Saturday, January 18, 2003

April and I rented Gladiator tonight because we're obsessed with Joaquin Phoenix. I need to study more Roman History. As a History major, I ought to know quite a lot about it. But outside of how Rome affected the development of Christianity, I know almost nothing, formally. But like every observer since the dawn of Rome, I think there's a lot that can be learned from Roman History.

The concept of the gladatorial games is interesting. The people want bread and circus, and there's nothing that's more widely appealing than the spilling of blood. The concept still applies today. People tune in in the millions to shows like Fear Factor to see people expose themselves to danger and filth. We watch Survivor and its mimics to see people metaphorically stab each other in the back. I wonder if someday, we won't be tuning in to see them do it literally.

Gladiator was big on throwing around words like strength and honor. It's hard to see strength and honor in fields of blood. What did all that killing prove? I'm torn over pacifism. I watch a movie like Gladiator, or even Saving Private Ryan, or Blackhawk Down, and all I can think about is how horrible it is that people have to kill one another. At the same time, I don't pretend that, in the right situation, I wouldn't be willing and ready to take a life myself.

Jesus told His followers to turn the other cheek. Was that an unlimited doctrine of peace? What if I saw a man raping my grandmother? Is it lack of faith alone that spurs me to her defense? Ghandi trained his followers so that, even if they were beaten, or saw their wives or other loved ones being ravished, beaten or killed before their very eyes, they would still not raise a hand in defense. I think Ghandi's way was more brave than the alternative; perhaps more noble; but it's far less practical.

I wonder sometimes if Ghandi wasn't successful because he was going up against modern Brits; if Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't successful because he was going up against modern Americans. It may be ethnocentricism which makes me think that that sort of strategy wouldn't be successful in all times and all places. But the Nazi's wouldn't have cared if every Jew in every concentration camp decided to go on a hunger strike. But then, perhaps, if it weren't just every Jew, but every non-Nazi in Germany, and then the world at large, that decided to act decisively against the likes of Hitler early enough in his reign, perhaps that would have stopped all of the pain and suffering not doing so entailed and without anyone ever having to hurt anyone at all. Fraternity, equality and liberty all without holocaust; without war. But the world didn't rise up to defend the Jews; the world isn't fond of rising up to defeat evil. Even when it's forced to do so, it only does so reluctantly. Apathy is every bit as strong as zealotry, it seems. And perhaps more effective, in the end.

The soldiers in Gladiator claimed that they would do anything for Rome; that they would fight and die if necessary, to defend Rome's honor. I wonder what I would be willing to do for my country. America seems on the edge of war and I wonder how faithful her people are. The American people have always gone to war reluctantly. But until Vietnam, they stood strong without wavering. And in Vietnam, our unity faltered. A war with Iraq is unlikely to be a popular one; even if it's generally tolerated. I wonder if my generation will rise up to sacrifice our fortunes, our opportunity, and our lives, as our grandparents, and our great-grandparents, generations did. Or alternatively, if we'll take up a sword against our own land in the name of peace, like our mothers and fathers.

I don't want to sound anti-pacifist. I believe in peace. I believe in turning the other cheek. I believe in loving my neighbor. But I wonder if loving ones neighbor doesn't mean loving all of ones neighbors. And if that's so, if it isn't sometimes necessary to act, even violently, against one neighbor, for the sake of all of the others. But the end does not justify the means, I know; and one life isn't worth one whit less than a billion lives. And so perhaps it's more glorious to suffer whatever evil may befall the sons of men, in solidarity and moral rectitude, without the evil of violent defense.