As former CEO, Ares was the first to offer his report. He was physically the opposite of his son who had succeeded him. He was tall and barrel-chested. Despite his ancient age, he was the picture of strength and vitality. And violence. There was a blood-red tinge in his eyes, that despite his controlled speech spoke volumes about what he was not only capable of, but thirsty for. Without saying a single word, he demanded both respect and fear. He was the type of person who would say “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and not know he was quoting a line from a movie.
The son had clearly inherited his sense of fashion from his mother. Everything about him was old school. He was dressed in a plain, white, short-sleeved, button-up shirt, and he was the only man in the room wearing a tie (all black). He was sporting the type of flat top haircut that you might see in a military man with old-fashioned, horn-rimmed glasses. Think of a more physically imposing Michael Douglas from Falling Down.
He had a semi-permanent scowl on his face – like someone had tried to serve him kale with his steak. If people felt an almost irresistible urge to please his son, they felt a nearly equal urge to stay out of Ares’ way. And he was quite comfortable with that arrangement. It was almost enough to make him smile.
Despite his curmudgeonly disposition, Ares also understood better than most the ancient virtues of solidarity and sacrifice. No one had given up as much as Ares to support the new CEO’s agenda. Yes, it’s true that the new CEO was his son. But it’s also true – son or not – that submitting to the radically new direction of some young punk with perfectly manicured fingernails who knew infinitely more about fashion than battle would test anyone’s humility – especially a person as seasoned and proud as Ares.
Ares pulled his notes from a black briefcase. Some of the younger department heads snickered at the sight. He was a man in the wrong century. His deep, commanding voice immediately shocked them to attention.
“We all remember. The last century began with such great promise. Their politicians were preaching nationalism. Their thinkers were teaching about the demands and the costs of great civilizations. Their scientists and engineers were creating new and more efficient ways to power their dreams and to kill anyone who might get in their way. It was a good time to be in the business of war.”
“It was all so easy to send the world into chaos. It was all so easy to send 100 million to their deaths. Just a little spark in Sarajevo. But, as it happened, maybe it was too easy.”
He swallowed hard. Clearly thirsty. “We have had to learn…I have had to learn that perhaps war is not the best way to destroy a civilization.” A mock grasp was heard from somewhere across the room.
He continued. “The old wars were terrifying, nightmarish, glorious affairs. There was no end to the death and the carnage. The world was mad with blood lust. Farm boys with everything in common except for citizenship slaughtered each other without thought. Entire generations nearly wiped out. We brought civilization to the edge of the breaking point.” His voice reaching a crescendo. “But it wasn’t enough. We must now admit the monsters we created may have ended up saving civilization. The Bomb didn’t just end the War, it essentially ended all wars. And Hitler…my greatest disappointment. His darkness was too dark; his evil, too evil. To fight Hitler was too glorious, too necessary. To fight and defeat Hitler was to defend civilization, not to destroy it. This was my great miscalculation. It is true that there was so much death in the Wars, but there was also in equal measure glory, sacrifice, and courage. The Wars were a Pandora’s Box of virtue, the birthing room of great men, great women, and great societies. It became obvious to me that a new direction and leadership was needed.”
He looked at Eros and cleared his throat. “Perhaps love, and not war, was the best way to ruin a civilization.”
Eros grinned devilishly. “Please continue.”
“Vietnam was the first large-scale test of the new approach. Gone was the black or white, good versus evil. There was no Hitler or atom bomb. There was instead napalm and enemies literally everywhere – hiding in the jungles of Southeast Asia and in power in Washington D.C. The conflict was not just in the field of battle. The conflict was now in the conscience of every citizen, on college campuses and kitchen tables. The war wasn’t fought as much as debated. Who could be sure of who was right and who was wrong? It all seemed so pointless. The glory of war for the soldier now consisted in surviving, not in winning. Civilization had lost its stomach for war. War was out, antiquated and problematic. Peace and love were in.” He virtually spat out the words.
“But little did they know…while they were busy protesting we were busy creating a new army of barbarians. Barbarians have always been more destructive to civilizations than armies. Armies fight for honor, for glory, for king and country. Barbarians, on the other hand, fight for love. There is only one thing that has ever moved barbarians. Eros. They kill and they plunder and they bring down civilizations all to satisfy their own appetites. And those civilizations who have lost the stomach to fight for and defend civilization are quickly overrun by barbarian tribes.”
“You’re talking about terrorism,” nodded Eros.
“Terrorism?” Ares let out a dismissive laugh. “Listen, civilizations that have lost their moral footing and stomach for conflict will always struggle to fend off the terrorists. It’s an ancient truth. They will try to buy them off because civilizations tend to let their money fight for them. They will psychoanalyze them and shift blame because civilizations can’t imagine that anyone would hate and kill without some justifiable reason. They think that because Hitler is dead, evil died with him. They may eventually resort to thrashing around violently but clumsily like an eight-year-old trying to wield a sword. Their great-grandfathers would barely recognize them.
But let me tell you about terrorism. Terrorism is a rock through the window, not a wrecking ball. Terrorism alone is never enough to bring down a civilization. No, the barbarians are not at the gate. They are inside of the gate. Eros has turned them into barbarians living and fighting for their desires and their appetites. The old warriors fought for love and hate, but the love and hate were external. Glory was achieved through sacrifice and bravery to a great cause. The new warriors – the barbarians – still fight for love and hate, but that love and hate are now internal. Glory is achieved through sacrificing others for yourself and bravely living for your own desires. Millions of warriors fighting their own campaigns and their own wars. In these wars, everyone gets a Medal of Honor.” It was not hard to see that the whole thing disgusted him. New truths are not easy to stomach for old men.
He continued. “The dreams of a great civilization or great nations have dissolved, and something much more primitive is taking their place. Eros is giving birth to a new tribalism. The old fashioned bonds of history, culture, nation, or even religion have given way to the new bonds of shared desire. And one thing that we know about tribes occupying the same space is that they will fight – with words and eventually with weapons. Reichs in miniature. All tribes will eventually pursue violence and destruction of the other in the name of ‘peace and love.’ When this happens, Mr. CEO, our victory will be near.”