No.30 Dependence

I know what they say. I know how ‘common opinion’ judges me, judges us.

I ask you though, to consider, to introspect and ask yourself, who knows what is in a man’s heart, or in a woman’s heart for that matter?

Who can say, from a distance, from outside, what deep spirit rules in another man’s relationship.

Who can say what passes between lovers when they are all alone where none may pry into their oh-so-private intimacy?

And even if one could see, who is to judge?

Loud shouting can be heard in the piazza below. I pause my letter writing to watch an argument exploding between a little man on a bicycle and a taxi driver. The driver, a bear of a man two meters tall at least, gets out of his cab and lifts the little man into the air by his lapels. The bicycle falls into the road.

As soon as they can see eye-to-eye the little man punches the taxi driver on the nose. The taxi driver drops the little man and then lifts him again, shaking him. Once again, as soon as he is within reach the little man punches the taxi drive hard on the nose. This goes on and on for several minutes until a tiny woman in a black dress and a white apron (the cyclist’s wife perhaps?) comes tearing out of a shop doorway brandishing a broom and whacks the taxi driver hard on the back of the head.

The taxi driver bellows with rage (the sound is easily discernible from my fourth floor balcony). He turns like a cat with unexpected agility, seeking his attacker. At first he does not see the tiny witch woman who is swinging her broom with considerable force at his knees.

There is a resounding ‘thwack!’ and a bellow of, were it possible, even more maddened rage. Now the Taxi driver does see the woman, and her broom, which is whistling down in the direction of his forehead.

The taxi driver fends off the little woman’s broom, jumps into his taxi and speeds off. The little woman waits while the cyclist regains his bicycle before giving him a pretty good whack with the bristly end of the broom and sweeping, like a miniature battleship, back into the shop.

The lift pings on the landing outside my apartment.

I hear Her key in the door. Quickly I close the letter I am writing. I slip my phone into my pocket and hurry towards the door hoping to open it for Her.

Too late. The door opens and two lovely tanned arms appear, encircling a large brown paper bag stuffed with treasures.

‘Take these! Take these immediately. My arms are breaking!’

I take the package and place it on the table.

‘I thought you would have met me downstairs. You knew I was going shopping. You always leave everything to me. I bet you’ve been staring out of the window or spying on the neighbours again.’

I start to say something but She cuts in.

‘Don’t make excuses! You know I can’t stand it when you make excuses!’

I start to unpack the shopping bag and put things away.

‘Well? Aren’t you going to answer me then? Don’t I even deserve an answer when I’ve been out in the heat of the day to shop for your dinner?’

I start to say something else but She cuts in again.

‘Well the least you could do is put the shopping away!’

I continue to put things away, waiting for the inevitable, heavy sigh that will signify that She has moved to phase two of Her homecoming ritual.

She flops theatrically onto the comfortable old brown leather sofa.

Everything has been put away, I have set the enormous, ancient espresso coffee pot on the gas ring and placed two tiny bone china coffee cups on the counter and begun to steam the milk before, finally, the sigh comes.

‘Why don’t you love me?’ She asks, quietly, in the voice of little girl who has been lost in the Alps for a week.

‘Why don’t I matter to you at all?’

I start to say something but She cuts me off.

‘I should leave’ she says, ‘I should simply pack up my things and go!’

I finish making the coffee and place one tiny cup on the coffee table next to Her, within easy reach.

I sit on the floor, at her feet, and one-by-one gently remove her fine Italian high heels.

I begin to massage her feet and calves. She stretches, languorously, like a cat, and wiggles her toes.

I continue to knead the soles of her feet and her toes. She lets out a low moan, almost a groan, and leans forward to stroke my hair. Her strong fingers ruffle the spiky short cropped hairs at the nape of my neck.

I begin to stand, crouching, and lift Her from the sofa. She leans back in my arms, wanton and vulnerable.

I carry Her to the bed room and fling Her unceremoniously onto the bed. She lies limp, apparently submissive, across the quilt.

She opens Her eyes and regards me with the frank open stare of a child.

‘Are you going to undress me?’ She asks

For a moment I am uncertain if I heard Her correctly. Did She say ‘Are you going to undress me?’ or ‘Aren’t you going to undress me?’

‘Would you like me to undress you?’

‘Well not if you don’t want to.’

The waspish tone has begun to edge its way back into her voice.

I lie down next to Her and kiss Her, very gently, on Her broad generous, lips. She smiles, stretches, wraps Herself around me, and begins to kiss my neck, slowly. I caress Her back and begin to undo the tiny hooks and eyes that run the length of Her dress from the nape of Her neck to the small of Her back.

There are many hooks and eyes, and occasionally I fumble. I am attuned absolutely to Her mood, acutely aware of any impatient shifting or irritation. It’s ok, so far so good.

When the dress is completely undone I run my hand down Her back from her shoulder to the top of her panties. I allow my hand to continue on over her full round buttocks to the tops of her thighs. She is wearing old fashioned stockings. With one index finger I caress the elasticated tops noting the thin line they have made in the otherwise perfectly smooth skin.

I turn to kiss Her again, but She has fallen asleep. Her breath is peaceful and shallow, like a little girl.

I embrace Her very carefully and kiss Her again. She stirs in Her sleep.

‘I love you’ she murmurs, ‘only you, always.’

My heart aches and there is a sudden lump in my throat. With extreme care I disentangle myself and return to the balcony and my letter.

She loves me, I write, She is my Goddess.

No.29 Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes

According to the Red cross, armed conflict is “the logical outcome of an attempt of one group to protect or increase its political, social and economic welfare at the expense of another group”. It goes on to say “There is no need to be an expert or a prophet to predict that humanity is far from finished with it”.

Warfare is a “chameleon”, ever-changing, adapting, camouflaging itself. War escapes easy delineation. Our thoughts and our language itself seem incapable of conveying the reality we are facing. We may soon replace soldiers with machines, replace manned flight with drones and human operated weapons with automated weapon systems.

Those without such technology are turning their own people into human bombs and are targeting crowds of civilians rather than traditional military targets. We live in a world where the drone pilot faces off against the suicide bomber. Terrorist attacks instantly transform holiday resorts, cultural and commercial venues into fields of war.

The asymmetric response to increasingly remote military hardware is the invisible network, what the Red Cross describe as ‘rhizomes’, like underground root systems and stems which spread unseen, emerging to strike where no one expects them.

Even the notion of heroism, traditionally associated with obedience to a warrior’s code of honour, is either absent or has been perverted by those on both sides who portray cowardly murders as so many glorious victories. These evil acts are then proudly broadcast on YouTube and the evening news.

In our deeply divided world, the war front is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. War is always both omnipresent and absent.

The battlefield itself is moving into Cyberspace, ill-defined, without shape or borders. Yet war is still war, and continues still to show its old face. The nuclear threat remains a sword of Damocles hanging over humanity.

The fragmentation of warfare and the practice wherever possible of fighting on someone else’s soil has led some States to reinvest in conventional weapons. The medieval practice of besieging cities has returned to Syria and Yemen. “The civil wars in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo hardly involve new technology or heavy weapons, yet they are among today’s deadliest conflicts.”

150 years of effort to limit the effects of violence through international humanitarian law (IHL) is failing. Even the most basic rules are not applied. What followed the Cold War was the so-called age of “war amongst the people”. Many new conflicts arose against the backdrop of decolonization and polarization. The typical conflict is no longer “industrial war” between two opposing masses of troops, planes and tanks. War is mostly internal or between local armed groups against foreign powers.

Anti-colonial and revolutionary guerrilla tactics are essentially the same as those used by contemporary armed groups against local or multinational armed forces in “asymmetric” conflicts. The ‘West’ has found itself again and again bogged down in interventionist wars. Unlike traditional wars, some say that 90% of those dying in current wars are civilians.

The system implemented after the Second World War is collapsing as new military and economic relationships emerging in the context of climate change and shrinking natural resources. New alliances, activists and solidarity networks challenge the State’s omnipotence.

Millions of people are on the road or in makeshift boats, while rich countries close their borders. Radicals call for isolation from the rest of the world and, at the same time, for taking the fight to the enemy. The world seems to be entering a period of selfishness, of one-sided power grabs and of rallying around “identités meurtrières” (murderous identities).

In the past, a “state of war” was formally declared and became the central concern of an entire nation until peace was restored. Now it is taking a new form in Western States. At once unending and unexpressed, similar to the permanent war described in Orwell’s ‘1984’, it is brought to public attention only through sporadic attacks and ubiquitous security measures. Private contractors are employed instead of conscripting citizens. The desire for “perpetual peace” has given way to disillusionment and the idea of a “forever war”. Aerial bombardment is preferred to committing ground troops in operations overseas. This leads to the use of weapons and tactics, such as remote bombing or indirect fire, and a tacit acceptance of increased civilian casualties. However, the recurring polemics over the civilian losses that these attacks cause show that perceptions of the acceptability of civilian deaths among the general public are changing.

Developments in communications, social media, cyber techniques, robotics and laser and nanotechnology portend not only new weapons, but also new tactics and new kinds of warfare. Some of these advances can lead to greater targeting accuracy and minimize civilian losses. Others, however, could unleash unprecedented tragedies – for example, through their indiscriminate impact.

As wars become smaller, more localised and more fragmented the days of few, major wars between large countries or blocks are giving way to many small conflicts and proxy wars between smaller countries and within countries.

This, is the equivalent in the modern world of what Thomas Hobbes meant by “the war of all against all” (Bellum omnium contra omnes). This is the essence of human existence in the state of nature, i.e. in the absence of civil society.

It was Hobbs who described life as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Hobbes argued that there could be no morality in the state of nature because everyone would be fighting for individual survival. Moral notions have no place because everyone has an equal claim to everything. Without a government, no laws exist to regulate behaviour. Since no individual has the power to regulate human behaviour (on a large scale), any notions of justice or morality must arise from a social contract that all individuals adhere to. Without government, everyone’s equal claim to everything combined with the scarcity of resources leads everyone into the war of all against all: Everyone is the enemy of everyone else, and every individual must compete with others to gather enough resources to survive.

Hobbes proposed the establishment of an authoritarian state which had the power to control its subjects and establish a civilized society. In this authoritarian state, the ruler or governing body, known as the sovereign, the president or just plain ‘Trump’ (or ‘Putin’), has the ability to violate an array of individual rights to promote peace and prevent society from reverting back to the war of all against all.

Sound familiar?

Ref: EDITORIAL TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, TRAGEDIES: A HUMANITARIAN PERSPECTIVE ON THE CHANGING FACE OF WAR Vincent Bernard, Editor-in-Chief International Review of the Red Cross (2015).

Ref: War of All Against All, September 5th, 2010 by Kara in Dictionary, Moral Terms