15 May 2005

The unknown soldier and his wife

In 1967, Peter Ustinov had written a play called “The Unknown Soldier and His Wife” which I had chanced upon at a British Council Library many years later. The play, an anti-war satire, is about the cycle of war and peace. It sweeps from ancient Rome to medieval England to modern times, with links provided by recurring characters – the unknown soldier, his pregnant wife, the bully sergeant – who emerge whenever war comes, and whose fates are inevitably linked with war.

Although the play is funny, it does deal with a serious subject: why war keeps happening over and over again. Do war and peace really operate in cycles?

In an essay in The Perspective (dated 7 August 2002) titled, “Breaking the Cycle of War in Liberia”, George Werner presents a thought-provoking plea from a Liberian point of view. But, whatever be the nature of the cycle, war’s impact on human misery is immeasurable. On this, the TimesOnline obituary on Sir Peter Ustinov quotes: It was a conviction he felt deeply. “I have no solution,” he said, modestly, “except that the spirit of the world is altering.”

Sir Peter Ustinov was one of the signatories, along with Mikhail Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel and the Dalai Lama, to a declaration by the Club of Budapest that, “The time has come for the world to recognise that war, rather than an instrument for the elimination of terrorists and aggressors, is a crime against humanity.”

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