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A HALLOWEEN HORROR STORY
Beware Martians and Terrorists Bearing Gifts
Winning at any cost is not something we humans get to do very often.
To win at any cost usually translates into some suicidal act.
That’s why the battle cry “Victory at any cost!” is likely to be mere bluster, more empty saber-rattling.
To win at any cost means you’re probably going to have to die in the process. That doesn’t sound like winning to most of us, but to those who think outside the box, the idea of dying for victory is a valid one.
The Trojan War dragged on for a decade and might never have ended, had Ulysses (Odysseus) not stepped back and resolved to win the war at any cost. What warlord, trained in the rigid format of weaponry and mass military strategy, would have predicted that a handful of unarmed soldiers could wrap themselves in a gift horse and take over an entire city? For thirty centuries, the tale of the surprise, innovation and cleverness of this suicidal act has been repeated, until the myth has become a myth of itself. And, as we all know, myth turns to metaphor.
Perhaps storytellers in the Middle East for the next thirty centuries will repeat the tale of a handful of unarmed soldiers hiding themselves in the bellies of flying metal beasts to bring down the mighty towers of the Western Devils.
In 1897 the author H.G. Wells, knowing his history and acutely aware of its perpetual repetition, tried to warn us all of what happens each time we rely on structured machineries of warfare, each time we forget to use our creative thought processes to anticipate the worst and prepare to deflect it. The novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was the result: a Trojan Martian attack from an unexpected direction and for an unknown motive. Sacrifice of a handful of soldiers in a—to the aliens—just cause was the result, and quite effective. Thirty centuries from now, the tale of a handful of outsiders stomping the vermin of Earth in order to colonize, will be told and its metaphor unconsciously understood. The Martian storytellers just might leave out the part about eventually dying after the attack.
And do we learn from such monolithic, in-your-face mythology? Let’s see…
At any moment, the people of Earth could be exterminated—this time by forces known and understood—but very little is being done to prevent it. The reasons are clear. Day-to-day life and politics distract us from preparation. The mosquito on the arm is immediate and can be dealt with in a rapid and unimaginative manner. The five-mile-wide asteroid that’s headed our way is way out there, invisible, and perhaps won’t make itself known till it’s too late. Its effect will be a trillion-fold worse than a mosquito bite, but it’s, like, man, it’s like something that might not happen, man, and don’t bug me about it—I gotta take care of this mosquito.
I suppose Trojans and New Yorkers, somewhere in the backs of their minds, knew that Something Bad could happen at any moment, but we all go on living, knowing that. When we read about H.G. Wells’ Martian war or Homer’s Trojan war or the Twin Towers or an impending meteor, we understand that it can take place, but we are all betting in the same reverse lottery—it’s a long shot, expecting to draw the winning apocalyptic ticket number. Probably won’t happen in my lifetime, so not to worry!
I live in Alabama, a virtual magnet for tornadoes, but each time one misses me, I’m secretly grateful that somebody else is being made miserable, while at the same time feeling bad for them. It didn’t hit me this time. Oh, as a poet, I feel guilty about this, but I’m sitting here, eating chocolate chip cookies and breathing more deeply, just the same.
In order to conquer a planet, you have to think like a Martian. In order to conquer a society, you have to think like a Greek warrior. Then you have to be willing to evaporate along with your victims. Since most of us aren’t willing to make that leap, a lot fewer terrorist acts take place than you would imagine. There are still lots of people who can see beyond politics and dogma and focus on the important things, such as watching sunrises, burping babies, holding loved ones, protecting neighbors. We just aren’t motivated to die violently—if we can help it.
Once you think like this, wars, sports events and contests lose some of their appeal. The way to win a fencing match or a chess game is to pull out a gun and shoot your opponent(s) dead. If you’re not willing to do that, then you don’t really want to win, do you? Besides, most of us want the losing party to survive, so that we can gloat and strut.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was a cautionary tale, but the peculiar thing about humans is that, even though we know things could end badly, we just go on living in denial, hoping that something bad, if it happens, will happen somewhere else. Wells knew this, but he also knew that to be human is to try and try again to survive, against all odds, against all mockery and ignorance and hostility
© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.