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Not Both


Text: Andrea Zanin, Montreal


Is it just me, or does war just plain not make any sense?

 I’m not very aware when it comes to current political realities in countries all over the world – I know about conflicts that are happening in various places, but I’m not always sure as to the why and the how of them. And I was never a history buff, so the intricacies of the Battle of This or That in 1812 have disappeared from my mind as quickly as I handed the test back to the teacher in grade nine. I wanted to know how the people lived, not how they died.

My guess is that a lot of people are in the same boat as me. It’s nice and safe here in Canada, armed conflict is at a comfortable distance, and we’d rather watch the Simpsons than CNN anyway.

But I am armed with common sense.

I remember a For Better or for Worse cartoon that reflected an experience I’m sure many of us have had. Little Mikey bops his sister on the head for some random childish reason, and so Dad turns Mikey over his knee and spanks him soundly, while yelling “Do not hit your sister!” Hmm… can we draw any parallels with current world events?…

Let’s see… from what I do know, we have the US government, personified by George Dubya, doing everything it can to stop women from having abortions (especially those in other countries), but feels that it’s just fine to have and make use of one of the biggest and most expensive military forces in the world. Most ‘specially, to blow up the friends and families of those who blew up the WTC – an eye for an eye being, of course, the most effective approach to settling conflict and making sure there are no future September 11ths. That’s right – the USA says it’s definitely not cool to stop an unwanted pregnancy. It’s really best to wait until you’re born and all grown up, then it’s all right for someone to kill you. 


Pablo Picasso : le visage de la guerre

And here we have people in Ireland who have been fighting for generations based on religious differences – but isn’t one of Christianity’s Ten Commandments “thou shalt not kill”? There’s a tenet along the same vein in most world religions, major or otherwise – and last time I checked, rabid Satanists weren’t running most wars. Yet throughout history, religion has been one of the most common “reasons” for having a war. An oxymoron, no?

We can’t talk about war without mentioning the Holocaust – the kind of thing that in real life was so nightmarish (and controversial) that on the one hand, some say it never happened, and on the other, Hollywood directors make blockbuster movies about it.

Of course, since the information our media presents to us is filtered through any number of individual opinions before it makes it to our TV screens and newspapers, similar horrific occurrences (though perhaps on different scales) have apparently happened in our world even in as recently as the past decade and we just have no clue. (Noam Chomsky has a lot to say about that, if you’re interested.)

On the home front, last year in Quebec City and elsewhere, we had the RCMP arresting activists before they protested (didn’t you know, activists forfeit their rights?), and cops shooting tear gas as “crowd control” from behind tall fences at fifty or sixty scattered protestors, when the real crowd (of many thousands) was busy marching peacefully with banners and street theatre performances blocks away… at least here I can speak from first-hand experience, and let me tell you, that was overkill at its worst. It’s about the closest I’ve come to anything resembling war, but even just tear gas was enough to strengthen my belief that there’s something seriously wrong with this kind of approach.

When we see it in the news, it’s all about “other people” in other places. We were hit a little closer to home on September 11th, but even then, there are no soldiers marching in the streets in Canada, no gunshots keeping us awake at night.

The thing about war is that people die. There isn’t much in life that is so final, so utterly black-and-white, than death. We could argue about what happens after death, but that’s not very reassuring for someone who’s got a gun to their head.

If what makes us human, or civilized, is our ability to reason, to think, then what is to be said of reasoning that ends in someone’s death? And when that “someone” becomes hundreds and thousands of someones, what then?

Photo : Anick Perreault-Labelle

How can it ever make sense for us, as a species, to deliberately exterminate one another? With all the intelligence and education in the world, how is it that people still see fit to solve problems in the most brutal way available to humankind? Is this a question of that mysterious catch-all, “human nature”? Or is that the easy way out of the question, instead of looking at ourselves and deciding to find a better way?

To quote Ursula K. LeGuin, a science fiction novelist and writer from the US: “If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of those two things, you have either one, or the other. Not both.”

I don’t presume to understand the complexity of every situation in the world where war has become part of the problem. But I can’t help believing that killing people is not the way to find a solution.