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Bowling for Iraq?

What can be gleaned from a German poet on the eve of war with Iraq?

March 20, 2003

What can be gleaned from a German poet on the eve of war with Iraq?

Wolfgang Borchert has always been one of my favorite German poets. Born in 1921, Borchert lived only 26 years. During his brief life, he got himself into trouble a lot.

He spoke out against the Nazi regime, was arrested and incarcerated several times — and was then sent to the Eastern front to "redeem" himself. After the end of World War II, Borchert spent the remainder of his brief life writing prolifically.

His work is a compilation of thoughts on oppression, war and its horrific aftermath. His words are timeless. They point no fingers, but instead reflect on human emotion under these most difficult circumstances.

Sadly, there is no more an appropriate time to re-read some of Borchert's most compelling essays than on this fateful day. Even more sadly, it is too much to hope for, however, that those who are about to send their nations' soldiers into war will do the same.

In his dying days, Borchert wrote:

    “We are the bowlers.
    And we are the bowling ball as well.
    But we are also the pins
    That fall.
    The thundering bowling alley
    Is our heart.”

In Borchert's image, Messrs. Hussein and Bush are the bowlers. However, as it turns out, they are neither the bowling ball, the pins — nor the alley.

These roles have been — and will be — left to the people they command.

War and destruction are never noble causes, yet undoubtedly they might be justified. That is why motives matter.

The "coalition of the willing" better be sure that they will be able to explain to the world why they sent a bowling ball down the alley knocking over so many pins.