Mao Zedong was right. War, to paraphrase his popular description of revolution, is not a dinner party or doing embroidery. It is a violent act, and no words can describe what the term “violence” really means in practice. That’s why I will never become a warmonger. I know the feeling of those involved in actual situations of violent conflict.
War is not only about the clashes that Hollywood and the local film industry have romanticized. This romanticization of battles has led many young people I know, myself included (of course, when I was in that certain age), to want to participate in armed struggle. But reality bites and that’s when your romantic notions of war are broken.
War is not only about skirmishes but is about an entire situation. It is not only about death, or of the blood and gore attending it, but is also about the displacement of people, the fear, the uncertainty of living. Only a few people enjoy being in a war situation, and more often than not they are the ones contending with psychological issues.
In the middle `80s, a war situation blanketed the hinterlands of Cebu City and its neighboring towns. It was a miniature and less intense version of what is happening now in Basilan and Sulu. But it provided many people with a glimpse of what conflict is all about. In war, indeed, there are no winners. All those who go through it are scarred.
There was Luisa chased by bolo-wielding men, her body later recovered on the bushy side of a hill already in a state of decomposition. There were those farmers huddled, asleep, as somebody exploded a grenade below the bamboo floor of the structure. There were those “fighters” forced to eat grass as helicopters hovered above.
There were those village residents scurrying to the lowlands, carrying only what they could load on their heads, to escape the fighting. There were those clusters of houses burned by vigilantes to prevent their owners’ return. There were those raids on municipal halls, followed by military operations. There was Jovito Plaza shot by a “comrade.”
You bury the dead and hold memorials the first time, and the next. Then the number of deaths increase and you no longer bother or you forget. You sleep in the bushes, and wake up at dawn thankful that you have survived another day. Like a grain of corn on a mill stone, you wait for your turn to fall into the hole and get grinded.
Throughout all that, you hear people in the plains, in their offices, together with kibitzers, people who have never been to the war zone, urge you on, light the flame of war from the distance and want a conflagration. Indeed, it is easy to be brave and boastful about waging wars when you are not the one fighting or caught in the cross fire.
It is thus that when I hear people preach the gospel of a fight to the finish in Basilan and Sulu, or in other places in Mindanao for that matter, I could not help but smile. Would there views on the conduct of the war against Muslim separatists have changed had they been deposited into the war zone even for just a couple of days?
I am not saying that government troops should surrender to Muslim separatists, more so to the terrorists of the Abu Sayyaf kind. When war is inevitable, it is cowardice to sulk. But if an opportunity for a peaceful settlement of a conflict presents itself, government should grab it. It is one lesson learned from our long history of waging wars.
–Candido O. Wenceslao (I wrote this for my August 22, 2007 column for Sun.Star Cebu)