Race, Culture, and Identity: Casualties of War
Updated on February 19, 2007, 11:22 PM - Written by Tim Buttner
The Spartans: a culture of Ancient Greece that was well known for being a militaristic state and self-proclaimed "natural protector of Greece". For a culture that defined and focused all their energy on being a military state, the identity created is one of uniqueness and unusual circumstance. From birth a child was weighed on its strength, and if not strong enough left out to die. Those picked to live were hardened to the militaristic way of life that was being a Spartan warrior. The woman, for the times in Ancient Greece, had an unusual amount of freedom and duties that other Greek city-states didn't allow. Yet the woman's duty was to the state and the warrior men who protected it. A Spartan man's life belonged to the state and his way of life was that of service and protection in favor of the state. In war the Spartan race, culture, and identity was born.
The Spartans are a rare occasion where war is what preserved race, culture, and identity. For more than the thousands of years democracy has been instituted by humans, there has been war. And in these wars, more often than not, destruction was brought to a race, a culture, and the identity of the people. War is not a grand event. However, there can be instances of honor and respect for those sacrificing their lives to protect what's most important. This barely accounts for the destruction and loss of life. In the United States Civil War, William Tecumseh Sherman said, "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell." Prisoners of war fight to survive, too often forgetting who they once were. In war, the greatest casualty of all is that of race, culture, and identity.
In war historically significant artifacts are destroyed. During the bombing of Berlin in World War II the rare fossils of a dinosaur were being kept in a museum; a museum that got bombed and destroyed. Not only were these artifacts lost, but so were countless other priceless things of value.
In the War of 1812, when the British invaded and burned Washington D.C., the first lady, Dolly Madison, remained behind long enough to save as many items of importance, most notably the portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, known as the Lansdowne Portrait. Despite her efforts, much of Washington was burned, pillaged, and destroyed by the British. Leaving little but a wake of destruction. Arguers would mention that after the War of 1812, America stayed intact and that it continued on as a great culture, mixing many races and forming a multitude of identities which all formed the "American Identity."
The Thin Red Line, a wonderful movie from 1998 juxtaposes war against nature. The characters tell their feelings through voice over and one, from Private Witt (Jim Cavezial), says:
This great evil. Where does it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doin' this? Who's killin' us? Robbing us of life and light. Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed to this night?
War must darken the soul in some way. Those fighting go through such hell. The movie, which tells about the military and moral chaos at the Guadalcanal in World War II, succeeds in making war look so ugly. At one instant, near the end, a troupe of soldiers is passing by the many graves of those already lost in the mass conflict, and the graves seem peaceful sitting there amongst the forest, and in he viewer's heart, as with the soldiers, they know that those soldier's resting there in the ground had to go through such destructive actions from their fellow man. In real life, on one of the graves of a soldier at the Guadalcanal, there was a poem written by an unknown author that said:
"And when he gets to heaven,
To Saint Peter he will tell;
One more marine reporting, sir–
I've served my time in hell."
For all those that believe in peace, the hellish nature of war only furthers their pleas.
There is a high amount of value to learning to cease impulsive, irrational attacks. As a people, it should be considered higher and more sophisticated to be able to solve differences through calm, diplomatic means. There could even be a point of playing war games and figuring out who can out maneuver who, and what possibly would be an outcome of a war, so much to the degree of not actually fighting or loosing lives or destroying precious architecture, nature, or animal life.
Yet when violence is necessary, as it was in defended against Nazi Germany in World War II, it can be understood. Even the idolized voice of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi said this, "I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence." Gandhi understood that not all were as capable of following non-violence's principles, and especially so if it meant the extermination of a people.
Prisoners of war must fight to survive inside of their prison camps, often turning against their fellow man. The movie Empire of the Sun, tells the story of a young British boy interned at a Japanese work camp next to an airfield. There, he radically changes from the spoiled rich boy he once was to one whose only ambitions are survival. He wished to be a pilot all his life and at the end, when he's finally reunited with his parents, who he barely recognizes, his eyes are those of a helpless, lost soul.
The Jews going through the horrors of the Holocaust suffered much oppression before their stays in the concentration camps and death camps. Those who survived the Holocaust are considered the luckiest. In the movie Schindler's List, even a person, Oskar Schindler, risking a great amount to help them couldn't save them all. Also, he had helped them continue their traditions and customs despite their persecution. A touching scene from the movie is when Schindler (Liam Neeson) reminds Rabbi Menasha Lewartow (Ezra Dagan) that it's the Sabbath:
Oskar Schindler: How are you doing Rabbi?
Rabbi Menasha Lewartow: Good Herr Direktor.
Oskar Schindler: The sun is going down.
Rabbi Menasha Lewartow: Yes it is.
Oskar Schindler: What day is it? Friday? It is Friday, isn't it?
Rabbi Menasha Lewartow: Is it?
Oskar Schindler: What's the matter with you? You should be preparing for the Sabbath, shouldn't you. I've got some wine in my office. Come.
Through all that they suffered, it took a German to remind them of who they were and to be proud of it. At the movie's end, Schindler only wished he could do more, yet there are more than 6,000 descendents of the Schindler Jews.
War. What is this ugly thing that we call resolution to conflict? Why does it become the first resort to solving differences? Are we not all the same? Are we not all brothers and sisters of the earth? Do we not share race, culture, and identity with one another? Can race, culture, and identity be something to not separate us, but instead bring us together? If all else, when will war stop claiming the life that righteously belongs to all living things, ideas, and politics?
Military-quotes.com. (2002). Retrieved February 8, 2007, from <http://www.military-quotes.com/william-sherman.htm>.
The Thin Red Line. Dir. Terrence Malick. Perf. Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, and John C. Reilly. 20th Century Fox. 1998.
Wikipedia.com. (2007). Retrieved February 11, 2007, from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandhi>.
Empire of the Sun. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, and Joe Pantoliano. Warner Bros. 1987.
Schindler's List. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Liam Neeson, Ben Kinglsey, Ralph Fiennes, and Caroline Goodall. Universal. 1993.
McMillan, George. (1966. February) "I've Served My Time In Hell." American Heritage Magazine Online. Retrieved February 8, 2007, from <http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1966/2/1966_2_10.shtml>.
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