January 01, 1980 News & Features » Cover Story

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Inner Peace 

Searching for what makes a war just.

It's in Iraq. And it's the site of the Garden of Eden, if you take the Bible literally. The question from Nathan, who is 11, electrifies the stale indoor air, like an invisible shower of sparks. My co-teacher and I say: "That's a good question. A really good question."

Class is dismissed and the children, mostly boys, run into the yard to pelt each other with acorns. They hide, they strategize, they ambush, they gang up. All-out war outside the Quaker meeting house.

I have stood on the outskirts of war my entire life. Even today, my lawn covers relics of a Confederate fort. Growing up, I learned to dive under the desk in drills during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was South Carolina — and it wasn't that far from Cuba. I begged my father to put a fallout shelter in the basement like Evie's, my best friend across the street. Her dad was a retired lieutenant colonel from Fort Jackson. Evie and I played house in her fallout shelter sometimes, counting the canned goods, the five-gallon jars of water, and imagined ourselves living there for months after the bomb went off. That was back when we thought nuclear war was survivable. I sometimes sneaked into my dad's woolen drab Eisenhower jacket that reeked of mothballs and weighed my shoulders down. On Sunday mornings at 10, I walked down to the church but there, no one was talking about Cuba, the bomb or Vietnam. (Everybody was real upset when Fireball Roberts got killed in a stock-car crash, though.) Sunday School was for learning about Bible stories — not distant wars or fallout shelters or diving under desks. But it was in church that I picked up my macho military metaphors … my Bible was my sword, and we sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" to inspire us to battle sin.

I was 10 years old then, about the age my oldest son is now — too young to grasp death, but too old to ignore the world and its political fallout. But in middle age, death moves in on friends and family, thrusting thoughts of killing close to home and hearth.

So, I'm just wondering: Is war worth
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