How do we justify our actions? “The Wars” Timothy FindleyThe Wars
Justification. Defined as the act of justifying something. To serve as an acceptable reason or excuse for our actions, based on actual or believed information. Throughout the history of not only the modern world, but certainly back to the “barest essentials of reason” our species have made decisions that have effectively shaped our world into what it is today. Or have not. The judgments made in the past may also have been relatively insignificant to a larger picture, but would still be important in one persons or a group of people’s day-to-day life. Either way, choices made in any way, shape, or form, are based on what the decision maker believes to be true or morally right. Timothy Findley displays the abovementioned opinion-based judgments in the novel The Wars. From the background behind the novel, to the ending scene of the main character being burned to the ground in a flaming barn, many choices are made. Whether large and important or small and insignificant, Mr. Findley asks us as readers and as humans to look into ourselves to uncover the reasoning behind the choices, as well as our own actions and the actions of our leaders. The justification for most of the aforementioned incidents in The Wars can be classified under 3 broad-based ideas: safety, self-interest or the moral/general good.
The first of these main ideas brought up in the novel is safety. The time setting of the story starts in 1915, almost a year after the First World War has begun. At the beginning of this war, the first major decision based on the idea of public safety was made: going to war in the first place. Assassination at Sarajevo sparks what would be a catastrophic loss for nations all across the world. This decision that directly affects the main character, Robert Ross, is Britain declaring war on August 5, 1914. This automatically makes Robert’s home country, Canada, at war as well, as they were part of the British Empire. In the past century, public safety has been the main justification for most types of war. But is going to war really safe? The conceived viewpoint of the author, often referring to the battlefield as lifeless and, in essence, counterproductive, says no. 9,000,000 casualties in four years across the world says no. Many attempts at peace by the UN and peacekeeping countries such as Canada say no. Yet, world leaders still position troops across the world claiming they are preserving the safety of their country. And still, people are dying every day from war related causes, soldiers and innocent civilians alike. So is war really justified? This is for us as a people to decide.
Another smaller, less significant implication of the idea of safety being used as justification, is Robert’s shooting of the German soldier at the crater on the frontlines. Even though the German had not made a move to kill after been given many opportunities to, Robert acted on impulse and shot the soldier as he was simply reaching for his binoculars. The safety of his men overcame the desire for peace as primary objective in Robert’s mind, leading to one out of 9 000 000 unnecessary deaths.
The second main idea used as justification throughout this novel is self-interest. This is brought up several times in the duration of The Wars. In sequential order, the first is Robert deciding to “make love to his pillows” instead of looking after his sworn-protected sister, Rowena. Doing something fundamentally based on pleasuring oneself is a prime example of acting out of self-interest. It is not stated directly, but rather implied that this action leads to Rowena’s death. This incident leads to the next decision based on self-interest. Robert, not particularly liking what was happening at home, volunteered himself to the Canadian war effort, as many young men of the time were doing. While predominantly for changing his current situation, this action could also be tied in with the idea preserving the safety of his country. The next act of significance in the novel that is based on self-interest occurs when Robert is on leave from the frontlines at Desole. It is hear where Robert is beaten and raped by a few of his fellow officers. A rape situation is one of the most selfish acts one can perform. In addition to it being an act of giving pleasure to oneself, there is no regard for the victim of this act. The last incident in the novel which could be considered selfish is Robert’s leaving of the battlefield. But, it depends which viewpoint you take. From one point of view, Robert went against the rules that he himself volunteered to obey. For this alone, Robert could be tried in court for an act of treason. The other perspective is that of a moral standpoint. Robert was betrayed by his officers in the recent past, and also denied authorization to save some 60 horses and mules, which would “be needed, for God’s sake, half-an-hour after the shelling is over”. From this view, the act under discussion would be considered one based on morality.
This brings up the third and final major idea used as justification in this novel, the moral/general good. The most obvious and largest implication of this main idea is contained within the last twenty or so pages of the novel. Should Robert Ross have attempted to free the animals, against the wishes of his company commander? Was it disobedient and generally wrong to undergo this feat? These are only a few questions asked of us by Mr. Findley concerning this particular event. Some, such as Ms. Marian Turner believed Robert did the right thing. “My opinion washe was a herohe did the thing that no one else would even dare to think of doing.” Others believed differently. If had not been for his condition after the fire, Robert would have been in prison for his actions. Instead, his almost lifeless body was guarded all day, even though it was stated by doctors that he would never be able to function or be capable or reason again. Or treason again. Second Lieutenant Robert Ross was a tyrant or pioneer. “Bastard” or “hero”. This is for us to decide for ourselves.
Throughout The Wars, the main character is involved in many decisions, most of which fit under three main ideas or categories of justification: moral/general good, self-interest, and safety. Timothy Findley indirectly asks the readers of his novel to take these ideas into our own lives, and apply them to the decisions we make as a person or as a society. These decisions may be as simple as what type of bread we buy in the morning to more significant, such as who we vote for on Election Day. For any action we take there is always some type of justification or reason for doing what we are doing. It occurs today as it has occurred in centuries before. And surely, as we look into the future, the decisions will remain, only the justifications will differ, based on information we believe or know to be true.