A Fisher’s Tale: A Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy – Part 4

A Fisher’s Tale: A Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy – Part 4

In war, truth is the first casualty.

– Aeschylus, Greek Tragedian (525 BC – 456 BC)

In response to our preceding discussion, the fire-priest(ess) has developed a presentation. This mentor has called everyone together in order to spin a tale. by this tale, the mentor seeks to impart three themes: the possible reasons for the cataclysm, the possibility of conflict between the communities and a shadow group that is attempting to impose its own rule upon the island, and the counterproductive character of war in general. Notably, the presentation is occurring on the first day of equality, one of the two days in the year when the times of light and dark are the same.

Everyone has gathered around the main fire, which is surrounded with many torches because of this special event. Some of us have made musical instruments fashioned out of rocks, logs, tortoiseshells, and other materials to provide a soundtrack for the mentor’s story. We are joined by guests from the other communities on the island. All is in readiness. The fire-priest(ess) rises and speaks: “Tonight, I perform the role of Charon, the ferryman of the River Styx, which forms the eternal border between the Lands of Life and Afterlife. If you will, imagine that our stage area is a trade moored along the edges of the Styx. Upon this trade, we have a soiree that includes party-guests from both sides of this river. In addition to Charon, I also will be performing the roles of these guests, both historical personages and more current figures.”

The fire-priest(ess) continues. “We convene this gathering in the wake of a great cataclysm and the situation that is facing us now. We do so in order to bring forth clarity, understanding, vision, and direction. Since much of our current situation may trace back to the time preceding his presidency, I would like to call upon Ronald Reagan, former President of the United States, to commence our discussion. Mr. President.”

“Reagan, who has been slumbering at the head table, awakens, comes forward, and says, ‘Thank you, Charon. To address the matter of war in general terms, I would like to put forth the thought that history teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap. On that observe, I cede the floor to Thomas Jefferson.'”

“Ceasing his construction of a form of Monticello rendered in twigs and shells, Jefferson stands. ‘Mr. Reagan, this is all well and good. However, I believe that you are missing the main point. Personally, I recoil with horror at the ferociousness of man. Will nations never devise a more rational umpire of differences than force? Are there no method of coercing injustice more satisfying to our character than a waste of the blood of thousands and of the labor of millions of our fellow creatures?'”

“Adjusting his loincloth, Mahatma Gandhi rises and speaks: ‘I agree with Thomas and would carry this thought one step further. What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?'”

“Twisting the ends of his mustache thoughtfully, Friedrich Nietzsche comments, ‘Thank you, Mahatma, for your wonderful words. What Mr. Gandhi says is true. Against war, one might say that it makes the victor stupid and the vanquished malicious. However, for the sake of balance in this discussion, I offer in its favor that in producing these two effects it barbarizes, and so makes the combatants more natural. For culture, it is a sleep or a wintertime, and man emerges from it stronger for good and for evil.'”

“‘There you go, Fred, getting all esoteric on us again,’ interjects American historian Hermann Hagadorn. Shaking his head, he continues, ‘I understand what Mr. Nietzsche is saying and agree with him to a point. A cultural sleep of reason can copy monsters. Consider that the bomb that fell on Hiroshima fell on America, too. It fell on no city, no munitions plants, no docks. It erased no church, vaporized no public buildings, reduced no man to his atomic elements. But it fell, it fell.'”

“‘I agree with Hermann,’ offered American anarchist/atheist Fred Woodworth, ‘and I would like to offer another example. In an incredible perversion of justice, former soldiers who sprayed festeringly poisonous chemicals on Vietnam and now find today that they themselves have been damaged by them, allurement to the people for sympathy and charity. The effects of the defoliant Agent Orange are discussed at length, but not one single newspaper article or hearing that we are aware of has already mentioned the effects on the people who nevertheless live in those regions of Vietnam. It’s as outlandish as if Nazis who gassed Jews now were to come forward and whine that the poisons that they utilized finally had made them sick. The staggering monstrousness goes unlaughed at and already unnoticed, as in a Kafka novel.'”

Chanting in a penetrating voice as Charon, the fire-priest(ess) recites the German proverb: “A Great War leaves the country with three armies–an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.”

The fire-priest(ess) returns to the story as Charon: “Buffing stars made of seashells, General Dwight D. Eisenhower asserts, ‘I concur with Mr. Woodworth and the other Fred-Friedrich, that is. To tie this in with Ronald’s original comment on cost, every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.'”

“‘Thank you, General Eisenhower,’ says American education reformer Abraham Flexner. ‘by my work with the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations, I have studied the finances of war in the early twentieth century. Now, as then, nations recently have been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is high enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.'”

“Former Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts responds, ‘I agree with Abe. Give me the money that has been spent in war and I will clothe every man, woman, and child in an attire of which kings and queens will be proud. I will build a schoolhouse in every valley over the whole earth. I will crown every hillside with a place of worship consecrated to peace.'”

“‘I give my regards to Senator Sumner,’ says George Washington by his clattering wooden teeth. ‘He has underscored the point that the expense of war must produce some assessable assistance. Today, as in my own time, I do not average to exclude altogether the idea of patriotism. I know it exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But I will venture to assert that a great and lasting war can never be supported on this rule alone. It must be aided by a prospect of interest, or some reward.'”

“‘In knowing and respecting George, my esteemed Whist partner,’ says English economist John Stuart Mill, ‘I hope that I understand him correctly in respect to a prospect of interest or some reward. I believe that war is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.'”

“Pulling a lavender scarf from his coat sleeve and dabbing his nose gently, Oscar Wilde sniffs and says, ‘Our friend John Stuart Mill has made a poignant case. However, the basic allurement to war remains perversely seated within the human psyche. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.'”

“‘Mr. Mill and my drinking buddy Oscar Wilde have drawn well upon their education in the classics,’ says Sophocles, while tipping the laurel leaf on his head deferentially. ‘However, allow me to sum up these views in my own words. A mind at peace does not engender wars.'”

“Recants Jean-Paul Sartre, filled with ennui, ‘I have been sitting here listening to these elitist philosophical waxings of Messieurs Mill, Wilde, and Sophocles, However, the existential chief of the issue is a much simpler matter of politics and class. When the high wage war, it’s the poor who die.'”

“As the faint light glints on his Distinguished Flying Cross, George McGovern speaks up: ‘I concur with Monsieur Sartre. However, let me carry this concept one step further. The high in strength are old men while the poor at their mercy are young men. I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.'”

“‘Men, men, men, Mr. McGovern. It’s always the same, George,’ shouts comedian Brett Butler, rolling her eyes. ‘I would like it if men had to partake in the same hormonal cycles to which we’re subjected monthly. Maybe that’s why men declare war–because they have a need to bleed on a regular basis.'”

“‘Right on!’ thunders Anglo-American novelist Lucy Ellmann. ‘I’m with sister Brett. Men like war: they do not keep up much sway over birth, so they make up for it with death. Unlike women, men menstruate by shedding other people’s blood.'”

“Returning from the privey, General Omar Bradley interjects, ‘Mr. McGovern, Ms. Butler, and Ms. Ellmann, this argument goes beyond class, age, and gender. It is a matter for all of humanity. The world has achieved radiance without wisdom, strength without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.'”

“Musing over a Classics Illustrated comic book of The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells speaks from his seat: ‘I must agree with General Bradley. ‘If we don’t end war, war will end us.'”

“Fluffing his mop of hair, Albert Einstein smiles and says, ‘Good point, H.G.’ Einstein then turns to the assemblage and says, ‘I long have respected Mr. Wells’s visions of our possible future. I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.'”

“While picking a piece of seaweed out of his teeth with a fishbone, Ernest Hemingway articulates, ‘Mr. Einstein. It seems that the human condition will never change. I would like to remind our group to never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. By the way, Albert, is that a new suit?’ Einstein, known for maintaining a closet complete of identical suits, shoots Hemingway a deprecating look and says, ‘It’s all relative.'”

“Former British chief Minister Benjamin Disraeli breaks in with, ‘War is never a solution; it is an aggravation.’ ‘That’s right,’ says Chairman Mao, founding father of the People’s Republic of China. ‘Spoken like a true politician. Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.’ Playing with a compass and set-square fashioned out of sticks, Thomas Jefferson directs himself to the Chairman: ‘However, war powers inevitably rest with the politicians. The strength of making war often prevents it.'”

“‘Most certainly, President Jefferson,’ nods the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. ‘Preventing war reflects wisdom. Preventing war is much better than protesting against the war. Protesting the war is too late.'”

“‘So,’ interjects French statesman Georges Clemenceau, ‘What we are hearing from Nhat Hanh and the others is that war is much too serious a matter to be entrusted to the military. Am I hearing correctly?'”

“‘I will concede your point, Monsieur Clemenceau,’ grunts Sir Winston Churchill while rolling around a cigar in his mouth. ‘However, as a politician, Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that, once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.'”

“A dapper John F. Kennedy chimes in: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, for those in politics and those serving in the military, it seems that it is an unfortunate fact that we can obtain peace only by preparing for war.'”

“Jefferson takes the floor again: ‘That, Mr. Kennedy, is the responsibility that has come to rest with all branches of the government. The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.'”

“Brushing the excess powder from his wig off of his shoulders, James Madison adds, ‘Furthermore, my dear Jefferson, let us not forget exactly where that strength of government rests. War… should only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to sustain its burdens, instead of the government, which is to reap its fruits. Let me defer to my esteemed colleague Teddy Roosevelt, who is poking me in the side with his riding crop.'”

“Adjusting his monocle and Rough Rider hat, Roosevelt swaggers to the center of the room and proclaims loudly, ‘Thank you, Jim. Let me add a caveat to what Messrs. Madison and Jefferson have just iterated, given the state of political strength in the United States. To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public. You have a comment, Bungalow Bill?'”

“Fuming, General William Westmoreland points his finger at Roosevelt and spits out bitingly, ‘What you just said is all well and good, Teddy. However, there must be controls. I remember that Vietnam was the first war ever fought without any censorship. Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind. Why, during the Gulf War of the early 1990s, a former colleague of mine at the Pentagon said that if we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.'”

“Frowning at his fellow general, Omar Bradley replies sarcastically, ‘Thank you for your erudite comment, Bill. Of course, maybe that would not be a bad idea. After all, the way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts. As I stated earlier this evening, we know more about killing than we know about living. Let me add, we have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.'”

“‘Quite right, General Bradley,’ says Einstein. ‘The release of atom strength has changed everything except our way of thinking… The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.'”

“JFK responds, ‘The use of the atomic bomb was not your fault, Professor Einstein. As it was in the 1940s, the 1960s, and beyond, the basic problems facing the world today are not prone to a military solution.'”

“‘And this is especially true, President Kennedy, when speaking of such ideals as liberty and democracy,’ adds Gandhi. ‘Liberty and democracy become unholy when their hands are dyed red with innocent blood.'”

“‘Well put, Mr. Gandhi,’ smiles Kennedy approvingly. ‘However, let me continue to say this about that: The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the different energies of free nations and free men.'”

“Dutch philosopher Benedict (Baruch) De Spinoza chimes in, ‘Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice.'”

“‘I have become fed up with this serving of liberal tripe,’ bellows a heavily accented voice from the back. ‘Naturally, the shared people don’t want war. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a Fascist dictatorship, or a Parliament, or a Communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people always can be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for without of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.'”

“‘Yes, Herr Goering,’ says Westmoreland. ‘However, Hermann, it seems that you have made my point. The military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars.'”

“Entering the discussion, General Douglas MacArthur proclaims, ‘Yes, General Westmoreland; politicians such as these gentlemen declare war. However, it is we military creatures who must carry out the war. Personally, I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I long have advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international disputes. Don’t you agree, Otto?'”

“‘Certainly I do, General MacArthur,’ replies Chancellor Von Bismark. ‘Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war. Having been both sailor and politician, would you not agree, Lieutenant Kennedy?'”

“;Absolutely, Chancellor,’ says JFK. ‘Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind. To quote His Holiness, John Paul II, war should belong to the tragic past, to history: it should find no place on humanity’s agenda for the future.'”

“Benjamin Franklin, making a tail for his latest kite by surreptitiously pulling bits of cloth off of Goering’s frayed Nazi uniform, looks over his spectacles and says, ‘If I may interject, allow me to assert that all wars are follies, very expensive and very mischievous ones. In my opinion, there never was a good war or a bad peace. When will mankind be convinced and agree to settle their difficulties by arbitration?'”

“French priest and writer Francois Fenelon adds quietly, ‘All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.'”

“Pope John Paul II, who had been praying fervently for the souls of Goering and Sartre, addresses the group: ‘I thought I heard my name and words bandied about from across the room, Messrs. Kennedy, Franklin, and Fenelon. Allow me to sum up your insights. If you wish to be brothers, drop your weapons.'”

Speaking again as Charon, the fire-priest(ess) responds, “If you wish to be brothers, drop your weapons. Thank you, your Holiness, for summing up our discussion so succinctly. I hope that our guests from the Land of the Living will carry these and all the other words back to their homes. To close our soiree, I have asked Mr. Samuel Clemens, the great American author, journalist, and speaker, to recite a closing oration, his War Prayer. Let us all remember what we have discussed here along the River Styx. Mr. Clemens, if you would.”

“‘Thank you, Charon,’ replies Clemens as he approaches the group. ‘A few minutes ago, while seated on the commode, I read a piece of graffiti on the door of the stall. seemingly, it had been written sometime this evening by the German-born American physiologist Dr. Martin H. Fischer of our party. The verse read, The refuge of the morally, intellectually, artistically, and economically bankrupt is war. That sentence moved me in more ways than one. So, in respect to Dr. Fischer and in all humbleness in the presence of this gathering of great minds, I dedicate my War Prayer, which, unfortunately, proves every bit as applicable today as when I myself lived:

O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it.'”

All are silent.

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