Editorial: Us Versus Them

“Why do people go to war?”

That was the question my eight-year-old asked at dinner the other night when we explained that the U.S. holiday, Memorial Day, is in honor of military service members that have given their lives in battle.

Following her question, the adults and teenagers did shifty eyes around the table. There’s no good answer. There’s no one answer. As a veteran myself, a former cog in the military industrial complex, the only truth I’d come up with was that there’s something inside of us—a result of evolution probably—that pushes us to band together. Like and like, us versus them.

Recently, a group of my neighbors banded together to try to stop a church from building a new temple. To what end? To save the farmland, they claimed. But the land wasn’t a farm. To prevent traffic, they said. But the road isn’t busy on Sunday mornings. Is it surprising that the neighbors are middle class white folks while the church is servicing a Korean community? Us versus them.

The specific church is called the Holy Korean Martyrs, one of multiple, similar congregations throughout the United States that are named in honor of Christian peasants massacred for their faith in the 18th and 19th century during the Joseon dynasty. This regime pushed Neo-Confucianism over all other religions. Us versus them.

The founder of the local Holy Korean Martyrs congregation fled North Korea as a child during the Korean War, a conflict that was partially the result of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (notably allies at the time) dividing the peninsula in order to push out Imperial Japan, who by that time had colonized Korea. The same Cold War divisions that led to the Korean War spawned conflicts around the world from Nicaragua to Afghanistan. Us versus them.

When my daughter asked why I joined the Navy, I told her it was patriotic to do so at the time. It was just after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Similarly, my grandfather joined the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. But my dad, sandwiched between us, was in college during the Vietnam War and believed that patriotism wasn’t so precisely obvious.

Now, having become a student of America’s involvement in Afghanistan and the “Global War on Terrorism,” I can see he was absolutely right—“us versus them” is a snarl of incredibly complex socioeconomic, religious, and ideological factors that have played out over eons.

Try explaining that to a second grader!

As a weekend artist, my dad—who labeled his artwork with the pseudonym “Latrobische”—embraced the postmodernist trend of using art to portray irony and political cynicism. The cover of this issue features a pen-and-ink piece he completed in 1986 in response to Israeli and Palestinian skirmishes. Considering our collective history, is it any surprise that it remains relevant almost thirty years later?

Considering our present endeavors, what can we expect of our future? For FFO’s June issue, I’ve selected stories of surreal futurism that also feature a take on nationhood or tribalism, and how this mentality can affect individuals. Some of these protagonists resist their prescribed groupings, some are just hoping to survive.

First up is Caroline Hung’s “War Makes Flowers,” a grim reminder that whatever beauty found in war can be unbearably grisly. But I did not fill this issue solely with images of war.

Justine Gardner’s “Are They Cake?” shows the extent to which someone will go to improve their family’s status.

Lindz McLeod returns with an original, #ownvoices story, “The Brides, The Hunted,” which tackles the 80s-era trope of heteronormativity in cliquish youths.

FFO assistant editor and returning author, Yelena Crane, delivers a truly unearthly vision of entire nations trapped by the choices of others in “Face Full of Nations.”

And possibly our most unexpected story this month is Kurt Pankau’s “A Pin Drops,” in which the characters are one strike away from having to reassemble their family.

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