War – What Is It Good For?

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I’d like to start by saying thank you to those who responded to yesterday’s blog. Between opinions, advice and recommended reading, I managed to crack the love story issue last night. It took three hours, but the shape of the plot is now drafted and the first chapter written. Ta muchly!

Today’s challenge is kind of at the other end of the spectrum. Make war, not love, or something of the sort. All stories must have some kind of conflict, be it internal, natural or against another person(s). Without conflict, there isn’t much of a story because what is there to progress or resolve? In some cases it can just be a puzzle or mystery; in others, a personal issue to overcome. Today, though, I’d like to look at physical conflict on a large scale. War and invasion.

Wars are a fantastic backdrop for a story. So many stories can happen within them, they provide multiple opportunities to challenge the protagonists, and a handy way of getting rid of characters should you so desire. But you can’t just have a war for its own sake. Everything must happen for a reason. For Homer, the reasons were numerous – a chance to take over the lucrative trade route from Troy, an opportunity to try and unite Greece against a common enemy, and because the gods wanted to rid the world of heroes so they made it happen. For Tolkein, the reason was a mixture of fear (Sauron wanted his ring of power back) and greed (he’d take the rest of the world whilst he was at it), plus an underlying and unsustainable culture clash between Mordor and Gondor. For Rowling… um… Voldemort was bad, m’kay?

Why do wars happen in real life? It’s usually not about the stated reason – Helen of Troy was only the excuse, as was Franz Ferdinand and the WMDs (maybe – not getting into the politics of that here). So what are the underlying reasons? Wikipedia blames WW1 on ‘imperialistic foreign policies of the great powers of Europe’, which frankly seems like a crap reason for invasion and wholesale slaughter. The current Middle East conflict is largely attributed to greed for oil, plus an initial fear over what they could do to us if they wanted. The English Civil War grew out of a political and religious clash; the War of the Roses and the American Civil War both basically boiled down to who was in charge of where.

At a basic level, we seem to keep coming back to fear and greed. But wars are expensive things, so the greed pay-off has got to be pretty impressive. Now, I have an ongoing conflict that runs throughout my story between two countries, lasting on and off for around 400 years. Currently the motivation is resources – one country wants them and doesn’t have much of them, whilst the other has them in spades but isn’t prepared to share. That driver seems a little weak to me for such a prolonged fight, but then so do most of the reasons for the real wars cited above.

So here’s a question for you: what would you consider to be a good reason? Can there ever be one?

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4 responses »

  1. Look at France and Britain – they’ve fought on and off for a few centuries. The reasons are myriad, but they basically boil down to having been two powerful countries right next to each other who both want the bigger slice of pie.

  2. Because they believed they had been promised something and then cheated of it. Having been quite publically insulted. I believe Harold referred to William as a ‘bastard’ repeatedly which, whilst being true, was not something Will liked to be reminded off. Being in charge in those days was as much about having the respect and fear of your people as about the law. William couldn’t afford to let the cheating and the insults lie and retain the respect of his peers and his people ?

  3. Having read yesterday an 11 year old’s account of his whole family being shot in Syria for no apparent good reason I was asking myself a similar question. How can anyone justify commiting such atrocious acts, and how on earth can people come to a place where they actually commit them? Reading the above about Harold and William, it may have been true that William couldn’t retain the respect of his people if he just let it lie. But, outside of him just wanting their respect, would the consequences of him failing to be a leader have been better or worse than letting however many people die in the battles that followed? And to me that’s what is SHOULD come down to – fighting only when it is the best of two evils. So fighting against a regime who would massacre many innocent people in order to achieve peace in the long term, on the assumption that less people will suffer and die in the long term if you do. Thing is you can never really know which would turn out to be the lesser evil, because you can’t play out both scenarios… and I suspect that most war actually comes down to the pride and greed of people rather than the greater good. That fact makes me sad, but actually in a story telling context could make for a better story – the fact that all of us have within us part of our humanity that bleives in the good and selfless, but also the part which is selfish and greedy, and how that mix of motivations can lead to all kinds of consequences.

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