A Cause Worth Dying For?

IMG_0573The lady at the cash register knows I am angry. She can’t look at me, and chooses to talk to the wall. She pretends to be reading from a notebook that keeps a record of e-load sales, gives a casual glance at the SIM card number I have given her. “Sir, there is actually no record of a customer with this SIM number.”

I shot back at her, in a voice low but firm. “I was that customer. I remember your face, I remember you getting my money. But I have not received that load I had paid for. And it’s been two days.”

She keeps silent. Her male office mate comes over and makes me explain why this lady has gotten my goat. He nods his head, and glances at her. Never a word.

“I have said, and I want to say it again, that you have just presented the most convenient reason for milking me of my P300. This ends it. I am not going to argue with you anymore. The Lord shall judge between us.”

My anger has not yet subsided. But three hundred pesos is really a thing not worth fighting for.

Yet if you read the papers and listen to the TV news, you will hear of a good number of those who killed and got killed for reasons that I think were not worth killing for. A one-year old kid was beaten dead by her stepfather because he thought his live-in partner, the baby’s mother, was seeing another man. A wife was stabbed to death by her lover because she told him she wanted to go back to her husband. Two brothers boxed each other over an argument on who gets the place in front of the TV; the younger boy got his father’s sumpak (a home-made gun) and shot his brother on the face. The list is endless.

On the international scene: America went to war with herself over the place of chattel slavery in the Union. This was in the 1860s. About 620,000 soldiers died, two-thirds of disease not of bullets. Damage to property was great especially in the South. Is chattel slavery a cause worth killing each other for? That is a good question. That war, however, had changed the American landscape and redefined the American soul. I doubt if another war of the same dimension will ever happen again on the American soil.

Nations go to war for wrong reasons too. In 1898, America declared war against Spain over a mistake: She thought the Spaniards had bombed her ship, the USS Maine; later investigations proved the Spaniards had been innocent, except probably of the “crime” of intransigence. For fomenting that war, you could lay the blame on the competing newspapers of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. (The quote “Furnish me the pictures, and I will furnish the war!” is often attributed to Hearst). But because America won that war and got colonies as a bonus, nobody had ever thought of prosecuting these two men. Pulitzer went on and created a foundation that awards good writing; Hearst built a publishing empire and produced an heiress granddaughter who at one time associated herself with a terrorist group, albeit against her will. But the world must forever remember that Pulitzer and Hearst is an instance that newspapers could indeed instigate a war between nations.

The list keeps on: Israel had won its war against the Palestinians; Bush had been victorious over Saddam Hussein; Great Britain routed Argentina in the Falklands. These exercises, won at the great expense of lives and government money, had proved just one thing: That peace bought at the price of war is an illusion if not an elusive dream.

And Joseph Estrada, the man I had voted for president. Someone may complain he’s not too focused on the nuts and bolts of running a country, but when he said he’d go after the secessionists, he made good his word. He may have won that battle but this country is still not at peace with the Muslim Filipinos. Pardon me, my prognostication is dim.

The case of Helen of Troy, a fiction of course, will add color to the story. Abducted by her seducer Paris, Helen was brought to Troy, an act that that made her husband Menelaus angry, who sent the Greeks to pursue them. Said to be very beautiful, Helen’s was the face that launched a thousand ships. It was a useless undertaking and could have been prevented. And yet people made war over a woman.

Half a century after the end of World War II, we were inundated with manuscript memoirs supposedly coming from former warriors, of diaries and journals secretly kept during wartime service finding their way into print. As war literature grows, audience too grows among people military and non-military alike who long for the intimate details of war as told by those who had experienced it. The horrors they tell us make us tired.

“It is far easier to make war than to make peace,” said George Clemenceau, prime minister of France for two times (1906-1909, 1917-1920). But people of his time were tired of war and George Clemenceau did not really know what tired means. Tired is shown on faces of the victims of war, in the buildings bombed out and razed to the ground, in the mountains that had been torched, in the roads and fields that had been mined. The aging combatant who had lost both arms, or both legs, could express that tiredness without saying a word. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace says it in so many words. Tolstoy, the Russian aristocrat who later became a Communist, was actually a peacenik. War and Peace tells the story of a great love that suffered because of a war.

And the classic novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, tells it with equal force. It is one about a naive but principled German lad who slowly loses his idealism for war as the trench warfare inexorably destroys his comrades in arms and eventually himself. “No novel of World War I more poignantly captures the utter futility of war and of an epoch,” says the Wikipedia.

Are religions worth killing for? Protestants and Catholics, Muslims and Christians–these had fought each other in bloody wars over some ideologies, thinking they were fighting for a good cause. They were actually fighting for a territory, a space where they thought they could live in peace and freedom. Religious causes have always been equated with territorial spaces. They could fight till doomsday and win many battles but still lose the peace.

Ah, you should know what tired means.

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