War is what happens when language fails
― Margaret Atwood
I had half a mind not to contribute to the challenge this month. No specific reason.
On my last trip through London, I was browsing the shelves of a bookstore that was offering discounts on a range of Penguin modern classics. One of the books I selected was Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger. I have long had an interest in the first world war, initially inspired by reading various British poets and bibliographers, a visit with family members in search of a grave some ten years or more ago, and, more recently, by living in Belgium. A country that bears the scars of that futile conflict perhaps more than anywhere else. Scars that are perhaps deeper and less well healed than seem apparent at first sight.
Storm of Steel is written from the point of view of a German soldier in the trenches. The author makes no attempt to take sides, makes no particular political point, includes almost no contextual remarks and the narrative is at times almost claustrophobically restricted to the immediate surroundings of the protagonist. What appeals to me about the book is the opportunity to see some of the events that shaped our world from (for me at least) a fresh perspective.
The feeling conveyed by the book for me so far (I am only half way through because one of the other resolutions I didn’t make, in addition to reading more, was to get out and exercise more) is one of detachment and surreality. And, on top of that, there is a curious sense of equality between the soldiers entrenched on either side of the hell that is no mans land. They appear to have similar rules and abide by them. There are terrible scenes of carnage and brutality and yet, through (and despite) the horror, there seems to be a sense of fair play and straight forward behaviour. Even if the politics behind the war made, perhaps little sense, to the slaughtered millions, they at least appeared to know their enemy, understand their enemy.
Which brings me to the events of the last few days in Brussel.
How the seasons have changed in the last 100 years.
Our enemies are not in the opposite trench, badged and bearing arms under the flag of their country.
Our enemies now seem to move amongst us, one hand gloved as they wheel their death laden luggage trolley, unseen in plain site.
Their targets are not the uniformed soldiers across no mans land, men who knew what to expect (death mostly). Their targets are children, you and me waiting to board our flights, airport staff serving the needs of weary, frustrated travellers. Their targets are our peace of mind, our ability to live and move in freedom. Their rationale is alien to us, their means of attack incomprehensible, how can we understand the mind of persons who can walk into a checkout line and, with the press of a button, destroy themselves, innocent children, women and men, and our freedom?
One thing perhaps we can learn from the (not so) Great War, is that unleashing mind numbing retaliation in fury simply creates mud, pain, loss and despair.
As we mourn those who lost their lives this week, and all those who have lost their lives in similar circumstances over so many years of our generation, let us hold our blood lust in check, let us not lash out in fury.
Let us think, let us work together to find a way to deal with the root causes of the horror in our world. Let us not close our borders, our hearts and our minds. Let us continue to welcome those poorer than ourselves, those who carry a greater burden, those who have lost more than we can ever comprehend.
Now, more than ever, we need to stand tall, to show those who dare to intimidate us that our way is the way that will prevail.
United we stand.
*composite image created from a book cover shot using an iPhone 6S, and a screen shot of a typed page, both images previously published on my Instagram page*