In 1911, Ivor Gurney won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. In 1914, he volunteered to join the British army. In 1915, he was accepted. In 1917, he was gassed at Passchendale. In 1922, he was certified insane and institutionalized, and he never got well. The story that "Batty Gurney" was eternally reliving the horrors of Passchendale are apparently a myth; he continued to write poetry about the war, but Gurney was not suffering from "deferred shell shock" and he knew it. Gurney freely admitted that he had invented the symptoms of shell-shock in order to get improved medical benefits. Although there is some debate about what his condition actually was, he was genuinely ill; one doesn’t spend a decade and a half in a mental institution on a lark. Still, he could have had it worse. The idea of Gurney, the lost (and last) war poet, reliving and responding to the events that shattered him is a romantic one, but twenty years of life during imagined wartime would have served only (as one of Gurney’s poems put it) God’s purpose of pain. There are no coconut radios or keptibora berries, but Gilligan’s Island did not lie about one thing: Japanese soldiers really did linger on long after World War II had ended. In 1951, a group of Japanese sailors marooned on Anatahan Island in the Marianas surrendered to the U.S. Navy. And six years after the war wasn’t nearly the record; Hiroo Onada stationed in the Philippines refused to believe that Japan had actually surrendered, and spent thirty years hiding in the jungle, finally surrendering in 1975. It’s not surprising that word of the war’s end took some time to filter out to those serving at the very edges of Japanese-controlled territory. The Battle of New Orleans took place after the end of the War of 1812, after all, and Juneteenth celebrates the arrival of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, just two years late.
The demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is one of the most heavily fortified places on earth. A more concillatory South Korean government has thawed the relationship between North and South Korea to some extent. Tourists can (and do) now visit Panmunjom, the "Peace City" in the DMZ, where American and South Korean soldiers once feared being snatched bodily out of meeting rooms on the border. Some of the mines studding the DMZ have been removed, but the area is still fantastically dangerous, rendering one of the major examples of what Bruce Sterling terms an involuntary park, a place where wildlife returns because people cannot live there. There’s a reason for this tension; despite its supply of adorable xylophone genius, North Korea remains a pathological state, fanatically devoted to repressing its citizens and paranoid about real and perceived enemies abroad. After all, the Korean War never actually ended. There is no war between North and South Korea, but they are not at peace.
Marines are back in Haiti, and it’s almost like they never left. They were there in 1994, when Operation Restore Democracy returned democratically elected demogauge and former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after a coup. And they were there before, conquering the country in during the Wilson Administration and ruling it via a military government for the next twenty years. The Marines, then as now, drew heavily from the South, and a large group of young, armed Southern white men ruling in a country of poor Creole-speaking blacks was a bad idea, and the occupation, which failed to produce long-term stability in the country, was both a practical and a moral failure. We’ll probably be back in Haiti again twenty or thirty years from now. These things come around.
Haiti’s example is an unpleasant one if you want to see a free, prosperous, and truly independent Iraq in the near future; it’s an even less pleasant example when articles with titles like "The Fifty-First State?" start to appear. America was attacked by Japan in 1941; World War II was over in 1945. America declared war on Germany in 1917; World War I was over in 1919 (allowing America to miss the grinding devestation of the war that led both the Allies and the Central Powers to wonder if the war would ever truly end before one side or the other ran out of men and materiel). For most of history, peace has not been the default space. The Hundred Years’ War lasted two hundred years, depending on how any particular historian dates it. In the Sudan, out of the sight of most of the Western world, a brutal civil war has been quietly killing thousands every week. It began in 1955, making it, at forty-nine years, the world’s longest running active war. There is no end in sight. War is hell, nor are we left it.