Lord Bates is on his #Walk4Peace from London to Berlin. He writes each evening and on Saturday his walk took him past a reenactment of a WWII battle.
Here he wonders why “we want to believe that there are good people (us) and bad people (them) out to get us.”
At breakfast the restaurant was already full with a party of Canadians who were on a special tour of WWII battlefield sites.
Dieppe was a key point on the tour for it was where a largely Canadian armed force of approx 6000 tried a daring raid ‘Operation Jubilee’ against heavy German defences on 19 August, 1942. Of the 5000 Canadian forces 3367 were either killed, wounded or captured. It was a huge blow to morale of the Allies and in particular the Canadians who bore the brunt of the losses. Still, over seventy years later people want to come and hear about what went on that day in the greatest possible detail.
Looking at the leaflets of local attractions on display in the reception area the majority were for war related museums and monuments. In the evening we noticed a huge camp being erected on the beach front of military tents, jeeps and memorabilia and men in WWII style army uniforms which I understand is part of an annual reenactment of that fateful day in 1942 and is attended by visitors from US, UK and Canada. All this militarism should make for uneasy viewing on what was a ‘Walk for Peace’ but it didn’t. I actually found it all fascinating and thought the dressed up soldiers looked heroic and made me feel patriotic.
This raised a deeper question: What is it about war and violence which fascinates and entertains us men? We would naturally flinch at such accusations that we would see any entertainment in war or violence as we tune in to the 24 hour news channels with exploding bombs, plumes of smoke and blood soaked casualties on endless replay. It is not just old men who romance about war and violence. If we look at the top selling video computer games they are titles like: ‘Call of Duty’; ‘World of Tanks’; ‘Command & Conquer’; ‘World of Warcraft’; ‘Band of Brothers’; ‘Assassins’; ‘Counter Strike’ and ‘Warhammer’. Then consider the current movie releases: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’; ‘X-Men’; ‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’; ’300: Rise of an Empire’.
This is not an accusatory point it is to seek to make a revelatory point that violence and war are deep within our male DNA and we need to understand it and control it or it will continue to control and destroy us. To underscore the humility with which I approach this topic if I was asked my top movie pictures then Saving Private Ryan, First Knight, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Man on Fire, James Bond–Skyfall and Gladiator would be right up there.
Think of all the war movies, all the Westerns, all the computer games have in common is that there is a bad person, pure evil and they are intent on threatening our way of life or our loved ones, so up steps a goodie who knocks seven bells out of the baddie whilst protecting women and children and never forgetting to rush back into danger to rescue wounded comrades. The hero saves the day and gets the girl. It works. It has worked as the theme of literature certainly from Greek classical antiquity (8th century BC) with the ‘Trojan War Cycle’ or from the same period in China, Sun Tzu ‘The Art of War’, but why does it work?
I want to try an answer, which is audacious because I have not the mind nor the knowledge so to do, but it seems to me that we want to believe that there are good people (us) and bad people (them) out to get us. The truth is that the angels and demons are not different characters in a computer game, a movie or even present day nations, tribes or religions they are elements within each and every one of us. We each have the capacity to love and to hate. To help or to harm. To care to abuse. To build or to destroy. To be loyal or disloyal. To want to serve or to control. To lie or to speak the truth.
What has this to do with war? This: that men prefer war because it a way of escaping the real battle which within each and every one of us each and every day. We see on our tv screens a world of ‘baddies’, new ones emerging every day and we convince ourselves that if only we ‘goodies’ can this latest demon to kingdom come by foul means or fair then we will save the day and create peace on earth. Just like in the movies. The problem is that in externalising this internal problem of the male human condition we deny the possibility of its solution. We are in a state of perpetual war with the world because we haven’t conquered our inner warrior spirit. Peace won’t come in the world until it happens within us.
Now that may be my best effort with a third-class brain but here is a first-class brain (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) to sum up my long ramble in a few succinct lines:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― The Gulag Archipelago
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