The burnt riverbanks

There is told a story of the war between the pigeons and the owls, started over some minor disagreement or another, or perhaps some insult that couldn't be overlooked.  No one remembers why now.  It turns out that it really isn't that important.  But they lived on two sides of the same river, and had coexisted peacefully enough for a long time, even in friendship, yet when the fighting started, forgot about all the kindness they once shared for one another.  The pigeons would attack the owls in the day, and the owls would attack the pigeons at night.  Reprisals and escalations resulted, and soon not even their chicks were safe.  Nests were overturned, and eggs broken.  Birds can be vicious.  As can people.

Naturally, they asked for help from their friends - some agreed to sound the alarm if they saw an attack coming, and others agreed to even help defend the innocent eggs and chicks.  Soon, these friends were attacked, too, for they were aiding an enemy.  All the animals grew divided by the river they once shared, turning against their cousins on the other.  Now, the snakes on one side attacked the snakes on the other, the rats on one side attacked the rats on another, even the deer and bears and lions - some of whom used to cross the river frequently to enjoy themselves here and there, now crossed the river only to fight.  Even the human beings on one side of the river began to attack the human beings on the other side of the river, even though for time immemorial they had been friends, and were even distantly related to one another.  Carrying on their flags an owl, or a pigeon, they crossed the river to hurt one another.  And then they did not confine their hatred only to people, but harmed every living thing they found on the other side of the river.  And all the animals followed this example.

Well, no one knows who first lit the fire, but soon, both banks of the river were torched, and the hungry fire burnt through the nests of both the pigeons and the owls, and the nests of all the other birds, burning alive the snakes and rats, killing even the deer and bears and lions who couldn't outrun the flames.  Many human beings died too, some of them babies, and children, separated from their mothers and fathers when the fire tore through their villages.

Like fire, war is cruel.  And does not stop until it has burnt through every home.  And though when we tell this story to children we are quick to add that in the end, all the good creatures were brought back to life when they finally learned the lessons required to understand the futility of fighting with their neighbors and friends, as adults we should know a great deal better than to believe in such things as that.  We should know a great deal better than to light the fires of war, for when we do, they demand such a sacrifice of blood to extinguish them that whatever reason compelled us to this dreadful worship to begin with is rarely worth the price.  And we know that the proprietaries of honor and good conscience will compel us - and our enemy - to stubbornly complete the dreadful rite we started.

As adults we know there is pain.  And death.  We know, there is suffering enough and life is short.  We know we should be good to one another, for we have no one else to comfort us but each other.  We know what we fight over is not usually worth the price of our fighting.  No, we are not like children, who need stories to remind us of what we know we should and shouldn't do.  And we certainly don't need to hear those stories more than once.