I’ve been reading a book, Lost in Shangri-La, A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
Great stuff. I would like to submit for your consideration the following passages on the aboriginal inhabitants of the Baliem Valley in New Guinea and their penchant for incessant war:
“When compared with the causes of World War II, the motives underlying the wars were difficult for outsiders to grasp. They didn’t fight for land, wealth or power. Neither side sought to repel or conquer a foreign people, to protect a way of life, or to change their enemies’ beliefs, which both sides already shared. Neither side considered war a necessary evil, a failure of diplomacy, or an interruption of a desired peace. Peace wasn’t waiting on the far side of war. There was no far side. War moved through different phases in the valley. It ebbed and flowed. But it never ended. A lifetime of war was an inheritance every child could count on.”
“In the Baliem Valley, the inexhaustible fuel for war was a need to satisfy spirits or ghosts, called mogat. . . .When a person died in war, his or her friends and family sought to mollify his or her spirit. That required killing a member of the hated enemy. . . .Until the spirit was satisfied, the survivors believed their souls were out of balance, and the mogat of the fallen would torment them with misfortune. . . .Because combatants on both sides shared the same spiritual beliefs, one side or the other always had a death to avenge, a retaliatory killing to plan, a ghost to placate. An eye for an eye, ad infinitum.”
“Pacifying ghosts was the main rationale for war, but it wasn’t the only one. . . .war animated communities and bound people to one another. It satisfied a basic human need for festival. War deaths and their resulting funerals created obligations and debts, shared enmities and common memories. . . .”
“The practice of war in the valley was a unusual as its principles. Battles were arranged by calling out an invitation to the enemy across a no-man’s land. If the enemy declined, everyone went home. They fought only by day, to prevent mischievous night spirits from getting involved. They canceled battles in bad weather, lest the rain smear the war paint. . . .During breaks in battle, warriors lounged, sang, and gossiped. They knew details about their enemies’ lives, and hurled insults across the front lines. A nasty remark about an enemy’s wife might reduce both sides to belly laughs. Then they’d pick up their spears and try again to kill one another.”
I ask you: Does this sound like a familiar song?
Roll Tide, Roll.