Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lessons from Natural History

War. What is it good for? Huhg. Well, it's good for teaching life lessons. Somehow. Oh the irony of it. Oh, the humanity. But we learn our lessons where we find them.

Kittens, for example. What lesson might we learn from kittens, you query? Why, it's so obvious, so simple. When the enemy is vigilant, retreat. When the enemy is distracted, attack. Attack during holidays, and peace negotiations, and just prior to elections. Retreat after the Great Enemy Leader has just given his torch-lit speech about law and order and victory over the evil-doers. Kittens are very wise.

I must presume that even such a naif as yourself is capable eventually of engaging some ort, some moiety of higher cognitive function, to absorb lessons so simple and so clear -- it wearies me to have once again to reiterate them. What? I'm obnoxious and needlessly condescending? No I'm not. You are. Huhg. Nevertheless, I persevere. Even madmen have been known to learn.

Take, for example, the Kaiser's High Command. After years of the stalemate of broad frontal attacks in the long grave of trench warfare -- a system more primitive than the Romans used -- the Prussian generals finally got a clue. They pulled the NCOs out from the mutual siegewalls of the front line and retrained them to a new thing under the sun. New to that war, in any case. It used to be known as a cavalry charge. Now, with men armed with machine guns, it was a massed attack on a single point. Break through, wheel around and attack the rear and flanks. A winning strategy that almost won them Paris. They lost only because Uncle Sam sent his doughboys.

Winning makes you stupid. The French remembered only that they had, somehow, won -- and thus they carried the concept of trench warfare over to their next new master plan -- the Maginot Line. Ahem. It was the 20th Century version of the Great Pyramid. A vast construction that functioned as a tomb. Victory blinded the Allies to the fact, the salient and fatal fact, that the Hun had already invented, and would remember, the blitzkrieg.

Which of God's creatures might have taught this lesson? Why, the mosquito of course, which from a vast span of epidermis chooses a single point to attack, and pierce, and suck -- and infect the host with her endless and malarial supply of Plasmodium falciparum.

Everybody knows it, by now. We all learned it in high school. The guns of the Maginot Line couldn't be turned around. They faced only the presumed enemy position. The French could not conceive of the Line being taken, but wily Gauls that they were, they provided for that impossibility by cementing their cannon down. Lest the inconceivable occur, and the Boche should seize the guns and turn them upon la belle France. Quelle horreur! Alas, the truly inconceivable -- or unconceived -- occurred. The enemy, Nazis now, simply found a detour around the roadblock. And the rest is, as they say, history. Natural history, since war will always be with us.

What creature might have taught us this? Some sort of dinosaur, no doubt -- extinct because of an inability to conceive.

Got that, slick? Everything that happens is natural. We learn this from the exceedingly rare hopeful monster, which somehow surrounds us -- the new thing under the sun that appears every day -- the inevitable never-appearing but always-present product of Evolution. Abortion and infanticide and incest have not prevented its continuing advent -- it is all the more common, for these things. The History of Nature, which theme we have been exploring, is a teleological holograph, in which everything reflects everything else, and it all says the same thing. The hopeful equilibrium of the final punctuation is entropic.

A dark lesson and one conducive to despair. But we are above nature, above even angels in a way. So some faiths would have us believe. What are we to think? Is there some creature that could teach us this lesson?


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