Every once in a while, when the stars align in exactly the wrong way, a war occurs. Of course it’s not that simple, nothing ever is. But it happens. And farmer’s fields and peaceful valleys and streams where children splashed and swam and quiet hamlets get ploughed into mud, trenches, and barbed wire.
Often, by then it’s too late to do anything else. There are marginalized citizens, either by religion or race, being (as Colin says) genocided. Often they’re pleading for intervention and yet… the ones who call the war are never the ones in battle. They’re never the ones who lie crying for their Mom while their life bleeds away and their guts mix with the mud. They don’t have to worry if the skinny teenager standing on the road ahead is innocent or covered in bombs and ready to kill them all. The ones in charge sleep in a comfortable bed every night and dine on a hot, well cooked meal every evening. The war they unleashed is an abstract in a place far away from their lives.
I remember being taught about World War I and the cavalry division. Cavalry had always played a huge role in the British Army so the commanders naturally placed them front and centre in the battlefield. Front and centre against tanks and machine guns. The cavalry didn’t stand a chance. The commanders soon realized this as the death toll climbed but they continued following the same plans because it had always worked before (against other calvary). Of course it wasn’t them or their children dying, it was the calvary and the foot soldiers so they continued.
The most frustrating part is every war starts out with a need for all parties to sit down and negotiate a treaty. They refuse and convince thousands of their people to die, ostensibly for their freedom. Eventually those same parties all sit down and negotiate a treaty… the exact same one they needed to negotiate before all those deaths. When you get right down to it, every single war is a needless war. They all boil down to one or more parties simply refusing to negotiate or refusing to negotiate fairly.
I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who. The Doctor, the main character, was a soldier in a huge, fictional war called the Time War and he gave a speech that I think is eminently suitable. I’ll pare out the parts that are specifically related to the show:
Ah. Ah, right. And when this war is over, when you have a homeland, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it going to be like? Well? Oh, you don’t actually know, do you? Because, like every other tantruming child in history, you don’t actually know what you want. So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one? Maybe you will win! But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So, come on. Break the cycle.
Because it’s not a game. This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does until what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk!
Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine. And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this. No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!
No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch! In other words “lest we forget”.
And so we were silent for two minutes yesterday in remembrance of World War I and II… and all the other wars. Silent so we wouldn’t forget. Silent because never again. And yet wars under a myriad of names are being waged all across this world. There are Muslims in concentration camps in China and children dying in camps in the United States. There’s an outright attack on the LGBTQ community happening through eastern Europe and Africa with Poland even declaring a third of the country LGBT free… as if every queer LGBTQ man, woman, and child is going to suddenly vanish. The Middle East is a hotbed of violence and, as always, everyone has their fingers poking in making it a hundred times worse.
We are all born the same way, birthed from a womb, whether it happens in a dirt floored hut or the private ward of a luxury hospital. We are all born innocent and ready to love and be loved. Everything else comes later. We’re born loving and taught to hate. If only there was a way we could teach all the children around the world to treat each other kindly, to accept each other’s differences, to listen and try to understand instead of resolving conflicts with fists, to hug consensually. It would make such a huge difference. Imagine those children as adults, having grown up learning fairness, kindness, and equity. Maybe someday it will happen but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.