War Isn’t Funny

Often, the impetus for a comedic remark is discomfort. You suddenly feel tension and decide to break the ice. Discomfort may be caused by unfamiliarity, and if there’s one thing many young Americans are unfamiliar with, it is the proximity and reality of war.

The United States has been at war for most of our lives, but because actual military conflict has been taking place far away — usually in countries where brown people live — much of America remains ignorant to the atrocities of war. Including me. I may read about conflict, but I’ve never experienced fearing for my life every single day or hearing a bomb detonate. The horror and trauma this creates has only been described to me. I’ve read about it on Twitter, or seen it plastered across headlines. 

So, when news of the prospect of American war involvement drops, many reach to make a joke. 

I think there are plenty of valid reasons to joke about uncomfortable topics. Sometimes quips are how we cope with situations we’re trying to endure. However, it cannot be forgotten who exactly suffers from war, and conversely, who profits. 

If you’re a human who cares about other humans, then of course in some ways you suffer from war. You care about what happens to people, about preserving peace. But, for many of us, we will not “suffer” in the ways others will. We will watch our evening news, feel concern, maybe even anxiety—yet we will go to work, because the building we work in still stands. We will retweet coverage of a bombing and then post a bikini pic on Instagram. Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that.

No, the problems come when we start making cracks about getting drafted when the poor and people of color have long been exploited by the military. About what we are going to do during “World War III.” About how Putin needs “chill.” 

These jokes are pretty much 80% of the content I’m seeing on BlindTiger and Twitter right now. Yeah, lots of people joke about trauma. But in the vast majority of cases (though I don’t claim to know how many Bates students come from war-torn backgrounds), it isn’t your trauma. You are not getting drafted, because you are rich (again, generally speaking). You don’t need to keyboard smash about how you’ll live through World War III because your daddy probably works at or holds stock in a private defense company, or something. I don’t know, just ask him. 

Imagine how it would feel to be affected by war in a more proximate way. To be a Ukrainian student fearing for their family’s safety. To be a Syrian or Yemeni student wondering why everyone suddenly seems to care about foreign intervention when the victims of war don’t look like you. You can’t. You don’t know. 

So, please, shut the hell up — you know who I’m talking to. And to those of you I’m clearly not talking about, who are in fact personally suffering, whether now or for the last several years, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you have to see other people making light of a dark reality.