Why does war continue?

Among the extant complete (ish) plays of Euripides, five (Bacchae, Alcestis, Medea, Andromache, and Helen) feature these lines in the Chorus’ final stanza:

«πολλαι μορφαι των δαιμονιων,
πολλα δ’αελπτως κραινουσι θεοι»

“many are the forms of superhuman forces,
gods bring to pass many unexpected things”

In Euripides, as in Homer, we are constantly confronted, within their narratives and studying their narratives, with how small we are, tiny, fragile systems in a world overflowing with things we don’t understand and can’t control. So we latch on to authority and expertise. We are so confident in their immutability—never you mind how often we have been proven wrong. THIS time, we’re surer than sure. THIS time will be different!—that we seem to feel complete confidence passing judgments on things we have never studied or lived (and finding anything different from our “expert” of choice deficient, obviously). From there, it’s just a teeny step assigning complex systems (among them, humans) into simple categories (friend and enemy, mostly). There’s humanity sorted. Done and dusted. Problem(s) solved. Only, is it? are they? really?

In the Iliad, in the moments of recognition between Diomedes and Glaucus, Achilles and Priam, Homer seems to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can find a friend where we least expect one. We can see ourselves even in our most personal mortal enemy. Because, yes, we’re different. And also, we’re not different. If only, if only, if only (see book 23).

So why does the war have to continue?

4 thoughts on “Why does war continue?

  1. I love this musing. When reading “The Iliad”, it was something I asked myself all the time. It seems that until we conquer pride and maybe our base animal nature (after all, chimpanzees and other primates wage war of sorts on one another, and of course many other animals fight for mates, territory, etc.), we will never conquer war. I wish we could find a way to overcome all of this.

    1. Yes. This reread, I think one of the most devastating things for me has been the part where Priam asks for 12 days to mourn Hector before returning to the battlefield, “if fight we must,” and Achilles gives him the 12 days without even really addressing why the war has to continue. Everyone has lost so much, and yet they continue in the same way.

  2. I think war continues because subordinates (aka armies) enable superiors. When one king is mad at the other those leaders don’t duke it out they get thousands to fight on their behalf. What if the decision to engage in violence came from the bottom rather than the top? The bottom might be asking “why are we here again?” It’s also clear that human life isn’t sacred, odd because everyone pretends it is, but then armies exist, and it might as well be called “expendable lives”, one, and an army’s purpose is to extinguish which further implies expendability. In short, it’s a mess.


    1. I agree with everything you have so eloquently said here. It’s tragic but the human condition. But on a positive note—because I do also want to acknowledge the good in the world—there is a strong movement that resists destruction and strives to create and build beautiful things, of all kinds ❤️

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: