American journalist and author Chris Hedges’s War is a Force that Gives us Meaning places war under three categories: war, he says, is culture, myth, and crusade all at once. He explains that war is often a tool for the “entertainment” of national leaders and people. Consequently, Hedges’ argues, war “forms its own culture.” It’s hard to fathom that people might long for such a bizarre “culture” that has the power to dominate civilization by corrupting and distorting everything in its passage. Yet no matter how grotesque Hedges’s statement may sound, I understand what he means.
As a younger Armenian-Canadian, I did not have the chance to grow up in a peace-loving environment, because family members had to go back to their country, Lebanon, when I was only six months old. I am Canadian, but I feel an attachment to my roots; therefore, I am an Armenian-Canadian, but since I grew up in Lebanon, that makes me Armenian-Lebanese-Canadian. Even before I can say that I am Canadian, I feel I must acknowledge two other cultures that have formed me as well, especially as it has been only four years since I began experiencing what it’s like to live in a peaceful environment in Canada.
While in Lebanon, one conflict in particular shook me deeply and changed my view of the world; it occurred when I was only ten years old, in 2006. The summer had just begun and, as a child, I could not be happier to finish school and be able to go to our village house, where we would spend the summer months together as a family. With me, I took the porcelain doll I’d received as a birthday gift earlier that year, and I would spend hours playing and talking to her. Only two days into my summer vacation, however, a hurricane seemed to have hit the region: the walls of the house rattled, thunder struck, or at least that’s what I thought, until our neighbours told us to hurry up and come into their house’s shelter.
As we ran in our nightgowns from our house to the neighbours’, I looked up and saw so many planes and lights criss-crossing over our heads that I stopped running and froze on the spot, my eyes on the sky, in amazement. A few days later we were forced to go back to the city. I understood from the news that the country was at war, but no one was as surprised as I was. Others knew what to do; they knew how to deal with the aircraft and piercing sounds; they knew which way to open the house windows so they would not break. No one panicked, and I wondered why not. As the days passed, the bombing got heavier and we had to leave our house and go to our grandparents place in a safer zone because life in the city too was becoming dangerous. Halfway there, while stuck in traffic, as the planes seemed only a few inches above our heads and the bombs appeared to be coming from within the sea, I noticed that my porcelain doll was not with me; I had left it at our village home the night the conflict began.
Three weeks later, the war was over. After we’d traveled back to our old village house, I ran to my room, only to find my porcelain doll lying on her face, flat on the ground. I picked her up. Her face was shattered. I sat down, and, through eyes veiled with tears, I attempted to put the porcelain pieces back together, but it was hopeless. That meaningless war had destroyed my doll. Yet, as Hedges suggests, that same war also ended up giving me meaning. The conflict made me want to go to school. It made me realize that Lebanon has always been at war; in fact, the pages of history books are filled with such facts. It made me comprehend that my own parents had gone to school as children under a sky filled with bombs. It also allowed me to see that Lebanese culture is exquisite, even if it is prey to the damages of war and sometimes looks like a city covered in lava after a volcano’s eruption. What is most disturbing to me is that people there stopped searching for their charming ancestral culture and replaced it with a culture of war.
As the years passed, the explosions and smaller conflicts never ceased, and I became numb to the idea that I could be blown to pieces any day because of a missile, a suicide bomber, or some other planned detonation. At some point I became indifferent to it all, because shootings, explosions, victims, death, and martyred fighters became part of our everyday life, and that was when it hit me that I was adapting to the culture of war. Again, Hedges declares that war is another form of culture, and while I lived in Lebanon, it did give me, as it did so many others, what Hedges calls the “excitement, exoticism, power, [and] chances to rise above our small situations in life.”
Thinking back on it now, it seems clear to me that, as a ten-year-old Canadian child, I should not have had to learn that we are just puppets in the hands of death, in its palace of gambling and games, but I did. Every day now, from my peaceful life in Canada, where I can attend school without being threatened with annihilation, I try to make people realize that civilizations can be fascinating when divorced from the culture of war. This thought is what gives me the will to grow into an adult that will act differently, peacefully, if only to save other poor porcelain dolls lying buried under the soil, along with dazzling cultures, because it broke my child’s heart to see one of the places I call home be destroyed little by little, its purity, beauty, and sweetness perhaps gone forever.