I have to admit it, I like war stories. I like war books and war movies. I like non-fiction books on war like Band of Brothers and Flags of Our Fathers, and I like historical fiction war accounts like Killer Angels. I like the film version of these books too – the HBO miniseries based on Band of Brothers, Clint Eastwood’s film based on Flags of Our Fathers, and the 4 hour movie Gettysburg based on Killer Angels. These just scratch the surface, though, as I’ve read many other books, less well known than these three (including the masterful collection of short stories on Vietnam The Things They Carried – the title story alone is brilliant – though be warned, while milder than most war stories, there are some violent moments & uses of profanity), and I’ve seen other war movies, including some of my very favorites, like Glory, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, We Were Soldiers and one of my all time favorites, Black Hawk Down. So, it naturally surprised me when some readers of my series began referring to the books, especially the recently released final book, All My Holy Mountain, and to me as being “pacifistic.”
Now, I’m not really one to avoid expressing myself even if my view is unpopular, so I would acknowledge the label and embrace it if it applied, but it doesn’t, so I thought I’d take a moment to address this subject here. First of all, where does the idea come from that my series might be pacifistic in nature? The answer to that, I suppose, is that the making of weapons is what I use as a clear symbol of “the fall” of my fantasy world, and conversely, the unmaking of weapons is a clear symbol of restoration and redemption. Consequently, one of the clear conflicts in All My Holy Mountain is between Valzaan, a prophet of Allfather, and Aljeron, the main captain of the army of Kirthanin as it wages war against Malek. Valzaan suggests that even those who serve Allfather and wield the sword in service to Him can love the blade too much, and he goes even further in suggesting that Rulalin, an enemy of sorts in Aljeron’s eyes and Caan, a mentor for Aljeron, shared this trait – a love of the blade that was perhaps a bit strong. This suggestion doesn’t go over well with Aljeron, and in the end, Aljeron finds surrendering his sword when it is no longer necessary surprisingly difficult.
So, I understand why this notion of the sword as a symbol of what’s wrong with our world might be misunderstood as pacifism, but it is a misunderstanding. Pacifism is the idea that one should never fight/kill/go to war, and so forth. Never. Clearly, no one in the books held up as a laudable character makes that argument. You do see some of the older and generally wiser characters, like Monias for instance, be more measured in their enthusiasm and less gung ho for war in general, but none of these characters say “War is always wrong.”
C.S. Lewis has a very clear essay on this called “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” which is in his collection, The Weight of Glory, which I’d recommend for any who are interested in the topic. Lewis’ simple point is that to be pacifist, you have to believe war is the worst of all things. In short, since there is nothing so bad you’d go to war to avoid it, that means war must be worse than all states or situations which warfare might prevent. As Lewis doesn’t believe that, he is not a pacifist. As I do not believe that, neither am I, nor are the characters in my book.
However, and it is a big however, the older I get, the more I realize that war is indeed a symbol of the brokenness of our world. While there are things worse than war, things worth fighting for and dying for, even so, if the world was the way God had intended it to be, war would not be necessary. Do we not grow weary of the fighting in this world and long for a day when it will be finished? A day when the swords and spears will be laid down and the world will be at peace? I hope you do, as it is the great vision of God’s eternal kingdom that this will one day be.
So, even though I’m not a pacifist, I have come to see that war is more of a necessary thing than a good thing. Why then, do I still read and watch war movies, you ask? It is a fair question, and while there are a number of things I would say to it, I will limit myself to one as this post has grown long. One thing I find fascinating about war stories is that they show the best and the worst of human nature. The crucible of combat lays bare the character of the soldiers who enter it, and one moment you read or watch some horrific atrocity that exposes the deep depravity of man, and the next you read or watch some tale of unbelievable goodness, courage, friendship or self-sacrifice that is so poignant it makes battle-hardened, grown men weep. For a writer, for an observer of human nature, for a Christian always fascinated by the mysterious interplay of man’s sinful nature and yet the glory of God’s image, the imago dei inside us, these stories are in a way invaluable. They teach me much about who we are, about what we have become, but also about who we were meant to be, and one day, Lord willing, who we shall be.