Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Another war is always coming . . ."

Korean War
(Image from Wikipedia)

I was reminded yesterday of a lesson from history, though encapsulated in a story from a novel, through the words of a minor character, Morty Dhondt, to a main protagonist, Robert Frobisher, in the year 1931:
"Wars do not combust without warning. They begin as little fires over the horizon. Wars approach. A wise man watches for the smoke, and prepares to vacate the neighborhood . . . . My worry is that the next war will be so big, nowhere with a decent restaurant will be left untouched."

Was he so sure another war was coming?

"Another war is always coming . . . . They are never properly extinguished. What sparks wars? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions, and the borders of states. Listen to this and remember it. The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be . . . ." (David Mitchell, "Letters from Zedelghem," Cloud Atlas: A Novel, Random House, 2004, page 444)
This passage unfolds on page 444, a triple 4 that could only be rendered more ominous for East Asian readers were it a quadruple 4 . . . "four" being a reminder of death. But that is merely coincidental . . . I think.

Why this passage quoted now? Because, "war is always coming." Remember that.

We may organize our lives on the expectation that tomorrow will continue on like today, but we tread a narrow path, not perceiving that an abyss falls precipitously to either side.

But why note this now? Because North Korea totters precariously between one abyss and the other, toward China on the left and the South on the right, with the path ahead coming to an abrupt if obscured end . . .

A wise man should therefore keep a sharp eye out for smoke . . . not that it would help much since the horizen where this little fire begins lies just beyond my window.

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