I’m now reading American Civil War history in Missouri, in particular the bushwhackers and guerrillas on both sides. At the beginning of the war militias grew up primarily as a form of protection against hostiles that were non-military. For instance, the abolitionist union sympathizers on the Kansas side, the Jayhawkers, gave rise to the “Redlegs” – a notorious band that conducted raids across the border into Missouri. As a counterpoint to that Confederate pro-slavery people like “Bloody Bill” Anderson formed resistance to the aggressions of the Union as well as protection against the abolitionist cells.
As the war progressed protection turned to retaliation and vengeance. Civilians were pillaged for horses, food, supplies and shelter. Perceived collaborators were executed. Depending on the side a town favored it might be sacked and burned. By the end both sides competed to be the most savage and destructive, creating terror wherever they went. Scalping was common. It devolved to pure savagery.
It strikes me as interesting that we cannot fathom such parallel dynamics in a place like Iraq. Different sides clash for long-standing reasons. Defense is created against authorized and unauthorized forces. Terror reigns and the village and holy sites of the other are destroyed. Civilians are targeted in mass bombings.
It’s all the same, of course. We simply have amnesia and are unwilling to admit that our own history has equally horrific dimensions. If anything we are united by the dark inhumanity of it. Yes, we did and do that, too. And then we discover that vast goodness, mercy and hope are also demonstrated by persons in all places and times.
No, the good, bad and ugly are just not that different wherever and whenever you find them. And neither are the good, pure and true.