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Why We Fight
PULL QUOTE: "In this primitive dance, rationality has no partner."
Some excellent advice for watching football when one is not a real fan involves simply choosing a color you like and rooting for that team. "Us" and "Them" are essential for any contest, and this ancient antagonism of colors precedes White Hats vs. Black Hats by a couple thousand years.
In ancient Rome chariot races were the NASCAR of the day, with teams decked out in four colors corresponding to the seasons. After the capital had moved to Constantinople, the Reds and Whites were dumped, and Blues and Greens became the Us and Them of the great Hippodrome. By 530 Blue vs. Green literally ran the empire.
According to Gibbon, "From the capital, this pestilence was diffused into the provinces, and the sportive distinction of two colours produced two strong and irreconcilable factions, which shook the foundations of a feeble government." Blues and Greens wore fancy silk blouses, "Hunnish" haircuts and hidden daggers to rob and murder at random.
For added pep, religion was added to the picture. The colors opted for either the "single" or "dual" nature of the Son, just one of the literally Byzantine controversies raging over the recently-invented Trinity. (The Greens were for Single Nature.) Woe unto the Blue accused before a Green magistrate, and woe unto the magistrate who condemned him. He and his family could be murdered with impunity. The harebrained Emperor Justinian and his fearsome wife Theodora were both Double-Natured Blues.
In 532 both colors briefly united over some bumbling by Justinian and went nuts. During the notorious "Nika" riots, they fired the city and even proclaimed a new emperor. Justinian was prepared to flee. Only the intervention of Empress Theodora and the great general Belisarius saved the day. In an afternoon, the General's 400 combat veterans helped slaughter 30,000 "sports fans" in the Hippodrome.
Of course, we've seen this atavistic behavior repeated today from soccer riots to street gangs like the Bloods and Crips. In many areas of urban America, you can get killed for wearing red in blue neighborhoods or visa versa. There are no real issues at stake. Just colors. And, rationally, since today's gangs are typically composed of poor and oppressed "people of color," their "Them" should logically be white. But in this primitive dance, rationality has no partner.
In the bigger picture, America itself is divided into Red states vs. Blue states. Naturally, we're disputing truly meaningful socio-political issues that may require some dying and killing. But, in their own minds, so were the Blues and Greens. Every edition of Us vs. Them has antagonists bound for Hell.
This illogical attachment naturally gets into the various justifications offered for the ultimate contest: war. In the good old days, you didn't really need much justification. While "Them" were invariably painted as menacing and suitably Black-Hatted, the raw promises of conquest and plunder were usually sufficient "cause."
But with the "march of progress" has come the "just war," and that means exquisitely tortured rationales. "Them" must be cast as imminently threatening Black Hats (preferably subhuman) before "Us" can feel good about killing Them.
World War II set the ideal here, being so obviously "just" that, despite unprecedented horrors, it is often called "The Good War." The Allies wore red, white and _blue_. The main Axis power, Germany, sported red, white and _black_. After WW2 a new "Them" ("the Reds") were thought sufficiently evil to justify what amounted to a Mutual Doomsday Machine that would leave both hats flattened. Happily, and despite much provocation, the Machine was never turned on. Unhappily, it is still there, merely under new management.
Simultaneous with the collapse of the old management, Islamic terrorism ramped up, enabling us to maintain the ever-present, Orwellian "Them" we seem to require. We've even returned to Blue and Green: America and the European Union being True Blue and Islam Green (apparently the tribe of Mohammed had a green banner, representing the desert-dwelling Bedouin's ideal of an oasis-like paradise).
Not that irrational attachment to mere colors drives modern war-making policy. Perish the thought. We've marched far in our quest for "just war." Consider the sturdy rationales President Cheney offered for war in Iraq: WMD, Saddam's collusion with al Qaeda, American troops as flower-bedecked liberators; our "gift" of democracy. But -- each rationale proved about as substantial as Blue vs. Green. Only the war is real, offering a twist on the old bromide:
The more we stay the same, the less things change.