War Without Virtue

end warNo day passes when I do not receive a ‘tweet’ from the Wars in the World website informing me of more deaths around the world directly associated with armed conflict.  As an example, today, four Egyptian army soldiers were killed and 12 injured in an incident in the Sinai Peninsula.

At this moment, only two of the seven continents on this planet are unblemished by active war.  Sixty-six countries of the 196 in the world experience armed conflict today, conflict that involves 682 militia-guerilla, separatist and anarchic groups and governments that include combatants from the United States to drug cartels.  Of the 682, the most well funded warriors are from the United States.

These are not comforting statistics.

achillesThroughout the year, I take a few minutes each day to re-read parts of my earlier work.  This morning, I read the sequence in Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ as Gaspar gives a lesson to his students on ‘justice and right living.’  During Gaspar’s lecture, many of the students and instructors praised the deeds of the mighty Achilles who Homer tells us took his vengeance upon the Trojan champion Hector.  “And when the dying Trojan beseeched the Greek hero to return his body to his family for proper burial,” the belligerent instructor Alexander haughtily tells the students, “Achilles said he would rather carve the flesh from Hector’s bones and eat it raw than return it to Priam [Hector’s father].”  Aenesidemus, the master of the school raises his hands to restore order and concludes,

“At the very end of the epic {the Iliad], the great Achilles – who you just now applauded for his demonic savagery – weeps with Hector’s father Priam and returns the corpse to him.  The great Achilles weeps with the old man.  It is an act of compassion, and I wonder now, had the Greeks who sailed in their thousand ships and the Trojans who defended their city for so long had acted from the very beginning with the compassion Achilles showed at the end, would there have been a war?”

With so many countries engaged in so many conflicts as I write this post, I rue that too few lessons have been learned from the bad choices humankind has made throughout history.

Next time you are tempted to praise the virtues and ‘heroism’ of war, remember these words from Thomas Merton,

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.  It demands greater heroism than war.  It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

Thomas Merton

Mitakuye Oyasin.