Saturday, 22 August 2009

War as Parable – An Experiment in Storytelling

“Your people are dying”, said the storyteller, “because their leaders are forgetful. Soldiers from the Kingdom of the Archipelago have passed through from time to time for more than a century and a half, and yet your rulers can’t even recall events from twenty years ago.”

“But sometimes I am forgetful too, for there is much history to tell, so many soldiers from so many nations. So gather closer to the fire and I will tell you a little more of the Ashvakas. Perhaps then you will understand.”

“A story begins with its people”, said the storyteller. “The Ashvakas live in the land of the White Mountains and as cavalrymen and breeders of horses, there were few to equal them throughout the region.”

“For many decades after your armies had returned home, the emperor of the Ashvakas ruled a country that stayed out of the wars fought by the other kingdoms. Gradually, inch by inch, he also allowed the people freedoms that had been denied by his forefathers, although never that many: his family continued to hold on tightly to the levers of power.“

“Then, after forty years, one of the princes of the royal family, the emperor’s brother-in-law and cousin, decided to take control, when the sovereign was away from the White Mountains, by proclaiming himself President. For four years he ruled, until he too was overthrown, this time by the rebels who had supported him but had been thrown into jail for their efforts. As is often the way with such insurrections, the President and his family were executed.”

“The rebels looked north for support to the Kingdom of the Bear, who shared their hatred of the most popular religion of the Ashvaka. Indeed, not just their religion: it was a rigid, unyielding hatred of all religion, or any opposition to its own faith. The new government in the land of the White Mountains ruled using many of the ideas and methods of their northern allies, which angered the more fervent of the faithful, especially the tribal leaders who lived in the countryside.”

“So there was further rebellion, met with ever-greater subjugation, which led in turn to the desertion of much the government’s own army. In desperation, the leaders invited the Kingdom of the Bear to help them. And so its armies invaded.”

“But far away, across countries and deserts and seas, the powerful Kingdom of the Eagle began to send arms to those who fought against the Kingdom of the Bear, which was its greatest enemy. The influence of the Kingdom of the Eagle was vast and even though the land of the White Mountains was many thousands of leagues away, it sought victory – and perhaps, too, a little vengeance for past defeats.“

“The armies of the Bear fought hard, nevertheless, but their greater strength was no match for those amongst the Ashvakas who fervour was strong and who knew the White Mountains so well. After six long years, the leader of the Kingdom of the Bear grew impatient and demanded an end to the fighting within one more year, but it was not to be. Many fighters from other lands had joined the new rebellion, with help from the Kingdom of the Eagle and those who paid tribute to its power. And after two painful years, nearly a decade after its arrival, the Bear’s armies were gone. Indeed, before too long, the Kingdom had vanished too.”

“Unhappily for the Ashvakas, however, what followed was not victory, but a period of darkness."

"The Kingdom of the Eagle seemed to lose interest in the land of the White Mountains once its enemy had been defeated and soon there was a new war, this time between victors who were riven by dissent. Already so many had died, but when the government that had defeated the old emperor’s brother-in-law finally fell, the Ashvakas’ capital, a beautiful city, came under terrible fire, with one warlord pitched against another, each one fired by righteousness, each one shifting their alliances and each one pillaging the city, slaughtering families and raping women, forcing the covering of women’s faces and the burning of schools.”

“Thousands fled, nine-tenths of the great city was destroyed and all unity was forgotten. But now a new alliance was emerging – one from the kingdom to the south. Seven murderous years after the Kingdom of the Bear was a distant memory, the violence, destruction, and chaos that had followed gave rise of the puritanical Scholars, who took power in the ruined capital and forced the warlords to flee to the White Mountains to the north and east.”

“Although schooled across the southern border, these new rulers were welcomed at first by many who were tired of so much suffering. But their new laws were medieval and severe in their hatred of pleasure, of women, and of the sacred places of those who did not share its own beliefs. For five years the land of cavalrymen and breeders of horses closed itself to the outside world, its rulers forcing the covering of women’s faces and the burning of schools, giving refuge only to veterans of the war against the Kingdom of the Bear, those who sought their continuing sanctuary and fought at their side. Only rarely did the Scholars venture out to trade with the more powerful kingdoms of the world.”

“And still those who were tired of so much suffering found no respite, for the fighting continued, both within the country of the Ashvakas, with its neighbours and beyond."

"The Kingdom of the Eagle was amongst whose anger was aroused – and once again it showed its infinite reach. But this distant nation soon discovered that it was not alone in the extent of its purview, which brought forth the full measure of its fury for the terrible deeds inflicted upon it and blamed on the Ashvakas’ foreign guests. In desperation, an offer was made to hand over those held responsible, but it was to no avail.”

“And so, although not one of their countrymen had attacked the Kingdom of the Eagle, the Ashvakas faced further misery, another war that drove the Scholars away into the White Mountains and drew the warlords back into the benighted capital.”

“The armies of the Eagle fought hard, just as others had done before them, but their greater strength could still not bring a quick victory against those knew the White Mountains so well. Distracted elsewhere, they allowed their adversaries to rebuild their army. And so more armies joined them, including your soldiers from the Archipelago, once more to a country where so many had fallen so many years before.”

“And as time has passed, it is sad to think for whom and for what they are dying. For new laws that are medieval and severe. For the old warlords who have grown fat on their corruption and those hands were stained with the blood of their countrymen.”

“But equally saddening, it is the Ashvakas who are dying in greater numbers, killed by one side or another.”

“A whole generation of Ashvakas have known nothing but war and destruction. They have seen rebels and warlords and scholars and kingdoms, seen them come and go and sometime return again. And yet those who know the White Mountains so well are capable of waging war without end, it seems, made possible by the intrusion and support of powerful forces from beyond their borders.“

“A story ends with its people”, said the storyteller. “A people who have suffered enough from the meddling of outsiders.”

“And yet you ask why the Ashvakas want you to leave, want all those who have blighted their lives to leave and want an end to the relentless interference. You ask why they fail to show more gratitude when you continue to fight in their name and to die so unnecessarily down in the plains?”

"But I ask you. Would you not feel the same if you had suffered as much?


Chris H said...

Quality, absolute quality.

Even the politicians could understand it.

DocRichard said...

It is a true story, and well told. I also heard that in the end it all went well, for the Ashvakas discovered that they could sell their poppies to wise doctors, who used them to relieve suffering so terrible that the sufferers would throw themselves under the wheels of Jaggernat. In this way, the Scholars could no longer afford their weapons and their soldiers, and they turned to peaceful ways of trying to get people to behave as they did in times long past.

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