Syria and Chekhov’s Gun

syria and chekhov's gun cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

I’m not a politician. I’m not even very political. Nor am I a political cartoonist. This cartoon is about a reality I’ve observed in human nature: if force is an option we allow then the temptation to use it will be at times overwhelming. Like this cartoon illustrates, it doesn’t matter if someone gets the order to engage or not. Once the idea is launched, how far behind is the weapon?

Have you heard of the dramatic principle of Chekhov’s gun?

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

I read a poem quoted in Wendell Berry’s Citizenship Papers, of James Laughlin called “Above the City” which was written soon after a B-25 bomber flew into the Empire State Building in 1945. I’ll quote it in part:

“none of us were much surprised be-
cause we’d always known that those
two Paragons of

Progress sooner or later would per-
form before our eyes this demon-
stration of their
true relationship”

Prophetic of 9-11? This is what concerns me about Syria. No, the world. No, us! Weapons, the consideration of the use of force, the inevitability of their use, violence as a solution, the human need for swift justice or revenge, all combine to create a recipe for death. Just the fact that weapons exist as well as targets to point them at is a relationship that begs union. Someone in Syria had chemical weapons stored somewhere that were crying to be used. And they were.

All this applies not just to physical weapons, but emotional ones as well. Churches who consider the use of control, manipulation, coercion, shame and even abuse to accomplish their ends will employ them. Just read my post “Why I Wouldn’t Attend Pastor Steepek’s Church” and you will see from the 190+ comments that the overwhelming majority of people are in favor of the application of emotional violence to achieve a good end. Is it any surprise that we so easily transfer this to physical violence?

It’s scene one. There’s a rifle hanging on the wall.

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  • Shary Hauber

    Thinking today with our advanced technology why is it right to bomb a country who is suffering from an evil leader but wrong to just assassinate the leader. Is it our human thought pattern that leaders can not be eliminated. Is this the same thought pattern we see in churches when a church refuses to hold a leader accountable for abuse even if many innocent people suffer? Are leaders above reproach?

  • I remember the sickening cascade of events starting when the Bush2 administration floated out there the question of whether the United States should invade Iraq because it was thought that they had weapons of mass destruction. With that framing, it became an exercise of looking for evidence (any evidence) of such weapons. Once enough vague satellite images were available that the administration thought they could sell the case, they flooded the shows with talking heads and got just enough buy-in from the public to do the invasion. Of course the invasion had been planned all along. With the buy-in with public opinion, a majority of the country had complicity with the invasion when it turned out that Iraq did not in fact have weapons of mass destruction. The Bush2 administration was given a pass and ended up with a 2nd term. I would hate to see all of this play out again with Syria.

  • Dylan Morrison Author

    Violence and state violence at that killed the Nazarene! It’s a tragic mimetic game of ‘my missile is bigger than your missile’ – violent contagion with a prayer thrown in for good or God effect!

  • Gary

    You should also remember that most of the intelligence analysts around the world agreed with the Bush administration’s assessment. I always struggle with characterizations of fraudulent motives over the Iraq war. I am not saying I necessarily think it was the right thing for our country at that time, but your statements of motives and intent all along are reckless and biased. The US action was of course backed by a very large number of world governments. (A fact conveniently ignored by Bush critics) And frankly I think they likely did have the weapons as most of the world’s security analysts believed, but hell with as much lead time as we publicly gave them to remove them is it any wonder they were no longer there by the time action was taken?

    These type of situations are never easy to know what is right and what is wrong. Is it appropriate for civilised nations to take action against a regime who is committing genocide against its own people? (Not saying we know that for sure in Syria) And if we say no we should never intervene…then is there not also blood on the hands of those who could stop the slaughter and chose not to?

    I am a long way from being convinced we know what is going on in Syria in regards to WHO is using the chemical weapons on the civilian population. But the evidence is stacking up that someone is and I believe it is appropriate to invest resources to figure out who.

  • I agree Gary. The criminal(s) should be found out and tried.

  • Mark

    My recollection of the Iraq/WMD fiasco is that France and some of our other allies, who had been with us in Afghanistan, did not agree with U.S. intelligence on Iraq and WMD. Regardless, I see us marching down a similar road in Syria, now that this president has concluded the Syrians have used chemical weapons. Will this country ever learn that we can’t be the policemen of the world? That more violence is not the answer?

  • Gary

    I agree we believe ourselves to be the policeman way too much and clearly beyond what we can afford. But I cannot say that violence is never the answer. If a madman goes on a killing spree and I have the ability to stop him…I will by any means necessary. Hitler’s attempts at genocide was not going to be stopped by simply asking him to please be nice. When innocent civilians are being slaughtered by people with a clear lack of any moral compass…then sometimes violence is indeed necessary.

  • Mark

    But why are chemical weapons worse than the conventional killing of over 100,000 people in Syria over the last two years? And where does the U.S. or international intervention end? Do we go into Egypt next? I guess partially I am just weary of a government that seems to think we always have to fix things, and that the way to do it is militarily. I with Obama had not drawn the line at the use of chemical weapons, because now he pretty much has to use our military to back up his edict.

  • Gary

    I agree. Killing civilians is the same whatever the type of weapon used. As for where intervention ends (or begins for that matter), I do not believe there is an answer that can be universally applied. Governments of good conscience should look at each situation individually. I do believe we have acted more often than we should have. But I am not prepared to say we should never act. Genocide is ugly, and the world should stand against it.

  • Gary

    Sure…it is nothing more than adolescent boys playing a game of “let’s see who has the bigger cock”. As for all those tens of thousands of innocents being slaughtered we should simply say fuck em…they are not our concern anyway…right?