Kage Baker, like most people our age – middling-old folks, kids – grew up watching war on the telly over dinner.
In our youngest days, it was watching The 20th Century with Walter Cronkite; it was pretty much a replay of WWII: grainy B&W footage of smoking ruins, lines of soldiers marching head down through what seemed to be endless rain, mud. Lots of mud. Sometimes it was French mud, Belgian mud, German mud, Polish mud – sometimes it was jungle mud.
Being at most 5 years old when this unfolded before my eyes and Sunday bowl of spaghetti, I was left with the impression that some portion of European beaches were washed by the warm waves of the blue Pacific. A little South of Normandy, I figured … both Kage and I believed that WWII was, in fact, still going on until we were in second or third grade, when the nuns disabused us of that interesting impression.
Then, by 5th or 6th grade, it was the Vietnam Show during dinner. Still Walter Cronkite, though, for years and years. I knew what was real by then at least, though. I picked up a lot of the history of Indochina from various documentaries and the newspapers. A version of it, anyway; although I remember associating the greens of the Asian jungle with the pale green of the afternoon paper – Los Angeles had morning and afternoon papers back them, and the Herald Examiner was mint green. It was what I usually used for the many, many papers we had to write about the War. (I was also fairly confused when M.A.S.H. started running in 1972; I was already a bit temporally unhinged, I guess.)
The Vietnam War saw us through our high school years, and then some. And by the time it (officially) ended in 1975, it seemed clear to me that small ugly wars would be popping off all over the globe for at least the duration of the 20th Century. I followed the news in the paper (only the LA Times by then) but not on the telly – Kage couldn’t stand it, and with every year dove deeper and deeper into her writing. Finally, she started working out the Company history and writing the future the way she felt like, and she just stopped paying attention to the Present. Who was fighting whom and why, she said, was of no interest to her. Besides, she figured it was everyone all the time and for no freakin’ good reason, so they could all got to hell in some hand basket other than hers …
Then the war in Iran started in 2003. We were at work when the news came over the radio in the manager’s office that shelling had begun. The ladies in our department who had significant others in the Armed Services all got very quiet, and then went home early. Kage and I went home and – for the first time ever – we turned on the new-born CNN and proceeded to eat dinner to the soon-to-be-familiar voices of Wolf Blitzer and Bernie Shaw and Peter Arnett. And we had our morning coffee with them, too, for months; and evening after evening we spent eating dinner and watching tracer fire like malignant green fireflies over the jewel of ancient Mesopotamia, the City of Peace, reflecting in the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.
It was in colour, though. And the CNN credits were read in by James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader and probably of God. We were duly impressed. And I couldn’t say we actually got bored with the coverage – after a childhood thinking Europe was still under the heel of the Nazis, war for real on the telly was all too serious. What we got was … tired. Sick and tired. The US began to get crazier and crazier, and the novelty of the 24/7 news cycle wore off real fast even with the addition of colour television. One day, we just didn’t turn the damned television on every morning and evening; the computer became our magic window on the Big Wide World, and it was a lot easier to avoid watching horrors.
I never wanted to watch a war on television ever again. And for some years, it was easy to avoid.
However. The world rolls on, and there are no new ways for people to be bad: only new weapons, wider coverage, younger voices on the news. A different old city echoing with bomb blasts, a different decayed empire trying to rebirth itself from someone else’s ashes. No tracer bullets yet, but it’s all still in colour. The bomb smoke over Kharkiv is a delicate shade of peach against the eastern sky.
I’ve spent the winter huddled and hibernating. Time to start writing again. The world cannot be ignored forever, you know?