Wars and Battles

I saw the movie “The Gladiator” last week. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have sought out something so violent, but someone had recommended it, saying it was a really good story. Then, too, I love the history of ancient Rome, much of which, unfortunately, is violent. And, finally, “Braveheart” had its gruesome moments but remains one of my all-time favorite movies because of its theme of integrity.

So I went to see “The Gladiator.”

The violence was as bad as I’d expected, maybe worse, because the special effects are so good these days. The blood flowed. The Romans, who were always capable of great brutality, from crucifixion to burning people alive, were depicted doing all of those things.

But I endured, because I was waiting for the message. Unfortunately, the message, when it was finally delivered, was that might makes right and that violence is the only answer. Of course, much of history has been written on just this theme. In fact, when we researched the underpinnings of this movie tale, there was in fact the evil son of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, one Comitus, and he was killed in the arena, although historically it says he was murdered by a wrestler who was a paid assassin rather than by an esteemed Roman general.

But what I came away with is how much of history is about might making right, about the evil will of one person being inflicted unto death upon so many others.

While much of the world has come a long way from this kind of belief system, so much of it is still there, from southern Lebanon, to the wars all over Africa, to Afghanistan, Kosovo — in a hundred places we all can name, where human suffering is the direct result of evil intent backed by force.

I suppose, in a way, it was fitting to see a movie such as “The Gladiator” on the eve of Memorial Day weekend, and it was fitting to think about the course of history and how so many had died to prevent still others from being slaughtered by the forces of evil.

On Sunday night, as I watched PBS’ live broadcast of the Memorial Day Concert from Washington, D.C., I was reminded again of the brutality of war, and, yet, of the importance and significance of each human life sacrificed in the name of the good. Actress Terri Garr movingly read a letter written by a woman whose fianc? was killed in the Vietnam War. The letter spoke of this kind and gentle man who wanted to be a teacher, killed while trying to save a wounded fellow Marine on the battlefield of that gruesome, awful war. The tears streamed down my face as I thought about the loss of that precious life, and how irreplaceable it is.

And then, as if a higher being wanted to make sure I learned the lesson, I watched (for perhaps the 10th time, since it is my husband’s favorite movie) “The Battle of Midway” and saw the nature of courage and sacrifice in so many young men whose names I will never even know.

Perhaps it is good sometimes to revisit the grim reality of war, if only to rededicate ourselves to preventing it in the future.