Martin Auer: The Strange War, Stories for Peace Education
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Now my friends I must tell you something and I hope you will believe me. And if you don't believe me, well, so much the worse for you. What I want to tell you is this: Once upon a time, on a small continent right on this planet earth (a continent which is now completely covered with water, so you won't be able to find it on any map - and when this continent existed, map making had not been invented yet, so you will not find it on the old maps either), anyway, on this small continent (which would have been the seventh continent if anybody had counted continents then, which nobody did because not a single continent had been discovered at that time, so all the people on all the continents thought that theirs was the only continent and why should they bother to count something of which there is only one anyway) well, what I was going to say was, this small continent, which wasn't the seventh continent nor the first continent, but just the continent, was inhabited by a very strange people. These people, I am sorry to say, were crazy. They were crazy in a very special way. They were not stupid, oh no. For instance they had invented the wheel before it had been invented on any of the other continents, and right after the wheel they invented fire and pyramids and mobile telephones and television. No, as I said, they were crazy in a very special way. How can I explain it? Well, for instance, let's say, they had an aunt visiting. This aunt would call on her mobile phone, and would say: "Hey, I will come and visit you over the holidays, just a couple of days, aren't you thrilled to see your old auntie again?" And the family who had planned to go to the seaside for the holidays would unpack their things and take the wheels back to the garage and wait for auntie. Now let's say the holidays were over and it was already six weeks that auntie was staying at the house and no chance of her going back home, and the whole family had to have tea for breakfast, because auntie had convinced them that coffee was bad for their health, and daddy had had to give up smoking because auntie couldn't stand the smell of cigarettes, and the children had to keep quiet from one to four in the afternoon when auntie was taking her nap. Well, these people wouldn't throw her out nor even take a lipstick and paint red dots on their youngest daughters face and pretend that she had scarlet fever to make auntie run away. No, these people would just quietly pack their things again, would take the wheel out of the garage, give auntie the keys of the house and go and live in a tent near the seaside from now on where they could drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and play noisy games between one and four as much as they liked.
Or let us say at a school a new headmistress was appointed and one of the teachers would keep nagging and saying: "Why didn't they make me the headmistress, I am much better than her!" They wouldn't tell her: "Well, she is much more experienced than you are and during the holidays she has always been taking courses, whereas you have only painted your toenails!" No. Instead, they would write a letter to the city council saying: "This woman is giving us a headache with her constant nagging, please make her the headmistress so she won't get on our nerves any more!" and most of the times even the newly appointed headmistress would sign the letter.
Or if a boy wouldn't learn his lessons and get only very bad marks, his teachers wouldn't make him repeat the class. Instead they would say: "Ah, but he has such a pretty smile and his friends would be sad to loose him, so what if his spelling is bad and he doesn't know the names of the continents, which haven't been discovered anyway."
I could go on and on telling you how crazy these people were. When at a crossroads two wheels bumped into each other, people wouldn't stop and take sides and yell at each other: "I saw him coming down the lane and I knew he was rolling his wheel much too fast! Please, mister, if you go to court you can name me as a witness, here is my name and address!" Instead they would yell at the drivers: "Who cares whose fault it was, just get your damn wheels out of the way so we can roll ours along, the devil knows why we invented them in the first place!"
Everybody can understand that this crazy attitude didn't get those people anywhere. They always got second best, they had the worst seats at the cinema, they never got served at the meat counter in the supermarket, they never became headmistress, but instead they lived in tents near the seaside and ruined their health with coffee and cigarettes and noisy games.
Then one day a great magician came to visit this continent. The magicians name was The Great Belloni, and when he landed with his flying carpet on the marketplace, he said: "Greetings to you, people of this continent, I am The Great Belloni and I will call this continent Bellonia after myself, because I have discovered it."
The people were a bit astonished because they had always thought it had been them who had discovered the continent, but the magician explained to them that you cannot discover something you have known all the time, and they thought: Well it could have been Gulbrannssonia or Herrschkovitzia, so Bellonia isn't so bad after all.
The magician looked around the continent he had discovered and soon found out what was the trouble with its inhabitants. "You are clever people", he said to them, "I can see you have great potential. Actually you are lacking only two things." When the people wanted to know what these two things were, he said: "Well, the first one is carts". And he showed them how they could attach a sort of wooden box to their wheels so they could use them to transport things. The people experimented for a while with one wheel or seven wheels, but before long they found out that the ideal number of wheels was something from two to four. From there it wasn't hard to go on to the motorcar, the steam engine, the railway, and then someone even found out you could hitch a donkey to the cart which wasn't so noisy as the other methods to get the cart moving.
"And what is the second thing?" they asked the magician.
"Well, the second thing that stands in the way of progress in your country is your lack of a sense of justice."
"What's that?" demanded the people, "is it something like the wooden box you showed us how to make?"
"No, said the magician, "it is not a thing. It's a principle."
The people nodded as if they understood, but in fact they didn't know what a principle was either.
"Justice means to give everybody just what they deserve, neither more nor less!"
"But we do that".
"No, you just give people what they want to stop them nagging, that's not the same. And if they don't nag the don't get anything."
"Well, maybe they don't want it enough to nag about it. Anyway, who should know better what people deserve then they themselves?"
The magician tried to explain, but after a while he gave up, exasperated.
"Look", he said, "do you want justice or no? It costs me just a wave of my wand to give it to you, and that will spare me a sore throat."
"Well", they said, "if it helps to further progress, we want it."
So the magician waved his wand and then he got on his magic carpet and flew away to discover more continents so he could count them and name them. He had already thought out some fantastic new names like Bellonia II and Bellonia III, and he was eager to find fitting continents for them.
As soon as the magician had waved his wand the Bellonians - as they now called themselves- immediately saw what the magician had meant and they shook their heads and said: "How could we have been so crazy?"
They immediately packed up their tents and went back to reclaim their houses, but auntie had been staying there for so long she now practically lived there and she said: "What do you think, you have given this house to me when you willfully left me here alone, I absolutely decline to go!" And endless quarrels began about verbal contracts and common law and other things like that.
Next the Bellonians had to set up a court of justice, but they couldn't agree as to whose right it was to be judge. So they decided to meet every morning at ten to discuss all the cases.
The first case was that of two poor brothers whose father had died and had left them only one donkey. Each of them said he needed the donkey to carry his things and to pull the cart. This was an easy case for the Bellonians. They decided that the donkey was to be cut in halves and each half be given to a brother. The brothers protested and said that half a donkey wasn't useful for anything because it couldn't even pull half a cart, but they were told that the division had been very exact so they had nothing to complain about.
The brothers cursed and went away, leaving the useless donkey halves lying there.
Now the next case was harder to resolve. It was about a man who had got drunk and had started a fight with another man and had knocked one of his eyes out. So far there was no problem. They decided that the victim should knock out one of the miscreant's eyes, and then each of them should buy a glass eye for the other one. "Because", they said, "we must take exactly an eye for an eye, this is justice." But the next day this man was brought back to court, because he had got drunk again and knocked out another mans eye. "So where is the problem?" some of them said. "We have decided a similar case only yesterday, we can pass the same verdict again. An eye for an eye!"
"But he has only one eye left", said others. "If we take his eye, he will be blind, but his opponent only needs a glass eye and can lead an almost ordinary life. Taking an only eye isn't the same thing as taking an eye of someone who has two."
"But we must take something from him" said others, "or he will run around knocking out peoples eyes all the time."
"Let's cut off his hand," someone suggested, but others protested that a hand wasn't the same as an eye. "We must do justice", they said, "Not just hurt him any old way. He must suffer exactly the same pain that he has caused the other man."
"Well then", said someone, "He has knocked out half of all the eyes the other one had. So let us take from him half of all the eyes he has."
"But it is impossible to knock out half an eye. And even if it was possible, he would be blind all the same."
So the discussion went on and on and they could not find a decision.
And then, as was to be expected, the case of one of the aunties was brought to court.
This auntie had been staying at her nephew's house for many, many years now. And as she had felt lonely, she had invited another of her nephews and his wife to stay with her. "All our children were born here!" the second nephew said, "and I painted the house new and put new wallpaper in all the rooms!"
"Yes, but who had the plumbing installed?" the first nephew countered.
"Wallpaper, plumbing!" the judges said. "What is important is: Who built the house?"
"W-ell, it is a very old house..." the first nephew said slowly. "But I was born there, so by rights it should be mine."
"But you gave it up!"
"No, I didn't give it up, I was driven away through constant nagging!"
"You could have turned out your aunt!"
"Whoever heard of turning out an aunt!"
"But you never told her you were planning to come back!"
"We were living in a tent. That clearly shows we planned to come back to the house of our fathers."
At this point auntie raised her hand: "If I remember right, dear nephew, it was my father who used to live in this house once. But then one day your father's auntie came for a visit over the holidays and never left again, so to get some peace and quiet my father had to move out and live in a tent near the seaside. He smoked his head off, poor fool. So by rights, I think, it should be my house anyway."
And then the old documents and family albums were being consulted, and there was a lot of quarreling about aunties and uncles, and also some first cousins and great grand aunties and godmothers were dragged into it.
The trial went on for weeks on end and by and by people were getting hungry. For because of the trial no one had time to do some useful work and they were already running out of foodstuffs.
And then the donkey halves, which were still lying around the meeting place, had begun to rot. Nobody thought it their duty to remove them because they all agreed that that was the responsibility of the owners. But the two brothers had stolen a boat and had gone out to sea in the hope of finding the magician so they could give him exactly what he deserved. The rotting donkey halves were stinking terribly and were covered with millions of flies, and eventually all the Bellonians got sick and died.When the magician came back to see what had become of the continent he had discovered, he found it full of flies and almost nothing else. He shrugged his shoulders and waved his wand, and the continent sank under water, so nobody should know about the magician's failure to bring progress to Bellonia I. The magician had hoped to drown the flies together with everything else, but he had overlooked the fact that flies, well, can fly. The flies were starving, and before the magician could fly away on his magic carpet they all rose in a big cloud and devoured him. The carpet without its pilot circled the globe a few times, then it ran out of magic and dropped down to earth on one of the other continents. There it was found by a peddler who sold it to me at the flea market. And if you don't believe my story, I can show you the carpet.
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