Thursday, October 19, 2023

War, Lies, and Our Collective Sin

War does dark things to truth.   

During the Spanish Civil War, for example, a people tore itself into bloody pieces, left and right, fascist and republican.  One of the more memorable figures from that particular episode of human horror was a leader of anarcho-syndicalist sub-movement of republicanism, Buenoventura Durruti.

Charismatic and ferocious, Durruti's personal magnetism helped focus the inchoate mess that always occurs when anarchists or libertarians attempt to do anything.  From a working class background, Durruti had been an agitator, an organizer, and an outlaw, with varying degrees of success.  During the war, he led a militia that fought ferociously against the fascists, but that was also just as opposed to socialists, social democrats and, well, whatever happened to get in the way.  

"We reject everything but victory," Durruti legendarily quipped.

He died in November of 1936 during a battle for Madrid, after being shot accidentally by one of his own men.  His dying words were to repeat over and over again an anarchist lament:  "Too many committees!"  

This may be apocryphal, but Lord, does it speak to my anarcho-Presbyterian heart.

After his death and the wildly chaotic funeral that followed, other leaders in the anarchist movement claimed that Durruti had been assassinated by a fascist sniper.  That charge was blatantly false, knowingly false, an utter fabrication.  But it sounded better to the anarchists, making his death a martyrdom rather than an embarrassment.

In retaliation for the "murder" of Durruti, Spanish anarchists then executed a group of fifty prisoners, an act of "revenge" for a crime that was never committed.

Fifty lives for a lie.

This is the way of war.  Of course it is.  It has always been the way of war.  If one group of people have set themselves about the task of collectively murdering another group of people, falsehood really isn't a great moral leap. 

When we forget this, and naively accept the justifications that hate selfishly spins out of its fevered imaginings, we become agents of the lie, vessels of falsehood, sinners ourselves.