“We are on the verge of the abyss in the Middle East…”
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General 16 October 2023
The Israel-Gaza Crisis, as the United Nations describes the situation, has shocked the world, and confronted us with the difficulties of living in a time of war. How can we respond to these shocking events mindfully, given the torrents of emotion coursing around the world? How can we use history not to nurse grievance, but to nurture empathy, and so to restore peace?
I discuss these issues this week in my podcast, episode 123 In a time of war, nurture empathy with history
I will be commenting on the Israel-Gaza crisis in this post and podcast. I stress I have no side in this conflict, and condemn all forms of atrocity and breaches of human rights. I do not need to choose a side, nor to fight a war. I urge empathy for all. I see insight through compassion for all actors and victims, opponents and allies, and even uninvolved bystanders. Peace can only be accomplished through talking with strangers and enemies.
The Israel-Gaza Crisis has pushed the world to the edge of the abyss, as António Guterres, UN Secretary-General. We are confronted with the difficulties of living in a time of war. How can we respond to these shocking events mindfully, given the torrents of emotion coursing around the world? How can we use history not to nurse grievance, but to nurture empathy, and so to restore peace?
I talk about these issues this week on my podcast. I share thoughts from Simon Schama, the distinguished British-Jewish historian and author of a history of the Jewish peoples. I also explore the importance of empathy to respond to these events. Some might say a lack of “strategic empathy” brought these wars into being. A little bit more empathy might help cool tempers and restore dialogue and diplomacy.
I also read from two poems that reflect on the grief, horror and laments inspired by war. I read the final lament or keening of the Geatish woman in Beowulf.
Then another dirge rose, woven uninvited
by a Geatish woman, louder than the rest.
She tore her hair and screamed her horror
at the hell that was to come; more of the same.
Reaping, raping, feasts of blood, iron fortunes
marching across her country, claiming her body.
The sky sipped the smoke and smiled.
Beowulf, transl Maria Dahvana Headley
And I read the great Wislawa Szymborska, whose The End and the Beginning starts:
After every war
someone has to clean up.
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
Many die in war, and many feel they have no good choices but to endure and to survive. These wars will bring many losers, and ultimately all wars are lost. History is written by the losers, not only the victors.
““After a lost war one should only write comedies”Novalis
It seems likely that one of the losers of the wars to come will be the West. Disappointment will come to all those American politicians who call to bomb Iran and ‘finish them’, the anonymous evil that cannot be named. The time for comedies, however, has not yet come to the West; but it will come.
Be kind. Endure. Use empathy. Read good history. Talk with strangers, and remember what thou lovest well will not be reft from thee.
You can read more of my reflections on war at jeffrich.substack.com.
I will release a video version of my podcast on YouTube on 21 October.
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