I’ve been enjoying this delightful collection of short essays by the Melbourne-born poet, artist and cultural commentator Michael Leunig. Here’s a snippet from his essay ‘Blood and Guts, Violence and Death’:
“No nation can go to war without a sufficient reserve of hatred, cruelty and bloodlust politely concealed in its general population, and if our so-called Western democracies wanted their ‘war against terror’, then let them now at least see the graphic details of war’s sickening and hideous consequences.
The curse is, however, that it’s the children who are most defiled and blighted by such frightening imagery – and they had no part in it.
My years in the abattoir taught me that society denies its bloodlust and cruelty and imagines that such impulses appropriately belong to prehistoric barbarians, or ‘rough and uncouth men’. But I believe we now have the unique modern cruelty of the refined and educated Western man, the respected gentleman in the fine suit who has never much dirtied his hands or killed a living creature, never meditated upon a rotting corpse and never had his consciousness infected with the messy organic substances of violent death – yet who can sign with an elegant golden pen the document that unleashes the cowardly invasion and who can then go out to dine on claret and lamb cutlets.
The likes of these men abound in the halls of academia, the boardrooms and corridors of power, and the chicken-coop workstations of the media, where they have clamoured for war, for all sorts of ungodly and unfathomable reasons, without really knowing in their bones how it works – the business of violence and blood and guts.
They are primally inexperienced, unconnected and unwise. Their flesh has not been seared. Their repressed death fascination and sly cruelty has not yet been transformed into reverence and understanding by initiation into things carnal and spiritual, by the actual sights and sounds of splattering blood and crunching bone, and the pitiful flailing and wailing of violent death – the very thing they would unleash upon others. Just one sordid street-fight or one helpless minute of aerial bombardment might redeem them. They lack the humbling erudition of the slaughterman, the paramedic and, no doubt, the soldier who has really been a soldier.
I dare say there’s something foul, creepy and disgraceful emerging in the character of corporate and political leadership in ‘Western civilisation’, and I sense it’s substantially the result of an insipid masculinity problem.
The insatiable need for heartless power and ruthless control is the telltale sign of an uninitiated man – the most irresponsible, incompetent and destructive force on earth.”
– Michael Leunig, The Lot: In Words (Camberwell: Penguin, 2008), 50–2.