In the full warm sun, pigeons covered the supermarket roof, making it seem alive. Each slip, peck and adjustment led to waves of responses; cascading movements and flutters. Minute after minute, more birds came. Few left.
I watched the birds for quite some time before I saw the other figures, the large, threatening-looking, evil-eyed plastic owls mounted on the roof, staring blankly at the pigeons circling around them. Some pigeons even bumped up against the owls. Were the pigeons showing disdain, mocking the owls’ very existence, or did it just seem that way to me?
We’ve all, our course, seen these owls in hardware stores and wondered if they fulfill the package marketing promises. It would seem the people running this particular grocery store should by now have ample evidence of the utility or, in this case, disutility of using plastic owls to repel bird invaders.
And yet, they remain deployed.
We, too, have set out impotent sentries long past the time when, if we were paying attention and were objective in our understandings, we would have realized they provide no protection from our demons. We are like the cathedral builders of old who installed gargoyles, realizing full well they truly served only aesthetic purposes.
Long after they have lost their meaning and power, the icons of our empire remain.
There are times, I believe, when a nation must take to arms for absolutely legitimate reasons. Invasion is certainly one of those reasons. Ego gratification is not.
What we now call World War One, what was once called The Great War, started because of happenstance and lunacy. It became the most horrific spectacle of the 20th century because a very few number of leaders (none democratically elected) thought virtually nothing of the lives of their subjects, and cared very much about their own personal standing in the world.
Unprepared for the demands of modern warfare, military commanders blithely sent wave after wave of young men against poison gas, artillery and machine guns, then the newest weapons of mass destruction, into the certain death of direct assaults against fortified positions. Before the carnage was over, there were 35 million casualties, of whom 7 million were civilians. Cities fell to constant bombardment. Death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.
The nations of Europe lost an entire generation of young men. Empires, that had sought to improve their standing in the world, collapsed. Maps were redrawn. That continent changed, more or less, permanently.
And there were the waves of war-scarred veterans returning home, changed, more or less, permanently as well. Sullen. Withdrawn. Drug-dependent. No longer able to fit within the societies they’d left.
As we Americans consider our next use of our armed forces, we would do well to ponder Europe’s ugly history of military adventure directed toward achieving uncertain aims. For unleashing weapons with illegitimate reasons, there is hell to pay.