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The Dark Honor of War and Peace

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The oliphaunts were taking the field, and the Riders of Rohan trembled once again. The odds, seemingly insurmountable, had been beaten the first time. Would they do so again? The horsemen (and woman) prepared to charge despite the near-certainty of a painful death, and...

"I'd just dodge the elephants!"
"Yeah, if I was in that war, I'd totally go the other way first."

"Shut. Up." My growl was too late. The film went on, but it was just images on a screen again.

I used to like battle scenes. They were action and adventure, _Iliad_ writ both in fantastic and futuristic venues. Ultimately, they were tales of heroes and valor. Then I saw _Saving Private Ryan_.

Not only did its opening scenes illustrate the randomness of war, the lack of protection that valor gives... but I was an active duty soldier at the time. In the medical field, to be sure, but a soldier nonetheless.

Since then, battle scenes have not been "fun", but I find them far more fascinating.

I now feel a sense of sheer horror and dread. Not grotesque revulsion, but deep horror. It is the horror of knowing that one's life, that all one's efforts do not guarantee survival, let along valor.
Yet these scenes also fascinate me, for the characters - as have so many in real life - face that horror and dread. They do what must be done, regardless. There is an honor and glory to combat, perhaps, but it is a dark, dark thing. It is the honor of facing utter nothingness, of knowing your inconsequentiality, and persevering anyway.

The children - as evidenced by their comments last night - do not realize that yet. They still see only the glory and valor and honor of smiting a ringwraith, or felling an oliphaunt with grace and dexterity. They do not yet empathize with the ultimate human condition.

Perhaps we could measure this empathy - it may have already been done. Imagine taking the virtual Milgram experiment and testing it on persons of different ages and looking for commonalities in stress response!

Regardless, this human condition is not solely found in combat. In all our endeavors, we fight for meaning and worth. We hope to be consequential, and face the hordes of time and entropy that scream that we are not, that we are dust. In these things, in both everyday goodness and world-changing movements, we shout back into the void.

And perhaps we can find some small solace in this (cribbed from elsewhere):

If what we do means nothing - if there is no great encompassing plan or meaning, then what we do means everything, for then what we do is all there is.


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