Perhaps there is no one more qualified to write a collection of poetry on the subject of war. David Krieger has pulled out all the stops, and compiled a book of poetry that is gut-wrenching, and hauntingly beautiful. Today is Not a Good Day for War is a group of poems that stems from observing not only what war does to human beings, but on examination also of the impact of modern conflict on the author’s soul.
David Krieger has the ability to see the truth – certainly, but his position as President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (since 1982) has definitely enhanced his knowledge of the subject of ‘ wars ’. He has spoken all over the world on the subjects of international law, peace and war, and most importantly – the need to abolish nuclear weapons for all time. The word ‘war’ is so overused that it is accepted as an everyday part of our lives, as most of us have become almost immune to the reality of war – its’ effects, and unique ability to create countless calamities. But Krieger’s book Today is Not a Good Day for War dispossesses the reader from the torpor we have become susceptible to by the current consequences of being overly entertained. The poems snap us to attention, entreating us to question all aspects of war.
This volume – which spans thirty-five years of writing – is an appeal to all of mankind. These poems answer five questions: who, what, how, when and where. Who is responsible? What can we do? How did we get here from there? When did we cross the line, and where should we be going to stop the increasing threat of another nuclear holocaust? The title is clear, and Krieger proves to the reader that there is never a day that is “good for war,” for the term is oxymoronic.
This slim but powerful book – containing fifty-eight poems, has works that cover all aspects of the consequences of war. The poems convince one we are all victims, but does our apathy expedite the ease with which we accept war? One of the tragedies of our own culture, Krieger states very laconically in the poem, “Worse than the War” (p. 27), “/Is the silence…of good Americans./” And in the poem “The Young Men With The Guns”, Krieger’s vitriolic voice rises again with the lines “None of it could have happened/ without the people remaining silent./” (p.7, ls. 29-30). He is writing of the deaths of the priests in El Salvador, during the 1980s. He has several poems reminding us of the different horrors of wars – during the different decades, including Vietnam, Hanoi, the Basque village where Picasso painted Guernica, Dachau – Krieger is educated in all things murderous. But he offers hope through education – and education through poetry.
Today is Not a Good Day for War reverberates with the themes of Nuclear Holocaust, and the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. August 6, 1945, is the antecedent for substantiating Krieger’s tone when writing of war. We learn of the hibakusha, to whom Krieger dedicates this book; they are “…the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are ambassadors of the Nuclear Age.”
On the day that the so-called ‘peace bomb’ was dropped by Enola Gay, the world changed forever. Krieger is resolute in his tone when writing of nuclear bombs. His opening poem, “Hiroshima Dreams” lets us know that the geographical name is not just a dot on some map thousands of miles from us that the Americans destroyed. It was a community “…filled with meandering dreams – /” (p.3, l.3)). The events of three days in August of 1945 are marked in the poem, “A Short History Lesson: 1945” (p. 15) with three lean stanzas, all sobering with bare-bones facts. The descriptive piece “ Hiroshima, August 6, 1945” is another example of Krieger’s intrinsic poetic voice when telling of “/the people – yes, the people – / of Hiroshima/…” (p. 17, st. 2, l.4).
“The Bells of Nagasaki” is a reflective poem, telling us the bells “…ring for those who suffered/ and those who suffer still./” (p. 71; l. 2-3) We know David Krieger has been in the city, and has meditated upon the tragedies suffered there August 8 th, 1945, and has written several pieces exemplifying Nagasaki’s endless pain.
He never wavers from impressing upon us of the likelihood of such an incident happening today, or tomorrow – but soon, if we do not wake ourselves up and stop the idiocy that moves forward the very idea of ‘nuclear’ deterrents. David Krieger continues to appear all over the world, giving speeches and reading poetry to people in the hopes that they become more cognizant of the perils that humanity as a whole faces today. His devotion is commendable , and the poetry he writes expounds his quest to blend facts with artistic metaphor. The poem, “On Becoming Death” (p. 60) is an excellent example:
From Alamogordo to Hiroshima took exactly three weeks. On August 6th, Oppenheimer again became death. So did Groves, Stimson and Byrnes. So did Truman. So did a hundred thousand that day in Hiroshima. And so did America.
Another fine sample of Krieger’s ability with poetic teaching is found in the poem “Passing Through Kokura”. The poem tells us that Kokura was the town to be bombed on August 8 th, 1945 – not Nagasaki, but, “…clouds covered Kokura, and/ the bombardier couldn’t see the ground./” (p. 46., st. 5, ls. 2-3), so FatMan fell on Nagasaki, as a matter of convenience.
Such is the gravity of Krieger’s somber articulation. His poetic skills are varied. He uses rhyme and meter proficiently, and is a fine free-verse writer allowing him to create poetry that is enlightening, deliberative and meaningful. Krieger is obviously appertaining his own valid concerns through his extensive knowledge of the history of all things nuclear, using the art of poetry, making facts accessible to those not inclined to know how to find them.
He writes of people who have impressed him, like Robert Bly, Miyoko Matsubara, Albert Einstein, Oppenheimer and Steve Stevens and Martin Luther King, Jr. He lists the “Unhealed Wounds of Humanity” (p. 42), while giving us all hope in the reflective piece “Fifty-One Reasons for Hope” (p. 78), reminding us we have limitless reasons for working towards peace.
David Krieger creates questions for our reasons for agreeing to war in the poem “When The Draft Comes Back: Questions for young Americans”. The last stanza epitomizes the simple truth of soldiering: “…will you…look your leaders in their eyes/…when they lead the way themselves to war,/ you’ll consider going too?” For it is the leaders that always lead the citizenry blindly to conquer.
Many artists are apprehensive about criticizing their ‘leaders’, but David Krieger is not afraid to be politically ‘incorrect’, penning verses that are unambiguous about where the blame should lie in the prevailing mood of ‘war, war, and more wars.’ The poem “Madmen” is an example as “The world is ruled by madmen C /” (p.14, l.1)
David Krieger’s mettle is very effective when writing of those who seem dispossessed of compassion when committing our young to be killers. Without giving the reader the name of the character Krieger is writing about, he deftly establishes an image of our ‘second-in-command’ in the poem “A Dangerous Face”. The lines “It is the face of one who hides in dark bunkers/ and shuns the brightness of the sun./ …the face of one consumed by power.” (p. 34, 5 th st., ls. 1-2, 4) are indicative of Krieger’s artful ways with words. We know he is speaking of Cheney, while never mentioning his name. In the facing poem “Firing Squad”, he writes of Saddam Hussein, listing reasons why “Saddam Hussein is a bad man./” (l.1) We are forced to wonder, though, if Saddam was “bad” enough to justify harming the children of Iraq.
The quintessence of Krieger can be difficult to paraphrase, if one is describing what Krieger himself thinks of nuclear weapons. Stanza two in the poem Sadako and the Shakuhachi (p. 80) is candid enough:
Nuclear weapons are not weapons at all. They are a symbol of an imploding human spirit. They are the fire that consumes the crisp air of decency. They are a crossroads where science joined hands with evil and apathy. They are a triumph of academic certainty wrapped in the convoluted lie of deterrence. They are Einstein’s regret. They are many things, but not weapons B not instruments of war, but of genocide and perhaps of omnicide.
The title poem “Today is Not a Good Day for War” tells us “today is not a good day for bombs to fall,/ Not when clouds hang on the horizon/ And drift above the sea.//” (p. 64, 2 nd st.), and if that isn’t a good enough reason, Krieger lyrically pens several other ingenuous motives.
The book Today is Not a Good Day for War comes highly recommended, for it is a volume of “tough love” lessons, written by a man who writes with courage and intent, even if it hurts. David Krieger is a warrior – but he is writing for peace.
ALSO BY DAVID KRIEGER:
Peace: 100 Ideas (w/Joshua Chen)
Hope In a Dark Time, Reflections on Humanity’s Future (Editor)
The Poetry of Peace (Editor)
Choose Hope: Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age (w/Daisaku Ikeda)
A Maginot Line in the Sky: International Perspectives on Ballistic Missile Defense (Editor, w/Carah Ong)
Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age: Ideas for Action (Editor w/Frank Kelly)
Waging Peace II: Vision & Hope for the 21st Century (Editor w/Frank Kelly)
The Tides of Change: Peace, Pollution and Potential of the Oceans (Editor, w/ Elisabeth Mann Borgese