Of canoes and war

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(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin recently went looking for some relief from all the news of war and terror. And she found it – for a little while – in a canoe.

(KUNIN) Yesterday, we retreated to our canoe, paddling on the Connecticut River, where the bending trees were reflected in the quiet water in a multitude of impressionist green hues. Such beauty.

The desire to retreat from the violence of this summer’s news is stronger than ever as images flash in my mind of the bodies of Lebanese women and children, young Israeli soldiers and civilians, the morgues filling in Iraq, and now – the possibility of a dozen airplanes falling from the sky.

Young men carrying coffins, waving flags, shouting at the camera, shouting at me.

Yes, there have always been wars, senseless killings. I recently read two books about the civil war, one called March, by Geraldine Brooks, about the father in the March family of, Little Women, who had fought in the civil war.

The other called The March of Sherman’s march through Georgia by E.L. Doctorow. Both vividly describe the horrors of war and the passions that ignited them in 1861.

Here we are, in the summer of 2006, still killing, still filling the air with hatred, and still asking, how can we bring this to an end?

Do we ever learn?

Or do we only learn how to become better killers, launching rockets across borders as fast and furiously as we can, each side outdoing the other like school boys throwing stones.

We have not yet learned the simple truth that wars don’t solve problems, that diplomacy, compromise, dialogue are the only routes that enable people with conflicting goals and dreams to live together.

Why is it so difficult to shake your enemy’s hand, to look him in the eye, to see him not as a death target, but as a human being?

I wonder if women were in a position to decide whether their husbands, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters went to war, would the outcome be different? The best example I can point to is the only woman pharaoh of Egypt, Hatshepsut, whose reign was marked by a period of peace and creativity. But then of course, there was Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir, who both declared war.

Then, there was the play Lysistrata, where women used the only weapon they then had, withholding sex, to stop men from fighting.

For thousands of years, war and its companion, death, have been inflicted on us, primarily by men who believed in conquest, victory and defeat.

We cannot keep our canoe on the river much longer, away from the sounds of war and death. We pull this beautiful, silent boat up on shore, haul it up on the roof of the car, and turn on the radio to listen to the news.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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