my enemy, my self
30/06/2010 § Leave a comment
Reading books and watching movies or programs about war has been a fascination of mine since childhood. I remember the war to end all wars being of particular interest to me: the sheer devastation of casualties, the effectiveness of propaganda, and how one man could almost single-handedly raise up and then destroy his own country. In high school, for an independent study project (ISP/U), I wrote a comparative essay between Hitler and George W.’s use of propaganda in promoting and romanticizing the military. When I was a kid, I was hooked.
Although at times it was put on hold, this fascination never stopped. Through family and friends I was introduced to the “other” wars –the blatantly ironic ones. It was movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Counterfeiters and even The Hurt Locker, that have maintained my allure to such dark subject matter. Now, I have a book — one of my preferred mediums — called “Brothers In Arms”, by William Broyles, Jr. to keep me company.
I think war is fascinating because it’s real and raw with, what Broyles refers to as, a sense of “fairy tale”. When someone is removed from such atrocities he or she can only imagine or create the crude images of destruction. But, each person knows that this dark side of humanity exists out there because it also exists deep within.
Walking around the MoMA the other day, Christoffer mentioned that most psycho-therapists put up paintings of happy things and bright colours in their offices to create a more positive mood. However, he believes that people would be better if the paintings or art on the walls reflected this darkness:
– I think that darker images would allow people to open up more about the things they are truly thinking.
– Yes, I could see that. I guess if you know that other people think dark thoughts than it’s ok if you do, too.
Also while in the hostel, I met a New Zealander names Annis — a young vegetarian with an uplifting laugh — who was studying to be an architect. I asked him what his thesis design and he described what he and his group was working on:
– All of our designs stem from this morbid reality that we have lived in or experienced in some way. I am designing a post-war centre, a girl is developing an ex-prison to be converted into a boarding school and another guy is designing a restaurant that is combined with a slaughterhouse.
– That’s pretty dark stuff.
– Yeah, it really is.
It’s reality: In humans there exists both the light and dark and the shades in between.
So it is, my favourite chapter of “Brothers in Arms” is the one called My Enemy, My self. Not only does it highlight this internal polarization within all of us, but Broyles describes why he hated, yet loved the war. He hated leaving behind a Vietnamese lady that he fell in love with. He hated knowing that he may not have seen the action of killing another man, but ordered it to be done. He hated knowing that the men across from him hated him, too.
However, when going back to Vietnam and talking to those that fought with the Viet Cong, he realized that he also loved war, more specifically the “comradeship” that developed between those he fought alongside with:
Comradeship isn’t a particularly selective process. Race, personality, , education — anything that would make a difference in peace — count for nothing. It is, simply, brotherly love. War is the only utopian experience most of us ever have. Individual possessions and advantage count for nothing; the group is everything. What you have is shared with your friends. No one is allowed to be alone. – p190.
Many of us do not have that perception of war. For us that have not seen it, war is primal and destructive — something that, because we are humans, we try to remove ourselves from. We believe that peace is tranquility and happiness and the progression of the species and that war is not logical, should not part of the enlightened creature.
Perhaps this is true. Perhaps war is the part of our natural selves, the expression of an innate, competitive, territorial tendency that drives us to declare our space and our clan. Perhaps that is why we hate it, but are so drawn to it. Fascinating.
And then, I think to myself as I am sure others think, perhaps war is the darkness that keeps us away from the light.