War is such a short word. But it sounds about right. I imagine the word was conceived by bloodied men themselves rather than the poets who recorded them. Bloodied men, in my experience, have typically met with a despair about extrapulating with language.

The word comes from longer more germanic words meaning “confusion”.

I think of the type of confusion I feel when I am in love with a particular girl, but we find ourselves at odds about a thing neither of us can give on. The confussion of war does not seem to simply be misunderstandings that exist in the minds of opponents so much as a paradoxical reality that encompasses the two opponents. The immenance of conflict results because of two opposing forces simultaneously drawing them together and pushing them apart. Let me see if I can explain better.

In the bickering of love, it becomes so confusing to comprehend how such love and magneticism can coexist with such incompatibility. It is incomprehensible at times that the one or other does not just simply dissolve the other or one. And words fail us, we can not say or explain that we love in the midst of conflict even if it is truly so. Words can only be cut short, abbreviated, swallowed, to make room for what can only be simple belief in that prevailing love or else simple denial.

The bloodied men feel in themselves that after being bloodied only a kind of silence can explain again the resilience of order and human brotherhood to them, discourse can not.

I have been reading War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy’s greatness consists of many things, but for one, he manages to say something with words and story. I note this only because he, to some extent, was a bloodied man who served in the military during times of war. And in fact he found ways to address military life and war itself, and no less than in what many consider as one of the greatest novels of all time, War and Peace.

And there is a moment in his grand story when the lines of the French army of Bonaparte stand only meters away from the lines of the Russian army. Both sides waiting for the aristocratic generals of each side to finish talking over terms and deciding on agreements. In short, both sides wait for the politicians to give up on their words. And there is a converstion that takes place between what might be equivalent to field captains, one from the French side and one from the Russian. It is more of a taunting contest, and both speak to each other in French. And after they have exchanged their taunts one of the common Russian soldiers marvels at the entirely nonsensical sounds of French and the strangeness of hearing one of his Russian Captains speaking it. He suddenly, in play, mimics the sounds, stringing together a line of total meaninglessness at which both sides suddenly erupt in laughter.

“After it it seemed as though they must unload their guns, blow up their ammunition, and all hurry away back to their homes. But the guns remained loaded, the port-holes in the houses and earthworks looked out as menacingly as ever, and the cannons, taken off their platforms, confronted one another as before.”

I think in this scene Tolstoy captures a peice of that center point between War and Peace where the confusion lies. It is the peace itself, the human brotherhood of a French soldier with a Russian soldier, that makes war what it is, the confussion that it is.

It is not enough to speak only about war or only about peace without also acknowledging the other. Peace is not something we decide on, and it is not bullied by war. We must come to a place where we are not afraid of war, despite its great destruction, and despite how little it leaves us to say in its reference. Despite that, peace is not obliterated. And peace is not some thing that we must manufacture with liberal politics or with an abundance of apologizing words or with anything else we use when we become insecure that war will destroy peace. It will not. War will be bloody. War will leave us, probably with very little to say. But war can not take away brotherhood, and it has nothing to say that can silence peace. We may lose ourselves from the underlying of peace, order, tranquility–and that of course remains always intact as a great tradgedy. But it remains a tragedy founded on the lie that peace itself may not endure.

I can not prove to you that it shall endure, or say enough to explain how it might endure, but if we are sad and quiet enough… hopefully we will not be dissuaded.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by james t nath


  1. You imply that peace is more fundamental than war, that it is a fault to be insecure “that war will destroy peace.” But how is this compatible with what you say near the beginning: “the confussion of war does not seem to simply be misunderstandings that exist in the minds of opponents so much as a paradoxical reality that encompasses the two opponents”?

    If we can say that war actually is about misunderstandings-one side thinking the other is uttering hostile gibberish-then we can prescribe (even if it’s an unattainable ideal) a solution to war: better understanding. The giving and taking of words requires mutual hope (that understanding is possible) and mutual humility (that there may be a premise I’ve left out, haven’t seen).

    But if at bottom there is an unsynthesized “paradoxical reality,” and if this is the root of wars, whether between lovers or nations, then how can you speak so hopefully of peace?


  2. May I respond to your question, Perry? Do not let me dissaude you from also answering, James, but I wonder if war is not an appropriate but poorly timed release of the tension and pressure between human relationships. The tremendous tension and pressure between people is appropriate, and the release of that tension is appropriate, but the timing and manner of that release determines whether it is very salubrious or very deleterious.

    What I’m saying is that I think James is right when he says there is a paradoxical reality, a deep “unsynthesis,” between certain groups. Men and women can never seem to agree; people of different nations always seem to be at odds; folks who both want the same medal or the same girl or the same land seem to, by necessity, hate the competing party… But I also think he is right to imply that peace is more fundamental than war.

    Perhaps, in a perfect world, the tremendous differences between people and, by consequence, the differences of their opinions, desires, methods, etc., all “fit together.” Just like my body requires a certain sort of endemic tension for it to walk properly (if my right leg didn’t stick firmly to the ground while my left leg swings forward, I wouldn’t get anywhere), the human race as a whole requires a certain tension for it to “perform” properly.

    Without commenting on what that performance or function might be, can you imagine, as I can, that unsynthesized reality is a benefit –indeed, a necessity– to humanity as a whole?

    If so, then how do we explain war? Well, the same way we explain bad orchestras. Many disparate parts… they are supposed to be working together harmoniously to play a song… yet they’re all fighting eachother, playing the wrong song at the wrong time, ruining the sound not only of their own instrument but that of others.

    Something like that except that instead of people leaving the concert when the orchestra stinks, the musicians die. So the analogy breaks down :)

    But I’m trying to express that tension, properly contained, properly kept latent, would not necessarily result in destruction and chaos and the horrors of war.

    Its more like a nuclear(Sp?) reactor. When “doing its thing” properly, it is powerful and powerfully effective. If pieces malfunction, unlike a clock that simply stops working, in a nucular reactor there is a horrible explosion.

    War is confusion is messiness.

    And, on this account, the contrary is true: peace is understanding is order.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *