Friday, July 08, 2005

In memoriam

It is not comfortable to be an inhabitant of this globe. It never has been, except for brief periods.

This is how Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which I've only just begun and which I expect will accompany me on and off over the better part of the next year, introduces the atrocities suffered by the Croats in their long, sad history.

But yesterday being yesterday, it instead had me thinking of London. And how the unnecessary suffering and the cruelness of arbitrary death are all of a piece with the world's bloody history of torture and pillage and woe.

Were I to go down into the market-place, armed with the powers of witchcraft, and take a peasant by the shoulders and whisper to him, "In your lifetime, have you known peace?" wait for his answer, shake his shoulders and transform him into his father, and ask him the same question, and transform him in his turn to his father, I would never hear the word "Yes," if I carried my questioning of the dead back for a thousand years. I would always hear, "No, there was fear, there were our enemies without, our rulers within, there was prison, there was torture, there was violent death."

And this thinking threatened to depress me until I considered how, in this modern world with atrocities continuing apace, we have decided that this brutish condition is not acceptable. The murderers and the tyrants continue to murder, but now there's more than a mother's crying to oppose the status quo; there's the moral force of nations guided by the precepts of liberalism which champion individual man and condemn his indiscriminate murder. And this is an important break with history, whether it proves to be a blip or a revolution. And even when this moral voice doesn't reach the pitch it should, when we mumble dismay at slaughter in Africa for example, it's an indictment of our hypocrisy, our failure to live up to our ideals, and not an indictment of those ideals.

So I thought, even while we mourn London, Madrid, Darfur, and remain powerless to stop countless others that will follow, we'll still have broken with our bloody inheritance because our ideas are better; we do not accept these violent deaths. When the rock falls down the mountain, we dig in shoulders and start pushing it back up again.


Post a Comment

<< Home