“Oh, most unhappy earth! Wretched home of the human race, where barbarism not only still exists, but is taken for glory… instead of driving their weapons into the earth to benefit their fellow creatures, men plunge them into one another’s hearts to decide the ownership of the actual soil. Barbarians! Savages!” Charles Gounod
We may no longer don garish suits of armor or drag along unwieldy weapons of war, but to imagine that we have sloughed off our barbaric and savage attitudes and posturing is to falsely imagine that we have elevated our societies to a state of civilized enlightenment. We have already lived through an Age of Enlightenment, but it appears that we took away little from that illuminating and inspiring era during our brief sojourn on this planet.
While many believe the rise of technology and the expansion in medical advances to be indicators of our increasingly civilized society, while we continue to wage war against other human beings (not to mention our insatiable desire to slaughter innocent creatures of the wild) our pronouncements of civilized behavior and lifestyles is merely a hollow echo ringing down the valley of humankind. We still believe that certain persons should be declared owners of sections of the earth and that trespassing upon the lands of others is not only a right but a noble obligation intended to advance the cause of nations.
Interestingly, individuals within a nation are simply mirroring the acts and beliefs of the nation in which they consider themselves to be citizens. Just as nations announce the division of lands through borders both visible or invisible, so do the denizens of the country divvy up the land into individual parcels for their own benefit and gains. Granted, to be able to call a plot of land one’s home offers a sense of security and purpose, yet we all too often also consider the acquisition of lands to be an accomplishment worthy of praise and legends. Consider the audacity of earlier Western Europeans who traveled far and wide and across uncharted oceans to declare a new land to be theirs by virtue of seeing and desiring it. For while we may wish to call them discoveries, how can one “discover” a land when it is occupied by humans already native to that area? More importantly, how can a human being justify the seizure of the lands already occupied by humans? Is it because they speak a different language and live by different customs?
When Western Europeans invaded the land now renamed America, they were compelled to call the natives already living there “savages” because they wore fewer and different clothing, spoke an unknown language, and had customs that were completely foreign to the Europeans. Perhaps the greatest offense to the invaders was the natives’ ignorance of the Western European gods. Because they decreed many centuries earlier that their god was the only and rightful god of the planet Earth, any persons unfamiliar with the demands and practices of this created god had to be placed in the category of savages and barbarians. Yet these local peoples, who appeared to be more attuned to the land and nature than these “civilized” invaders, were not the initial aggressors against these aliens. After an incessant series of transgressions against the local population, many tribes did finally push back, much to the ire and surprise of the invading barbarians.
When one studies the history and origin of the word “barbarian,” the term came about in the late Roman Empire to refer to any persons who were unaware of and did not practice the Greek and Roman traditions that had been developed over the centuries. In essence, they were foreigners who were new to the Greek and Roman cultures and languages. So a barbarian is simply someone who is considered to be primitive and uncultured in comparison to the people who were raised and educated in a given society.
However, over time the word “barbarian” has evolved to simply mean a brutish person. Ironically, most wars are waged between two nations, where typically both battling parties perceive the other people to be the barbarians. And that moniker is appropriate, since war is typically a barbaric and savage affair. Some may wish to debate that war is no longer barbaric or savage, since we have sophisticated weaponry that is often deployed in missions and battles but that argument is as inaccurate as our high-tech artillery. War is designed to kill and maim people, as well as to destroy property and equipment, of the chosen enemy of the day, and this concept is insanely atrocious and violent. The fact that we have developed weaponry that is capable of mass destruction and deaths means that we are more barbaric and savage than ever before.
Perhaps the question that should be asked is “Why do we hate peace and equality so much?” Waging war for peaceful ends has proven over the centuries to be an oxymoron with global implications. Peace is not a show of weakness; rather, war is a display of our continuing cowardice and fear. When we learn to stop being afraid and start becoming interested and concerned for all of humankind, war will end and we will look back and shake our collective heads with shame. Until then, we will continue to heap glory and rewards upon the cowards of conflict.