Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Evolution of War

Once there was a man named Thak Ooogaloo. (His cave-friends called him Bill. We’ll call him Thak.) One day, some men from a cave over the hill came and tried to steal Thak's stone knife, a joint of his meat and three of his children. Thak picked up a big stick and grunted to his friends. “For Bill!” his friends hollered, and they ran out of the cave and beat the brains out of the invaders.
Once, many years after Thak’s great victory, there was a man named Agamemnon. (His friends called him Agamamnon. Once, a guy tried to call him "Aggie." Once.) He was rich. He had gotten rich by killing rich guys and taking their stuff. In order to get rich, other warriors banded around Agamemnon. When Agamemnon won battles, he shared the loot with his warriors.  When they got rich enough, those warriors got warriors of their own and killed other rich warlords, and so on. The mix-up with Helen didn’t enter into it. It was all about the loot, in the end.
Still later, there was a chap named Gatherus Landicus. He was a great general who was charged with expanding the Empire as far as possible. Why? He didn’t care why. The more good stuff he did, the more good stuff he was given.  Unfortunately, he found himself on the extreme border, just after the Empire realized it couldn’t keep control over such expanses and it left him without protection. He had his head chopped off by fur-clad people who ripped the walls of his beautiful villa apart in order to make tumbledown roundhouses and sheep fences.
Not long after that, there was a fellow by the name of Wulfric. He had a golden boar atop his war helmet. He fought for loot, too, but the fighting was mostly about doing something braver (infinitely more stupid?) than anything anyone had ever done. This would buy him fame; fame would buy him immortality. He was remembered as big, hairy and killerrific. They wrote poems about him that got more grandiose as time went on. Wulfric, the hunter of boars, became Beowulf, the slayer of dragons. Mission accomplished.
One day, centuries later, a Dark Man, with clenched fist and silly moustache, rose in the east. He believed in hate and blame and racial superiority. He set out, demonstratively and obviously, to spread his control across the world. He dropped bombs on men, women and children. A little man named Vince, who lived a world away, learned about this Dark Man, one day, while watching a "news reel" in Philadelphia movie theater. Vince left his family to help stop the Dark Man and Vince was an unwritten-about hero in the most decisive of battles against the Dark Man. Vince won nothing but the knowledge that he had contributed to the freedom of generations of his family to come, which, in fact, was something very good.
Not long after that, a man named John  -- who could have been Vince’s son -- was told to go into a jungle and kill people. He didn’t know why, but he knew that he'd be a coward and a bad American if he didn’t go. So he went.  (And it was so deeply understood that anyone who didn’t go was a bad American that he would have been forced to go, anyway.) Afterward, as he sat in a wheelchair (forever), hooked up to a bag into which he could evacuate his bowels and bladder (forever), and was awake for the fourth night in a row because of the same nightmare for years (a nightmare that would last forever), he watched a man on television explain why he'd had to go. But John still did does not understand why.
One day, not long after that, two towers burned and fell and so did millions of hearts. Movies and commercials were made. Songs were sung. Villains rose. Villains emerged. Villains fell. Villains called others "villains." Villains claimed to be victims. Good people suspected everyone else of being villains.
People went off to fight.  None of them knew why; they just knew that they had to go, because it was their duty. Their hearts were the same as many before them; their worlds, however, had turned into an unsolvable puzzle -- a puzzle that Thak never could have even imagined, let alone solved.
This is the Evolution of War. We have come a long way. We now fight for something bigger than a stone knife, a joint of meat and a few small children. Now we fight for whole countries and whole ideas. Now we fight for really complicated and, therefore, more important stuff. We're not sure what the important stuff is, but we take for granted that is is important and that we would be cowards and bad Americans if we didn't fight for it. Whatever the big, important thing of the day is, we'll call it "freedom." Freedom is the cute, cuddly puppy of abstract ideas. You can't dislike freedom.
Incidentally, up at the Eternal Café, at this very moment, Vince and Thak take tea and speak of their lives and, at night, they sleep well and deeply.

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