Sunday, September 26, 2010

All War is Fratricide

There's a blog post I've been wanting to write for a while now, something along the lines of How I Spent My Summer Vacation. I pictured myself sitting down to write it at the beginning of September, before the kids went back to school. Then I pictured myself sitting down to write it after I dropped them off on the first day. Alas, here we are getting ready to start Week 4 of the school year, the weather has turned wet and cold, the leaves are beginning to fall and I'm afraid that by the time I finally get around to it, summer will be a distant memory. Forgive me. My organizational skills, especially where time is concerned, aren't what they used to be.

I keep thinking something's going to change, but in the daily-ness of Life With Small Children, my brain feels scattered, scrambled. My mind races, and my heart feels overwhelmed much of the time. Someone told me the other day that I always appear to be calm and peaceful, which is really ironic because first thing every morning I wake up in utter panic, wondering, "What day is it? What needs to be done today?" and from that point on, I find myself doing whatever it is that needs doing, for however long it takes to do it, in hopes of finding a few minutes to spare so I can sit quietly with a cup of tea before rushing off to do the next thing.

Ahhh, and that's what I'm doing now, sitting with not just a cup but an entire pot of tea -- pineapple oolong, to be precise. (From Singapore! a thoughtful gift from a thoughtful friend.) And although the Summer Vacation post will have to wait, I'm going to share something else I've been wanting to post ever since I read it this summer.

(Because in those snatches of quiet, with a cup of tea, reading a book is the perfect escape.)

I came across Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres in our local secondhand bookshop. Set in the southern part of what is now Turkey, in a time when Christians and Muslims coexisted peacefully, the storyline sounded like something that I could really immerse myself in (one snatch at a time).

But then I found and decided to read first the author's more famous novel, Captain Correlli's Mandolin. Wait, don't dismiss the book if you've only ever seen the movie! The book is entirely different – with rich, full characters and an amazing, amazing, amazing story, expertly and eloquently told. Through much of it I laughed out loud! And by the end I was sobbing. If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, consider this: The book is like a perfect chocolate cheesecake, appealing to all your senses, a true work of art. The movie is like a chocolate covered digestive biscuit, nice to dunk in a cup of tea but nothing special. In other words, read the book! It's poetry, drama and a bit of history in novel form. And as I said, it's amazing. (For actual book reviews by people who know how to write them, click the links above.)

This post is not about that book, though. Because then I read Birds Without Wings.

It's an exquisitely beautiful, excruciatingly tragic historical narrative of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in which de Bernieres fairly portrays the various people groups involved -- Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Kurds and soldiers from the various Allied nations -- while acknowledging the atrocities committed by them and to them. (Truly, war is hell.) Nothing I can write can do justice to the beauty and pain of this book.

I won't lie to you, it's a hard story to read. At least it was for me. Aside from the fact that these horrors happened in the past, the modern parallels are too obvious -- the prejudice, the fear and resulting terror that comes from pitting one group of people against another. It's a difficult, devastating reality. Especially in this current slice of history.

I write this as an American who is deeply ashamed of the rising hostility toward Muslims in our country.

I write this as a mom who wants her children to know the joy of embracing people of other cultures and faiths, the way people of other cultures and faiths have embraced me.

I write this as a Christian who believes that if Christians actually lived what Jesus taught -- about loving our neighbors and forgiving those who sin against us -- then we might actually have a chance of breaking the vicious cycle of hatred and revenge.

Here's the paragraph I've been wanting to share:
Where does it all begin? History has no beginnings, for everything that happens becomes the cause or pretext for what occurs afterwards, and this chain of cause and pretext stretches back to the palaeolithic age, when the first Cain of one tribe murdered the first Abel of another. All war is fratricide, and there is therefore an infinite chain of blame that winds its circuitous route back and forth across the path and under the feet of every people and every nation, so that a people who are the victims of one time become the victimisers a generation later, and newly liberated nations resort immediately to the means of their former oppressors. The triple contagions of nationalism, utopianism and religious absolutism effervesce together into an acid that corrodes the moral metal of a race, and it shamelessly and even proudly performs deeds that it would deem vile if they were done by any other.
Where will it all end?

Christmas will be here in a few months, and at some point in the holiday we'll all hear that song, and maybe some of us will even sing it: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Please, please, please: Let's not wait for Christmas.


Ruth said...

First of all, may I just say, yay! You posted! I love it when you post!

And secondly, thanks for this book review. I have read Corelli's Mandolin and I totally agree with your comparison between it and the movie. The book is so, so good. I will definitely look for Birds Without Wings.

And thirdly, someone told me the other day how calm I was, too. Like you, I was quite surprised to hear it!

Ruth said...

Wow! Not only did I put Birds Without Wings on my list because of your recommendation, I even commented on your post! I can't believe I forgot who recommended it.

And as I was reading it, when I came to the passage you quoted, I actually thought how familiar it sounded!

Thanks for the recommendation, again. :-)