The first known battle for which there is a reliable written record took place today in 1457 BCE. Egypt, under King Thutmose III, defeated the Caananites under the King of Kadesh in the Battle of Tel Megiddo. The site name may be familiar to many Christians, because it is read by some who interpret the book of Revelations as the site of the final battle between Christ and the kings of the earth, making bookends of the first and last recorded battles between men.
Megiddo sits on a rounded mountaintop in the northern reaches of Israel along a historic trade route through the Levant region. A smaller mountaintop settlement also fell today in an area south of Megiddo. Masada was a Jewish fortress built by Herod the Great around the time of Jesus’ death. It was one of the last holdouts against Roman troops in the first Jewish-Roman war. Before it was taken, over 900 Jews took their own lives, rather than surrender.
Seventy-four American soldiers lost their lives on this day in 1968, now fifty years ago, at the peak of the Vietnam War. A soldier who bore my name died some time earlier on May 17, 1966 after not quite nine months of service there. He was twenty-two.
I am not so naive as to believe there is no just war. There is evil to be resolved among nations, just as there is between persons; and force, or the threat of force, is sometimes necessary. Only yet I wonder, in retrospect, about some of our recent conflicts. We seem to give our wars ironic names: The Civil War, The War to End All Wars, The Great War, The Cold War, and war against WMDs. Some were warranted and worth; others, I have my doubts.
Modern historians note that we have experienced fewer armed conflicts, at least in number of deaths, during my lifetime. Some attribute this fact to the fearsome presence of nuclear weapons. Another irony, perhaps.
Albert Einstein is reported to have written these words to Harry Truman,”I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. My uncle fought on Iwo Jima in hand-to-hand combat. He came face-to-face with an enemy soldier who was hiding in a cave. My uncle survived. He remained a tough soldier long after he left the service, but to this day, he still cries when asked to tell his story of war.
I have never fought in a war, other than those of words, and have less right to judge than others, but the presence or risk of war is never far away for us all. Thinking on such things some time ago, I wrote these lines, which came back to me today:
Once upon this morning,
The sun no longer rose.
It was dark all day,
And everyone slept
What would have been
Just another day,
Only the end of the world
Had come and gone
And with it, war, disease,
Hunger and hatred.
Perhaps the Four Horsemen
Could no longer find their way.
Instead, we held each other close
And started counting over,
This time in days without fear.
Those are far from the last words on a woeful topic, but they offer a measure of hope, and that we must all have and share if we someday prove Einstein’s theory wrong.