Random Thoughts on Death, Dying, and the Reality of America’s Wars

Another reason for the persistence of America’s wars is captured in a speech by Chief Dan George in the movie, “Little Big Man.” We have little sense of the sanctity of life, and we treat nature like our personal trash can. As Chief Dan George says, “If things keep trying to live, White Man will rub them out.” We need a much more enlightened approach to nature — and to ourselves — but we seem content instead to become purveyors of violence even as we play down or even deny the reality of death from our weapons and wars.

Bracing Views

Jarecke's photo of a dead Iraqi was considered too disturbing to publish in America Kenneth Jarecke’s 1991 photo of a dead Iraqi was considered too disturbing to publish in America

W.J. Astore

Americans tend to fear death.  It makes us uncomfortable.  Yet death is inevitable.  Its inevitability should teach us to revel in the richness of the here and now.  It should also teach us the foolishness of undue pride.

All is vanity, the Bible teaches.  Death reminds us of this — that human vanity, as unavoidable as it may be, is ultimately shallow.  There are riches out there that we should seek away from the glaring and garish light of vanity.  Riches that give deeper meaning to life.

Of all cultures in the world, I wonder if there’s another that ignores or denies death as much as American culture.  We’re the culture of new beginnings, fresh starts, reinvention, and also of the perpetual now, of youth, of defying or denying death through face…

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5 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Death, Dying, and the Reality of America’s Wars

  1. I did not see this column when it first appeared. Very astute observations, Bill. Personally, I despise “the American Way of Death,” the running up of huge bills to allow a dying patient to cling to life just a little longer, though The End is so inevitably near. I only recently formalized instructions that I want no “heroic measures” taken to try to extend my life if my prognosis is hopeless. In the five years elapsed since you originally posted this piece, the US War Machine has only become more dependent on remote killing. “Come on, you video game enthusiasts! Join the US Air Force today and become a drone operator! Killing Bad Guys has never been so much fun!! It’s just like playing video games!” And let’s not forget the video game that was called something like “Big Bad Mother-Truckers II.” A gamer was awarded bonus points for MURDERING THE PROSTITUTE after having sex with her at a truck stop. I am NOT making this up!! A society that tolerates, even rewards, such a mindset does not deserve to survive IMHO. And now we face the death of untold millions of species on the planet, thanks to human indifference to the effects of industrial activity. Extinction is forever, and homo sapiens is on the Death List. Killed by its own colossal hubris.


  2. Greg: There was a Serial Killer with that very MO he had a prodigious amount of kills before being reined in! Sad commentary if that could have inspired the makers of that Video Game! Also on my Security Forces A.F. “Sky Cops” Web sites I noticed and saw the Medal now being given (Awarded) for USAF Drone Operators. I couldn’t believe that one…! Lastly as far as burials are concerned I believe in the Viking, or traditional Native American Indian ways … A.I. will probably survive us!


      1. Philip K. Dick’s story that became “Blade Runner” on the big screen bears a multiply peculiar title. Why would a properly programmed android “dream of” anything, unless its creator desired it to? To dream can mean to have individual aspirations. Again, probably not something the inventors would deem desirable! (And, indeed, in the movie at least–I’ve never had my hands on the particular story in question, though I’ve read some of Dick’s works–freedom is the very dangerous aspiration of the Replicants.) Furthermore, if one imagines cute little sheep leaping gracefully over a stone wall, the classic image, and counting them as an aid to falling asleep…well, once you’re asleep what need is there to dream of still more sheep? Sexual relations between men and sheep are not unheard of (or so I hear), but…let’s not go there!!


  3. The record of actual stirring rhetoric from native Americans that pertains to freedom and justice is large but let us not imagine that pre Columbian life was some kind of peaceful idyl. It too was filled with war and murder, often under the rubic of war or otherwise simply for glory, and slavery and throw in torture too.

    I’m just making a general point not meant as criticism of this article.


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