Sunday, August 01, 2010

Unraveling the Gordian knot

Alexander the Great faced an impossible situation, one that scholars, philosophers and soldiers had failed to solve, how to untie the Gordian knot. This intricate knot turned in and about on itself that it seemed to have no beginning and no end. Faced with the need to solve the puzzle of the knot, Alexander took out his sword and sliced through the knot. He, should you pardon the pun, cut through to the heart of the matter.

It has been proposed that the situation with the war in Afghanistan is another Gordian knot: an intractable problem that needs a bold solution that will cut to the heart of the matter. Should we continue to send men and resources and money to fight in Afghanistan or should we pull out? What is the modern equivalent to Alexander's sword and the Gordian knot?

In a recent discussion I asked if a nuclear bomb was the modern version of Alexander's sword to answer the intractable problem of Afghanistan and was immediately set upon by people claiming I was inciting hatred and being casual about the millions of lives that would be lost in a nuclear attack on Afghanistan, and all from a simple question. Are nukes the modern equivalent of Alexander's sword?

Despite claiming the only answer is peace and because I am an American I prefer war to peace, these peace loving people attempted to school me on what Europe wants. I asked a simple question. I did not mean that I seriously believe that dropping nukes on Afghanistan is the answer or that we should even be there in the first place. I asked a simple question.

I was told I needed to find out what a Gordian knot really is and read Aristotle before I responded further to one Brit. She assumed that I was uneducated and ignorant of history and philosophy. She said Europe was tired of war and wanted only to deal with the economic war on their doorstep.

One Canadian claimed I was inciting hatred by my question and that I shouldn't joke about such things. My question was not a joke. I said that I was not serious about dropping nukes on Afghanistan and from that he decided I meant the question as a joke. It was no joke.

Civilization and teaching children peace is the answer to violence in the world. That is a simplistic answer to a very thorny problem. Civilization breeds war. When everyone was fighting to survive, there were no wars. There were skirmishes between groups and some groups attacked groups where there was more food in a time of famine, or to capture members of the other tribe to be used as food, but there were no wars. That took civilization. The skirmishes over food and territory were not wars any more than squabbles between groups of primates over food, mates and territory are wars. With civilization comes war.

People living together for comfort and safety, working the land, building homes, and buying and selling is the oil-soaked tinder that ignites the need for war. Prosperity takes work and the greater the prosperity the more work there is to do. One person, or a small group of people, like a family, are not enough hands. Slaves are needed. Getting slaves means war.

Running out of salt or gold or resources? Your neighbor has all those things or will at least provide a source of slavers, so it's time to go to war. It's the have nots against the haves. People seem to miss that small distinction.

Warring armies sweep across the countryside, annexing land, taking slaves and killing anyone who gets in the way, especially peaceful people who will not fight and who believe that talking and offering a peaceful solution will cool the hot blood of a man soaked in gore and covered with scars. A soldier has no time for peace. He's used to killing to get what he wants, and a peace-loving person or group of people makes his job a lot easier.

It's like a schoolyard bully. He preys on the weak and the peaceful and avoids the ones who could easily kick his ass. People may want peace, but they must also be willing to embrace violence to obtain and maintain peace. That's something else peace-loving people don't get. It is the army and force and the willingness to do violence that buys their peace.

Everything has a price. The price of peace is violence.

There have been too many writers and philosophers who have examined this question for it not to be widely understood. Watch Serenity, The Enemy Within from Star Trek or read any number of books, beginning with Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. Man cannot exist or survive without the potential for violence. It is on that most basic of instincts to do violence that our very ability to survive is based. To be strong requires determination and grit. Violence can be controlled by intellect and balance is maintained, but until everyone in the entire world learns balance, we must keep our senses and survival instincts sharply honed or go peacefully back to the earth. The only peace thus obtained is the peace of the grave.

No comments: