“The worthy opponent must be honored and valued with the same regard one has for a friend.”
– Centaur, Monster Rancher
Season 1, Episode 25, “Warriors of the Ruins”
Come December, come all manner of thoughts surrounding Christmas. Of late, I’ve been thinking of the famed Christmas Truce of World War I, and I may quote something about that a bit more directly another time. But I’ve been looking back at the anime I viewed as a kid, contemplating what they are worth to me now, as an adult with a perspective that has entirely changed, and lo and behold, I find this, the words of a warrior as depicted in a children’s anime, and I could not help but make a connection.
War is a reality. It has always been part of the human story, and it has always been brutal, bloody, and horrific. Of course we look up to those who willingly step onto the battlefield, who endure all the horror and come back home in victory, or at least we used to. We’ve always needed heroes to protect us and inspire us to our best selves. But what of the cost they pay on that field of blood and carnage? What humanity remains in them when they are fighting for their lives and their cause, having to kill or be killed by people who are often exactly like themselves?
This, I think, is why we have such things as codes of honor in battle and articles of war. They may vary from one culture to another, but what they ultimately boil down to is this: love thy enemy as thy friend.
That is how they retain their humanity even in the midst of hellish war. In a place where it is so easy to hate, they choose to love instead. To show mercy when they can. To capture one’s most dangerous and worthy opponents instead of killing them. To tend each other’s injuries and permit medics to roam the battlefield without trying to kill them. To share provisions with starving enemies or even help them escape a danger which threatens all sides. To call a truce for a moment, to refuse to stain a holy day with blood.
An army which loves their enemies may be resigned to killing them in battle, but will behave as decent men either in victory or defeat.
Love is what keeps us human even in Hell, and its lack is the root and stem of evil itself.