Friday Night at 8: In Dubious Battle

From Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan says:

Innumerable force of Spirits armed,

That durst dislike his reign, and, me preferring,

His utmost power with adverse power opposed

In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven

And shook his throne. What though the field be lost?

All is not lost-the unconquerable will,

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield:

And what is else not to be overcome?

I always liked Milton’s Paradise Lost.  In high school I wrote a paper about the book, claiming that Milton never really did “justify the ways of God to man.”  He never showed, in my view, how God was better, but he certainly showed that God was more powerful!  

But as Satan put it:

He who rules by force rules but half his foe.

I’m quoting that line from memory, so I may be wrong about exactly how it goes.  But anyway, Milton made God stronger, more forceful, he had better weapons and such.

So I always had a soft spot for the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

I’ve been reading, both here and at the Orange, in diaries, essays, comments, the question of whether we are doing enough to fight the damned crooks who have taken over our government.  Some folks say “oh well, it’s always been this way, we’re just noticing it for the first time because the Bush misAdministration is so blatant about it.”  Others say we will have to wait for the next President because no one in power will listen to the will of the people and impeach the bastards.  Still others says we are just wasting our time blogging and should be out in the streets taking back our country, and that is the only alternative – everything else is useless.

Well you get my drift.

A lot of uncertainty as to how we win this battle.

Leon Uris wrote a book entitled Mila 18, a novel about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  In it, the real life leader of the uprising, Mordecai Analevitz, is portrayed by the fictitious character Andrei Androfsky.

Andrei found himself a member of the Polish Army in a time when few Jews were allowed in that position.  He was a conflicted man, choosing Zionism not because he believed in the notion of the state of Israel, but because he would not follow the dictates of the Orthodox Jews of the time who counseled never fighting back.

When the Warsaw Ghetto was first put in place, Andrei wanted to fight.  But the leader of the Zionist community in Warsaw, Alex, a well respected and compassionate man, told Andrei it was more important to help the helpless, the poor, those who could not fight and had only a small group of folks who could see to their needs.

Andrei acquiesced, but was not at peace about this.

Finally, when it became clear that no one in the Ghetto was to be spared, Andrei wrested enough power to begin organizing a resistance and buying weapons to train his men and women.  Alex ends up almost going mad when the orphanage he helped to run is raided by the Nazis and all the children are taken away … and everyone by that time knew those children were going to be killed.

Andrei visits Alex after a long estrangement.  Alex is filled with self-hatred, berating himself for not having listening to Andrei.  But now Andrei has had a battle under his belt, an episode where his fighters killed a group of Nazis in the ghetto, and he is calm.  He replies to Alex:

All my life I have believed I walked in the darkness, battling windmills, crying for lost causes, living a life in dubious battle.  My father gave me a country which hated me, and you have given your sons a ghetto and genocide.  God only knows what kind of a world Wolf (Alex’s son) will hand to his sons.  We enter this world in the middle of a war that is never won.  It has always been this way — this endless war.  No one of us ever really wins in this life.  All you have the right to ask of life is to choose a battle in this war, make the best you can, and leave the field with honor.

Alex mumbled, “Make your battle … leave the field with honor.”

“You’ve fought your good fight.  Now the war goes on.  I must fight my way now.”

Andrei quotes the Milton piece I mention at the beginning of this essay, but in quoting it, he is referring to John Steinbeck’s book entitled In Dubious Battle which quotes the same piece from Paradise Lost.  That book is about workers trying to find justice, to fight back.  As most of Steinbeck’s books, the ending isn’t pretty.

I agree with Andrei.  I think we are born into this world, into a war that is never won.  We speak often here about yin and yang, how one turns into the other, the light and the dark.  I don’t think we can change the universe and make that situation different.  But we can choose our battlefield, we can make our stand and do the best we can.  If we do, then when it’s our time to leave this life we will leave the field with honor.

None of us know what will eventually defeat the dark foes we have encountered in our time on earth.  None of us know for sure what is useless and what is useful.  It may be that some action which seems entirely foolish will be the piece in the puzzle that will overthrow those dark foes.

I believe that as long as we choose, as individuals, our battle, that our intentions are to indeed defeat the foe, our efforts will work to do just that.

I’d like to end by quoting a comment by inclusiveheart made in buhdydharma’s essay that was posted here and at Daily Kos, On Authorizing Torture. Vanity Fair: The Green Light, in response to someone claiming Bush was no different than all the other awful imperialistic Presidents we’ve had since 1947 (emphasis mine):

Understanding how we got here is important on numerous levels and has many applications, but doing something about what “here” is now at this time that we inhabit this earth is really the only thing that can dull the pain of any of it. Everyone reacts differently. Some people see stuff and think it is too horrible to deal with; others expect it from humans and essentially normalize it; others think “Hey, stop that right now!”; and others – the worst of our kind – think, “How do I get in on that!?”

Obligatory FN@8 tune:

I wish all Dharmaniacs a wonderful weekend and hope that spring has sprung for those who have been suffering the colder climes!  And yay!  RiaD is back!


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  1. … for a wageslave in new millennial midtown manhattan, I am very looking forward to the weekend.  And the drinks are on me.

    • Robyn on April 5, 2008 at 2:24 am

    Interesting that I was considering a Ben E. King retrospective.

    Here’s the first record I ever owned.  It was a demo I got from dancing class.

    • kj on April 5, 2008 at 2:26 am

    I don’t think we can change the universe and make that situation different.  But we can choose our battlefield, we can make our stand and do the best we can.  If we do, then when it’s our time to leave this life we will leave the field with honor.

    on a purely personal note, my main battlefield has been myself. there will be no ultimate ‘reward’ at the end, only my enjoyment of senses that i believe become larger as i clean away debris.  

  2. and so spot on.

    I know that I survey my inner being regularly to try to understand if what I’m doing today is what I can do, where I can do it, at the time I can do it. And I try to tell myself that if I have peace with that…its enough. But its a constant battle. And then I try to remember:

    To return to harmony…we must realign our gestures into those of dancers. We must become beings who do not wish to control life, but only to listen to its music, and dance it.

    from The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor

  3. But we can give it a damn good fondling

  4. sometimes when I read stuff like this I get really pissed off at the crappy education I got in the classics. I went to a christian boarding school in high school where the literature and english classes were taught by the psychotic (literally, no joke) wife of the school’s headmaster. Most of the time she didn’t even show up and when she did, she ranted for hours unintelligibly. So, needless to say, we learned absolutely nothing. I always feel like I got cheated and have SO much catching up to do.  

  5. one vodka martini, straight up at the bar before dinner. one glass of wine with dinner.

    heh. i am a cheap date. or do i say it’s cheap to take me on a date? oh well.

    i did a college paper on Paradise Lost. my prof thought he could fool me. the question was: who was the primary character.

    never thought twice. Satan. what i learned from reading Milton, who wrote with a 17th century perception, was that it wasn’t so different than mine in the 20th.

    my prof did though. we argued. i told him… it isn’t about absolutes. not even winning. but prevailing. he gave me an A.

    funny. Robyn wrote about free will. it’s what we have. the way things are right now. this very moment? bushco and all of it… because we elected to be that way.

    for that very reason, and Satan knows this too… we can change it if we want. Satan can find his way back to god, if he wants. if god wants. i’m not so sure god wants it though. satan is another fall guy. another judas.  

    desire and attachment. my next witr. gets in the way of free will.

  6. I must actually be productive.

  7. …multi-dimensional morphing of history, classics, current ethos, and our crying bleeding needs for furtherness…

    I can’t find the words.  Thanks to you, Nightprowlkitty!


    • kj on April 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    NPK, would you please add a rec button to this essay?  🙂

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