I read a fantasy anthology recently titled The Art of War, which included 40 stories all with a war theme. I enjoyed this quite a lot and reviewed it elsewhere, so if you like you can check it out here. But in any case, it got me thinking, nay philosophizing, and here we are.
These days there seems to be a very common and uncompromising view that war, and violence in general, is bad. To take an opposing or at least nuanced view of this seems a daunting if not perilous task, but then that has never stopped me before.
Fortunately, an incident widely reported in the world right now might assist. I suspect most of us in the ‘Western’ world can understand, or at least sympathize with, the plight of many Iranians now living under a theocracy. In the Americas, at least, many of our ancestors fled religious persecution, braving a vast and treacherous sea to face brutal conditions for a chance at liberty. Many Iranians have made similar choices. Many have fled over the years to any country willing to accept them, though of course this is always easier with means.
Most Iranians have no such luxury. Most Iranians must accept that they must cover their faces with a veil or risk arrest, or worse. They must accept a ban on social media, tattoos, alcohol, dating, loud music, and any number of other harmless choices and pleasures. A person might learn to accept this for a time. She may very well tell herself that violence is wrong and there’s nothing she can do and just keep your head down, and things will get better. Perhaps she can do this until her children are taken and abused.
And then perhaps she can no longer bear the deformity of spirit required to endure tyrants. Perhaps at last she and her brothers and uncles, neighbors and friends cast down their plowshares and lift their swords, cry havoc and begin the madness. And can I truly criticize them? Is their violence wrong? Would I do differently? Would you?
What privilege we have to live in this place. What hypocrites we’d be, the great grand-children of revolutionaries. What a revolting use of freedom to lounge in our seat of wealth and inherited liberty, thumbing our nose at those doing the very thing our ancestors did.
Yes, war, like violence of any kind, should be a last resort. It is hatred and chaos made manifest. It never ends the way it began, never moves the way its expected to. But sometimes laying in its embers can be the only hope of a dying human spirit. And when the smoke clears, those still alive and brave enough might find another chance to build the lasting peace they wanted in the first place.
I wish it wasn’t so. I wish no one felt their lives and liberties so shackled and worn they felt it necessary to wield the sword. But I refuse to judge them. Just as I refuse to judge the native-American of my own country, whose ancestors fell in the current of history, and who now tries to lay claim to those lands once seen as his. No, I don’t judge him, but nor will I lay down and die. Together we must find another way. We are all of us prisoners of history, we are not its authors.
Every man and woman alive today hails from an unbroken line of survivors – yes, survivors, who struggled and fought and clashed with nature and with each other for at least 200,000 years to get us here.
Perhaps, in honor of their memory, we will do our very best to at least be honorable. To tell the truth. To listen. To compromise. To respect one another, even if we disagree, and together make no room for predators, hypocrites and liars. These evils are the building blocks of war. They are the rotting foundation upon which hatred and rage consumes a people until death and murder seem reasonable. And we are none of us immune.