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Published: October 20th 2003
Me on my Bike
My baggage weighs in at 60 pounds, the bike and trailer are probably close to 50 pounds, which means the combined package might weigh less than 300 pounds by the end of the trip...
I spent the better part of Sunday in a congested fog, and slept on the couch, recovering my strength for the week ahead. Sunday night I ran into a friend and ended up spending the better part of the evening hanging out with him & enjoying his company. Since I had been planning on making homemade powerbars on Sunday evening, I had to put off my baking endeavors until Monday morning. Which meant that I didn't get on my bike & out of town until Monday afternoon. Which meant that I was riding with rush hour traffic, away from Norfolk.
I spent quite a bit of time looking at my maps, trying to figure out if there was some way that I could get from Norfolk to Suffolk, Virginia without getting onto a major highway. But there were only two roads cutting through the swamp to Suffolk, and so I chose the shorter route, and found myself riding into the sunset on a 6 lane divided highway filled with 18 wheelers. But it wasn't as bad as it could have been, since the shoulder was as wide as an entire lane. I easily had 10 feet between myself and the traffic rushing westward at 60mph.
I arrived at my host's house later than I had wanted to, but still at a reasonable hour. My host, born and raised in Suffolk, asked me where I was from, "originally." I told her with only a moment's pause, "Vermont." "Well," she said, "you might want to read the book I left for you on your bedside table. It's about what happened here in Suffolk when y'all invaded during the War Between The States."
And I did read it, a collection of stories of the sufferings of women and children left behind when their men had gone off to war. I had always known, theoretically speaking, that the war had not gone well for the South, but it was quite different to read the stories that had been passed down from generation to generation for a century and a half. Again and again I was reminded of contemporary events as I read of occupying armies burning the homes of guerrilla fighters, occupying armies denying medical care to subjugated people, the vengeful killing of collaborationists and the sheer horror of war. The first story in the booklet began with the observation that war is contrary to God's will, and that "when God said 'Thou shalt not kill,' He did not mean 'Thou shalt tell other people to go do thy killing for thee.'"
With the wounds of the Civil War still so vivid in the collective consciousness of our country, why is it that we cannot extend our experience of the pain of war to those upon whom we declare war? Why do we stand in support of a country like Israel that destroys the houses of guerrilla fighters when we abhor the Union soldiers who burned the houses of Confederate guerrillas? Why do we remember the trauma of Southerners filling the shell holes in the house walls with corncobs, but ignore the effect of depleted uranium shells strewn across Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo?
The answer I have heard in so many instances to my questions is, "Because this time it's different." This time we have to go to war. This time we have to protect a greater good by committing a lesser evil. This time it will be the war to end all wars. My only response is that every time war is declared, we put aside our virtues and memories and say, "This time it's different."
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