Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Synapse to the Beat: Sting's "Russians"

Twenty-five years ago, but it seems much, much longer than that - almost like a different century (okay, technically it is). I'm sitting at home listening to the radio. Sting is, in his own inimitable warble, wondering aloud if 'the Russians love their children too'. Ten years old, I say to my father, 'That's quite a thing to say. Of course they love their children.' My father answers by saying, 'I think it's a good question.'

Two decades later, I still remember that. I still remember being surprised at the attitudes of my father and of Sting. I had a sudden image of a Russian child talking to his parent about whether or not Westerners loved their children.

Of course, it's all ancient history. One ideological wall fell, another one was built, and we have new enemies whose love for their children we can question... A lot has changed, and nothing has changed.

We find it easier to fight monsters than to fight humans. It's not that difficult to kill a monster with a gun, a tank or a bomb, but it's much more difficult to do the same to a human.

So we demonise; we dehumanise. We make monsters.

If a child of ten can understand it, an adult should also be able to realise that there are no monsters in this world to fight. There are only people. No enemy was ever hatched from a pod. Hitler's mother once held her son to her breast to feed him. Stalin's mother once powdered her son's bottom and changed his diaper. Osama Bin Laden used to run into his parents' room begging to sleep between them after a nightmare. George W. Bush used to scrape his knees while playing and run teary-eyed to his mother for a Band-Aid.

Nobody is born a megalomaniac. What we do when we perceive these people as monsters is to deny ourselves our most important weapon and our most important lesson. We deny the fact that whatever causes people to become ruthless tyrants exists within us. We deny ourselves the chance to consider and explore what it is that causes a helpless child to later become a heartless mass-murderer. And we forget the basic medical truth that within every sickness lies its cure - when we forget that the evil are human too, we deny ourselves the best weapons we have at fighting evil.

Sting says in the same song that 'there's no such thing as a winnable war' - he's speaking from a perspective of Cold War paranoia, but in a sense he's right - right, in any case, that individual skirmishes are not winnable until we realise that they are not different wars but merely different faces of the same grand war - a war of human perspective, of human belief.

A war between those who can justify killing other humans and those who cannot. A war between those who believe the enemy are monsters and those who see the human faces behind the frontlines.

I didn't know it at the time, but Sting was essentially saying the same thing, and his question about the Russians loving their children was largely rhetorical. 'We share the same biology,' he says, 'regardless of ideology.'

And so we do. From humans are all of us born and to humans do all of us return. From humans do all disputes arise and by humans are all disputes settled. From humans comes war and from humans, and only from humans, can come peace.

You cannot make peace with a monster. It's not in their nature.

Good thing we don't have to.


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