The Dragon of War

War is a dragon with many heads; each head is an invitation to a battle. Each battle seems to be the decisive event, yet for each head cut down another grows in its place. The dragon of war presents the face of evil to each party in any conflict. It feeds on fundamental oppositions, good and evil, right and wrong, free-market democracy and radical Islam, crusaders and infidels, believers and unbelievers of every stripe.

The dragon appears emblazoned on flags riding above the anxious armies. Moved by the winds of war, it shape-shifts from lion to a sword-slice of moon, an array of stars or a trenchant cross. Flags rise and fall in the battle that never ends; the bloody field of human history is strewn with dismembered tyrants, disillusioned warriors, and defeated ideas.

The dragon of war will serve any cause at any time. The breath of the dragon drifts across borders posing as propaganda, as whispers of revenge, as chemical agents, or the compulsions of espionage. A dragon is a composite of all animals, having wings, scales, and claws. War is like that, it unifies before it dismembers, gathers divergent energies before it tears everything apart.

The threat of war, the promise of war suspends other forms of judgment, it clears the decks of all but the most elemental aspects of conflict, it shifts the complex of oppositions and entanglements to the levels of claws and wings and teeth and tank treads and land mines, even to the exploding of cells and releasing of poisons, biology converted to weaponry in the all or nothing release of unarticulated pain and the absolute fear of failure encouraged by the burning eyes of the beast within history.

Never mind that the wars are never won and the treaties never kept. Declaring the next war can recast even clumsy, inarticulate leaders in a temporary, heroic glow. The light of war seems to place all blemishes on the face of the opposition while making one’s own leaders clear and pure. The mask of war covers over the gaping holes in genuine leadership and covers up the dragon of greed and bitterness that flickers at the back of the eyes of those who lead without genuine vision.

On the way to war even the most pedantic and pedestrian of people can feel that they are fully alive and walking the edge where life meets death. Rather than engage the severe opposition and deep uncertainties that dwell in the human heart, the literal rending of the world is chosen. The unending battle is ever renewed by the restless dragon whose changing faces and unlimited heads disguise the presence of the same old conflicts within each person, within each nation, within each epoch, within each call for war and each act that follows. Each shocking bomb assault, each leaking of poison, each terror attack feeds the dragon and causes other heads of unthinkable terror to grow.

Whether a hot war or cold war, it’s the old war, the one that all peoples inherit. No matter the outcome, the losses of humanity increase with each war. Humanity itself diminishes as dreams of extinction replace the courage to enter the real battle, the Jihad within the human heart, the struggle within the soul to recall the dream of life despite the seductions of death.

It used to be said that creation is the only outcome of conflict that can satisfy the soul. Only becoming truly creative and re-creative with whole-hearted imagination can shift the dragons of war to the creatures of heaven, the mists of confusion to the breath of inspiration. The dragon itself is an inimitable shape-shifter, it can go either way, creation or destruction. The nature of the change, the shape of the shift depends on the capacity of the human mind to withstand the tension of opposites and the courage of the human heart to imagine life fully.

The dragon once curled, snake-like, at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. The root conflict is built into the very cells that can explode in mushrooms of destruction or regenerate the ongoing dream that reproduces the world and the curious Tree of Life that also stands in the garden where good and evil are considered again and again.

© Michael Meade