September 26, 2006
Storytelling and the War We FightBy Miguel A. Guanipa
Stories are the stuff of daily life. They give structure and meaning to our existence within the continuous flow of history. They awaken us to the significance of our individual and collective roles within the context of a common narrative.
Fragments from the stories of our days that we deem of special significance are often recalled as we lie on our beds at night, where we privately mull the outcomes and wonder if the story could have gone a different way, only to wake up the next day to new stories and sometimes just slight variations of an old story.
A happy ending is something we regard as a very important component of our stories. So much so that almost intuitively we yearn for a final satisfactory and happy resolution in the end of each story.
One of today's big stories is the war this country is currently engaged in. There are two (perhaps more) versions to this story and both versions offer their own perspective on what constitutes a happy ending.
One of these versions tells the narrative of a fatal mistake made by a blundering president; a decision based on a specious foundation of lies, deception and pure evil intentions. According to this story the country must immediately withdraw from Iraq in order to avert the dire consequences of such a catastrophic decision, accept the fact that more than enough lives — brave men who were blindly deployed simply to satisfy the whims of an imperialism driven world leader — have already been sacrificed in vain, and at best settle for a pyrrhic victory.
The happy ending version of this story involves the birth a new world order in which terrorists are satisfied by our decision to withdraw, and gladly desist from making demands and staging any more attacks against our citizens and citizens of the world.
The second version of this story tells of a world engaged in a titanic struggle against terrorism. It denies claims that we were misled into a war by warmongers in high places as untruthful, but affirms that hard decisions were made based on the available facts at the time, the dismissal of which would have proven potentially disastrous in the end.
Many are dying in this struggle but their sacrifices will not prove to have been in vain. Many more will die because this is a struggle that was postponed by a previous generation who chose not to engage in it; a choice we could very well have made ourselves—but didn't.
But the story points to a final chapter of a happy ending which has not yet been written. In this chapter there is peace, with the condition that the enemy is subdued or at least warned of peril should it pursue any more future destructive ends.
The first version of this story is based in part on past precedent and wishful thinking. And so is the second version.
But the problem with the first version is that history has already shown us the end. Terrorists will not stop doing what they are doing as long as we let them pursue their own goals. Unfortunately one of these goals is the coercive global conversion to their own worldview, a theocratic tyranny. This inconvenient fact is ignored by those who adhere to this version of the story.
Only the second version offers something better, and that is a more hopeful vision of the future.
This vision is also sustained by history and previous chapters which have already been written. Such chapters include small victories such as the deposing and trial of a tyrant, the institution of a frail yet promising new government, the disposal of many evil characters and the hope of a long oppressed people.
The story continues; and it points to a final chapter yet unwritten that offers this hope.
Yet there are many more hard chapters ahead. Chapters that hide hope behind the curtain of evil and make us anxious to attempt to skip to the final chapter. But as mentioned earlier, that final chapter has not yet been written.
We may find consolation in the fact that we have read stories like these before. The ones with a happy ending are the ones worth passing on to our children, and reading to them as they go to sleep, to be awakened to stories of their own.
Hopefully theirs will also be stories where the characters hope against hope, fight valiantly for what they believe to be enduring principles, and look ahead to a brighter future. Where the heroes come home to a celebration of victory and honor, and their fallen comrades are honored for their sacrifices instead of pitied for their costly and misguided endeavors.
Miguel A. Guanipa is a writer in Massachusetts.