foreword Reviews' Book of the Year Award in general fiction. His second novel, "Nobody's Safe Here," was published by Black Rose Writing in December, 2016. Check out Bill's website at www.BillPercyBooks.com.

2 thoughts on “Basho, Wisdom, and War”

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection Bill! If only our country’s decision makers were as well informed, sensitive and mindful as your words demonstrate. Once again, our so-called democratic process has failed to produce men (mostly), who have the essential qualities to assess, understand and solve issues of war or peace.

    1. Thanks, Keith. I usually hesitate to get political in my posts (though not always!), but it seems that nuclear war, the tragedies of the recent hurricanes, dismemberment of Medicaid, or the flare of racism are important stories. Much more important (to me, anyway, and I think to lots of us) than whether NFL players take a prayerful position during the anthem. Glad you read the post, and even more glad that you got in touch. Thanks!

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