It’s strange how some expressions just fade away, while others seem to stick around forever.
For example, children still pepper their speech with the word “like,” as they have for generations. And the word “say” has been all but replaced by the word “go.” As in, “I go, ‘like, no way,’ and she, like, goes, ‘so, totally.’” And so forth.
Other expressions, though, have become quaint and unusual. Consider the French expression “c’est la guerre.” You don’t hear this one much anymore. And there’s a good reason for that.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “c’est la guerre” to mean “that’s war: it cannot be helped.” And it’s worth remembering that, throughout human history, this was the common view. War was a regular part of the landscape for virtually everyone, virtually everywhere. It “couldn’t be helped.”
Not anymore, though. War is relatively rare these days.
It almost goes without saying that in prehistoric times, life was brutal and short. Humans were at war often with each other, and always with nature. Animals and the environment were endlessly dangerous and needed to be tamed if humanity would survive.
Even when humans managed to civilize our living space, we didn’t stop fighting each other. As Robert E. Lee put it at Fredericksburg, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.”
Alexander the Great supposedly wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. But who can doubt that, had he lived, he would have gone right on leading armies into new lands, killing and capturing along the way?
It didn’t matter, either, whether people lived under a strong central government (such as Rome) or under a series of weak kings (as in the Middle Ages). War never ended. Whether it was the Crusades, a series of raids on neighboring castles and kingdoms, or the 100 Years War, people kept fighting each other.
Think North America looked different? Many like to idealize Native Americans as peace-loving, back-to-nature types -- proto-1960s hippies wiped out by Columbus and his smallpox. It’s not true.
Indians existed in a constant state of tribe-against-tribe warfare. Consider the Iroquois. In their book, “Beyond the Covenant Chain,” Daniel Richter, James Merrell and Wilcomb Washburn write that, “Far from being the savage rulers of a wilderness empire, as old myth has portrayed them, the Iroquois were brought by the accumulated effects of famine, disease and war ‘within two finger-breadths of total destruction.’”
Man’s eagerness to kill and conquer other men didn’t stop in modern times, either. We just got better at it.