There are two sides to every story. We all know this, even if we choose to only see our side. Seeing the side of others takes empathy, a virtue that (unlike patience and many other virtues) I think I’m not half-bad at. Lucky so, given the nature of my recent social life.
On Friday night I updated my facebook status: Pro wikileaks rally outside town hall by day, dining inside town hall with army boys by night. Oh the irony!
The irony, in my mind, stemmed from the stark contrast in world-views between Peace and Security, between Left and Right. It’s a contrast that I find strange given both are ultimately (in my opinion) trying to achieve the same thing (improving the lives of themselves and the ones they love) – the difference being the way they believe this might be achieved.
The contrast was emphasised my a few of my friend’s friend’s friend (also an army boy) at a party the night before. In the span of 30-hours I went from left to right, back to left, back to right, finally returning to where I am now: relatively left with an appreciation for the right. Confused? That’s ok, so am I.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have a few friends from the Australian army which with my Peace Studies tends to make for interesting conversations. But my friend’s friend’s friend was a little different.
So this story begins on Thursday night at what was supposed to be some quiet farewell drinks.
“Have you ever killed someone?” my friend’s friend’s friend asked, the look of horror from his killings still in his eyes. “Then you don’t know anything.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“You peace people, you f’ing hippies, you protest against us, you spit on us during Anzac day parades,” He continued. “You live in Paddington with your straight white teeth… you don’t have a clue.”
Do I turn and leave? Cry? Or try to see what’s beneath his resentment? I chose the latter option, although after too many drinks I may later done a little of the second, and eventually a friend enforced the first option. But that’s beside the point.
“Ok, I agree – I don’t have a clue. I would never spit on you, I assure you of that.” I began diplomatically. “I might be a bit left but as you said, I live in Paddington and I do very much appreciate my way of life – and I know the connection between this and what you do. I may not agree with violence but I enjoy the economic and physical benefits of it – from oil to our relationships with the US.”
I think he was at least a little suprised by my honesty. I asked what motivates him to fight, and why he joined.
“My family. Protecting the people I love. Protecting my country.” he replied. “And I have to admit, I was pretty stoked when I bought my first Beemer.”
The conversation continued to deeper territories.
“We generally try not to kill women and children but if it’s a choice between them or me, I have done it. And once you do it, you can’t take it back.” It was plain to me the saddness and resentment that was attached. “I’ve fought in East Timor, in Afghanistan, in many other places. After a while you enjoy it. Do you hear me? I have enjoyed killing people.”
I knew he was trying to intimidate me.
“I hear you. And I also know that if I were born in your body and your situation, I’d be doing the exact same thing.” I shrugged.
I don’t take killing lightly, and I definitely don’t condone it, but my empathy does allow me to understand. I can hardly begin to imagine the psychological processes within one’s mind in order to deal with taking another’s life.
In the psychological drama of killing people and then operating in a society where no one knows what that’s like and people ignorantly criticise the war you fight, of course you would need to find stories that justify it; attaching confident feelings to the actions; and transform oneself into the hero of the story.
Are today’s soldiers heroes?
In the minds of many of the people of their country, yes they are.
Are they murderers?
In the minds of the victim’s family, yes they are.
Are they necessary?
In the global game of chess our politicians are currently playing, yes they are.
Ultimately our politicians play the game that supports the way the majority want them to play it. And at the moment our objective is security: economic security and physical security.
Peace activists might protest against soldiers, showing their dismay for the victims of war and displaying their disapproval for the way our politicians are playing the game, but until the game changes, our politicians choices are limited.
“We pay you to protect us, and that’s what you do. That’s also why people like me are of more value than you think. When we’re not spitting at you during parades… ” I laughed, “And when we’re finished making our daisy chains, we are analyzing the causes of the war in the first place. We are looking for non-violent ways to secure the same things you are trying to secure.”
If I had been referring to the chess game I might have said: we are questioning the game and trying to see if there’s another way we can play it.
At the end of that evening, when my friend told me to go home to bed, the army boy turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “Thank you…” he shook his head, “this has been a really good conversation, thank you.”
It was a pretty hard core conversation but it had been worthwhile. It had opened windows for understanding, on both sides.
While the above rant is just the beginning of my 30-hour Left vs Right epic, this entry is getting long so I’ll tell the rest of the story tomorrow.