Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Great War

Perhaps because it was so ugly, we as a society spend little time thinking about the First World War. Of all the wars fought by modern man, it was perhaps the most chilling. Tens of thousands would die in massive battles. One such, the battle of Verdun, lasted ten months at the cost of 700,000 men dead. There were many reasons for this immense slaughter, one of which was because both sides had entrenched themselves so well. Using massive trenches, the two sides would watch each other. Between them was the “no man’s land”. Should any one venture into this land, the other side would promptly use artillery fire, machine gun rounds, chemical agents, barb wire, and snipers to exterminate them. Tens of thousands would be massacred in suicide stampedes against the other trench, all for the gain of a few hundred yards, which were often lost a short time later from a counter attack.

Looking back, it is easy for us to wonder how supposed civilized cultures and people could allow themselves to act in such ridiculous behavior. It absolutely boggles the mind that men could behave in such a way, that no one ever thought “there must be a better way”. And yet, in a not so far future those same questions will be asked about our day, about our time. The issue this time isn’t a physical war, but an ideological.

The two parties of our system have been increasingly at each other’s throats for the last decade, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Both camps have drawn lines in the sand, and are striving to rally support to them. In discussions with both sides, the ideas that one can by size, influence, or public image “crush,” “defeat,” or deal a “death blow” over the other is rampant.

There are some few that try to stop the madness, they venture into the “no man’s land” between the two goliaths and are promptly cut down (politically). Those few who survive (usually by sheer name recognition) find themselves not really part of the group they were reaching out too (other wise they would be one of them), but alienated by their former colleges who consider them as “softies”, “traitors”, or “fence sitters”.

This “them or us” mentality is causing event he most basic of legislation to be inflamed by partisan rhetoric and bias, and the political process is suffering. When the line between healthy debate and bitter close mindedness is crossed, any legitimacy that existed is extinguished. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given said, “it’s not a matter of who is right, but what is right.” No one needs to give up their party or belief, just be open minded.

The point behind having two parties isn’t so that they can fight it out, and whoever wins is right. That’s like saying that the CEO of General Motors will wrestle the CEO of Ford, and who ever wins has the best car. The true measure of civility, of nobility, and of character isn’t which side can man the machine guns the longest, it’s which one is willing to let go first. When the trenches are abandoned, only then can progress be made.

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