In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Romance of Shining Armour

  In my novel Black Lord of Eagles, as yet unpublished, I try to show war as realistically as I can. Fantasy often shows it as an idealised thing, all shining swords and noble combat, and sometimes that annoys me. War is not a game. It's brutal, and ugly, and good people are killed and maimed for a cause they hardly care about.

  No author can show war in all its horror. We only have to look at Syria to realise that. But writers and film makers so often portray warfare as a heroic thing that it's easy for politicians, and the public, to believe it. The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery said "War is not an adventure. It is a disease", and he's right.

  We need to intervene in Syria, we're told, because Assad has used chemical weapons, which is illegal under international law. And yet the USA, Britain, and others openly state that if attacked, they reserve the right to retaliate with nuclear warheads. I can't understand why one of these weapons is illegal and the other not. Is it more horrible to be gassed than irradiated?

  We make all these rules - you can't attack without declaring war, can't use chemical or biological weapons, can't use landmines or cluster bombs - when we know perfectly well that when someone is driven into a corner, he'll break them. And besides, the deadliest weapons ever made are rifles, swords and spears. Over a million people were killed in Rwanda in the 1990's with blades and clubs. Twice as many - at least - have been killed across the border in DR Congo, almost all of them with nothing more complex than a bullet. And yet somehow we see this as being acceptable, a agreed-upon method of waging war, so we send a couple of peacekeepers (maybe) and then think about other things.

  Authors aren't to blame for this. But we can help to change perceptions, to take the romance out of war, if we stop portraying it as something romantic. We need to get away from the idea of the knight in shining armour, and see him instead smeared with mud and the blood of his friends and foes alike. No more female warriors in moulded breastplates, who look so sexy and imply that battle is the same.

  I know, I know - in Fantasy, people want escapism, not hard reality. Which is why I said at the top that I've tried to show war "as realistically as I can." I have to balance it within the story, and not nauseate people so badly that they stop reading. I don't, by the way, it isn't that graphic. But I did want to show that people die in war, some of them in ugly ways. I can say it no better than William T Sherman;

  "I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine... war is hell."