QUICKBEAM'S OUT ON A LIMB:
War! What is it Good For?
My heart is troubled with recent matters of war and strife.
The U.S. led Operation Iraqi Freedom stands now as the second Persian Gulf war
in my lifetime. I am not from the generation of Americans that has a living
memory of the great World Wars, instead my only experience with my country
under the moniker of "war" comes from watching televised military events here
and there. You could say mine is a passive exposure to this reality. It is
certainly not one that I would want to live close up and in the real. It may
be far away from my daily life, but it is NEVER completely out of my mind.
Still, I know some soldiers who have been dispatched to serve their country.
Memorial Day has just passed us, and I feel sad for those who are never coming
home. Being removed from the dire immediacy of war has not lessened its impact
on my psyche, not by any stretch.
Now I will show some of my true colors. I am a humanist at
the core. In my greatest moments of confidence, I believe in human capacity;
the ability and possibility of Mankind
as a whole -- with the pursuit of reason and improvement of the conditions we
live in here on Earth. You can imagine Gene Roddenberry felt the exact same
way, as this humanist philosophy was the foundation of his Star Trek mythology. I find the very need for war questionable
against this ideal. Invasions, cruel dictators, war machines, divisions of
religious beliefs, racial strife, and battles for control of natural resources
are not part of this humanist way of thinking. Ideally, the world could
conceivably turn and Mankind prosper, socially and economically, without these
things happening; without the need for war. My cynical critics could easily
denounce me as seeing through rose-colored glasses, but I hold to the
Philosophy of Possibility, nonetheless.
I will not argue here the pros and cons of the recent war in
Iraq. I will let my elected officials debate the course of my country. That's
their job. My job is to figure out my feelings and respond to the world with
my own voice. So I put my pen to paper. Something more worthy of discussion
will come out of this dark cloud.
Just look at our collective history, back through all the
centuries, and the exigencies of war are ever-present. Throughout history....
both war and conflict continue to spring up like blistered flowers in a field
of red. Great Walls have been built across the land, terrible inventions to
wound and kill have been devised, and children have lost their parents without
understanding why. All because of Man's hostility towards Man. This dreadful
truism makes my heart very sick.
Yet through all the upheaval, something of our basic
Humanity survives. We survive and move on, hoping for a different future than
what was left behind. Beyond the framework of these petty wars a greater
essence is drawn up; and we find solace in the Arts. This is an epiphany for
me. Consider that the highest talents of writers, artists, thinkers and
musicians have given us a rich and compelling ocean of work -- all inspired by
the tides of war. Yes, this is quite a realization.
Here is a sign of Man's capacity for healing. It is a very
profound sign that the spirit of man cannot succumb to violence and
self-destruction. Our living arts tell me otherwise.
I have discovered some of the greatest stories ever written
are indeed about war. Homer's Iliad,
Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities,
Tolstoy's War and Peace, and
Shakespeare's War of the Roses
plays, to name but a few. Then of course there is The Lord of the
Rings, which we all know is a story of war.
It is the hobbits' account of their part in the War of the Ring at the end of
the Third Age. As strongly as I stand philosophically against the notion of
War, it is all the more remarkable to be so deeply drawn into Tolkien's
mythology. It is a story more compelling to me than any other.
I spoke with my older brother about this. My thoughts were
troubled; and I turned to him. He spent a number of years in the United States
Navy. Though not a man of war, and thankfully spared any combat during his
service, I thought he might share his unique insight. I asked him, "Why are
these stories so profound to us? Is it possible that the greatest
accomplishments of the written word are all sprung from the necessity of war?
Or are we trying to express something else here?"
He replied, "No, it's not about necessity. But as human
beings we are faced with many things in Life. We are confronted with growing
up, and falling in love, and even confronted with parenthood. We struggle with
business, careers, and all sorts of things. But the one thing that makes a
good war story -- is the essence of confronting Death. When you write about Man
standing side by side with his fellow Man, and looking Death in the face,
perhaps surviving, perhaps not, then you have told the most compelling story of
all. Standing united against Death is the one thing that unites us all in
commonality. It's what makes us human."
It was many days before I could shake the lingering feelings
of awe after this conversation.
Tolkien himself lived through the nightmare of World War I,
while his closest friends died in quick succession. Years later his life was
impacted by another World War, and even his son Christopher went off to fight
with the Royal Air Force. After such lengthy exposure to conflict and loss
over the course of his lifetime, Tolkien came to a very British, very
reasonable, conclusion about the nature of War. On 3 June 1945, in a letter to
Christopher, he wrote:
There is a stand-down parade of Civil Defence in the
Parks in the afternoon, to which I shall probably have to drag myself. But I
am afraid it all seems rather a mockery to me, for the War is not over (and the
one that is, or the part of it, has largely been lost). But it is of course
wrong to fall into such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and The War always
goes on; and it is no good growing faint!
Much too hasty,
Post your comments on this article.