‘Daddy, What is a Drone?’ – A Bedtime Story
Dr. William A. Cook
(LAVERNE, CA) – The question jolted him out of his lethargy as he suddenly sat upright in the soft chair he had slumped into when she came for “her time with Daddy.” It had the ring of a catechism question; “What is God, Daddy?” How does one answer that without a torrent of other questions cascading from this innocent mouth one after another? His first impulse was to ignore it; his second, to discombobulate the response with obfuscation, to deflect the question with words she could not understand; his third, to respond directly to her question, to speak the truth knowing that she would not comprehend the intricacies of the policies that legalize the use of drones.
He remembered the story of Hawthorne’s good Dr. Grim who had to address a similar question when Little Ned asked him, “Whence came I here and why?” Indeed, the good doctor answered honestly, truthfully, bluntly, and, dare we say it, wisely.
“Whence did you come? Whence did any of us come? Out of the darkness and mystery, out of nothingness; out of a kingdom of shadows; out of dust, mud, clay, I think, and to return to it again. Out of a former state of being, whence we have brought a good many shadowy revelations, purporting that it was not a very pleasant one. Out of a former life, of which the present one is hell.
And why are you come? Faith, Ned, he must be a wiser man than Doctor Grim who can tell you why you or any other mortal came hither; only one thing I am well aware of, —it was not to be happy. To toil and moil and hope and fear; and to love in a shadowy, doubtful sort of way, and to hate in bitter earnest, —that is what you came for.”
“Daddy, what is a Drone?” she asked again, noticing his sudden reaction and his hesitancy.
“Darling, I think your mother called; yes, I’m certain. Please go to her and we’ll talk about this later.”
He sagged back into the chair as she left the room conscious that he was no Doctor Grim though the power of Doctor. Grim’s cynical answer to Ned held an unexplainable fascination for him as it sprung to mind when his daughter asked her question. Perhaps Hawthorne had responded for his character because he had grappled with the consequences of the world that surrounded him as he tried desperately to bring closure to this last novel that eluded a meaningful ending.
He sat there musing, recalling that Hawthorne had gone ‘to see the war,” to attempt to understand what it was and why, so he travelled by buggy to Washington “to see the war.” And he saw it, upfront and personal: brother slaughtering brother, the ideals of this new, innocent nation built on such mighty principles of equality for all, of laws that protect all, where the corruption of Europe and thousands of years of wars and devastation, of barbarism and savagery could not taint this new Eden where each could achieve as he or she desired, as he, Hawthorne had determined was the meaningful end of his last novel, The Marble Faun. Hawthorne realized that the world around him had gone mad: the Confederates fought to protect a medieval system of privilege and slavery while the north had capitulated to survival of the fittest and cut throat Capitalism. The evils of Europe had come home to roost.
Daddy sat there ruminating on Dr. Grimshawe’s “kingdom of shadows” and the “dust, mud, clay” and the hell that is the life we live, “to toil and moil and hope and fear” and, above all, and, oh, how pitiful and absolute the truth of it, “to hate in bitter earnest.” Strange how the world has not changed since the Civil War; we simply move the war elsewhere, manufacture schisms, fracture governments, supplant elected officials with western puppets, support dictators with weapons of mass destruction to carry out our will, buy off the representatives of the people, and create laws that erase individual rights while proclaiming we do God’s will.
How then to tell a daughter this truth when in fact she will in time know that he is the one who decides who will live and who will die, which children will be scattered over the landscape as they scramble for the detritus of human waste in the dumps that litter the hills and valleys in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Palestine, which mothers and daughters and sons may be the accidents of the Tuesday night gathering of enlightened men when they decide to do what drones do in the silence and darkness and mystery of the kingdom of shadows that hovers above all the living and the dead. How explain the unexplainable when she asks the next question:” Daddy, who tells the computer when to fire a missile?” “Daddy, why don’t these people get arrested and charged with their crimes?” “Daddy, why don’t you use the courts and the laws of the country?” “Daddy, who is God? Are you God, Daddy? Who made you God, Daddy?”
As he listened in silence to the unuttered words of his daughter, he gave utterance to Dr. Grimshawe’s response to Little Ned:
“And why are we come? Faith, my Darling, I am not a wiser man than Doctor Grim and I can’t tell you why you or any other mortal came hither; like Dr. Grim, only one thing I am well aware of, —it was not to be happy. To toil and moil and hope and fear; and to love in a shadowy, doubtful sort of way, and to hate in bitter earnest, —that is what you came for and as long as I am the determiner, that is the way it will be.”
William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His works include Psalms for the 21st Century, Mellon Poetry Press, Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy, The Rape of Palestine, The Chronicles of Nefaria, and most recently in 2010, The Plight of the Palestinians. He can be reached at email@example.com or www.drwilliamacook.com.