What’s Civil about War?
Back in the days of the Vietnamese War, we liberal Americans used to joke about what we considered the greatest oxymoron of them all. Hang on! You probably already know what that Greek-derived term means. I’ll admit, I used to think it was a fancy way of insulting someone by calling them a stupid dray animal. But in case you don’t, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th edition) it stands for “a figure of speech or expressed idea in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.” An example would be “a wealthy pauper.” The English word derives from the Greek oxus (sharp) and moros (foolish). Okay, so ours in the 60s was military intelligence. I mean, what could be smart, let alone wise, about a bunch of trained assassins licensed to kill fellow human beings? Have Judeo-Christian countries somehow forgotten the Sixth Commandment, Thou shalt not kill? A case in point here would be all those weapons of mass destruction that Sadam Hussein was supposed to have had. This bit of authorized inside knowledge was used to justify a U.S.-initiated invasion of Iraq that ended up killing per Wikipedia between 268,000 and 295,000 people on both sides, including countless civilians. Compare this outcome with the 2,996 killed in the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. Speaking of Greek, do we detect a little asymmetry here?!
Now, in the current era of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the oxymoronic term that comes to mind is civil war. (President Putin rationalizes that Ukraine was and always should be understood as a part of Mother Russia. According to him, he’s simply undoing an historic mistake.) My dictionary cited above gives one definition of the adjective civil as “courteous and polite.” Yeah, right! “Excuse me, Sir, but may I do you in?” Then, when referring to time, it says, “fixed by custom or law, not natural or astronomical.” I’ll say! War is a human invention which is neither natural nor astronomical. Mark Twain, often my go-to author when it comes to humankind’s failings, wrote a bitter late essay entitled “Man, the Lowest Animal.” In this allegory he tells the story of a scientist who ran an experiment by putting all kinds of different animals together in a large zoo cage and made sure there was plenty of food and water for all. After a week he came back to check on the animals and found that they were all living peaceably with each other. Then he set up another cage. In it he put a Catholic priest, a Scots Presbyterian minister, a rabbi, a Muslim imam, and assorted other religious representatives. He likewise provided them with sufficient food and drink for a week. When the scientist returned seven days later, Twain reports, all the former found were some bones, a Roman collar, and a patch of tartan plaid. From his experiment the scientist concluded that “man” [sic] was truly the lowest animal. (Note: my summary of this story is from memory, so I may have gotten some of the details wrong, but I’m convinced that I’ve given you the gist.) My point, however, should be clear. If we consider ourselves creatures made but a little lower than the angels and in the image of God, it’s past time that we warlike humans start getting with the divine program—or else.
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