75, 44, 9, ∞

Al-Shabaab has asked for a truce. Chances are that this is a gambit to throw Kenya off-balance and make us look bad when we hammer them, as we must.—Mutuma Mathiu

What is the mathematical symbol for a body? What is the mathematical symbol for killing? What is the mathematical symbol for death? What does one do with the numbers of the dead reported so gleefully in the papers as signs of our accomplishment? How does one measure the force of metaphors translated into bodies translated into celebratory drinks over bodies? How much does a hammer cost?

It is no secret that the Kenyan newspapers love figures. We enumerate and measure everything, frame the world in figures and statistics: there is no greater guarantee of gaining a hearing in Kenyan than providing facts (by which I mean figures). We have become the great statistical society. And this extends to every domain of our lives, so much so that positivism is our unacknowledged state religion. Indeed, we measure loss and pain through figures. So much so that one Kenyan politician is infamous for claiming that a tragedy was not tragic enough because the numbers were not statistically significant.

Yet, as one reads a Mathiu’s bloodlust, his demand that Kenya “hammer” Al Shabaab, one realizes that numbers are not enough. No deaths of those deemed Al Shabaab will ever be deemed “statistically significant.” And the elusive nature of Al Shabaab—a name for terrorists, Somalis, Muslims, young men who live in bordertowns, the un-42, the undocumented, the undocumentable, the nightmare, the fantasy—guarantees that no deaths can be statistically significant. After all, despite efforts to codify threat, one cannot measure fear, rage, paranoia, excitement, bloodlust. One hammers even past the need for a hammer.

Excitement fuels the chase. Listen to the government spokesman, Dr. Mutua: “They are running scared. I think they are busy running for their lives.” This following the statement, “Kenyan troops have enjoyed success since crossing the border into Somalia to pursue Al-Shabaab.”

One might pause on metaphor to note that fear incites excitement. The more we chase, the more we kill, the more we hammer, the more intense our excitement. Another’s fear can be exciting. We want Al Shabaab scared: it’s exciting. It’s enjoyable. It gives us bragging rights. Look, we can also kill and “hammer.”

Kenyan Hammers: 75+44+9+∞

I am stuck on that musty old nineteenth century concept of “character.” As I read our reactions to this war, I keep wondering who we are and who we want to be. I am against war. With Yusef Komunyakaa, I believe that poets should be against war. (Poet is the only identity I am willing to adopt given our ethno-nationalist jingoism right now.)

One need not be against war to take seriously the loss of human life, any human life. War may be justified and justifiable—I write this with a pang, thinking I concede too much, but hoping it is worth it—but we need not take the loss of life lightly. In other words, we need not continue to celebrate and valorize the deaths of others. We can mourn our enemies, acknowledging the price that war exacts.

Wise(r) friends have suggested that I am politically naïve, too steeped in, marinated in, even flooded by a wishy-washy liberalism that has no place in the world of real events, real politics. Yet, I wonder about their certainties that war is real(istic) and inevitable, the place where events happen and worlds are born and shaped and modified and sustained.

As I read about and listen to the bloodlust—the scavenging reporters who want to see dead bodies and tell “real” stories about human loss and pain; the Kenyan public who are both comforted and excited as the papers print daily numbers of casualties; the Kenyan politicians who are rubbing their hands in glee as Kenya asserts itself as “war-ready” and “war-winning—I wonder about our character. I wonder about the strange blend of obsession with figures—facts, cold hard facts:

NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir! (Charles Dickens, Hard Times)

and bloodlust.

There Will Come Soft Rains

Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows calling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild-plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

July 1918