The rise of graphic novels as a medium has brought some interesting changes to the view of comic books. They are more than just superheroes (I know, I keep saying that). Case in point, I ran across a collection of Ray Bradbury stories that had been made into a graphic anthology. The images and concepts of science fiction become more accessible in visual form (look at the appeal of science fiction movies as special effects technology has gotten better). But the little known gem about science fiction, it doesn’t have to be all special effects to be a poignant and powerful story. From this collection the story “A Piece of Wood” is a great example of this.
Our need for war, for making the other side come to our understanding of the world has been a human need for countless years. We can trace it back through history and see that war has been a singular constant through much of history. That concept is a central them within the story, as depicted through the dialogue between the two characters of the story. Both characters are part of an unnamed military, one a sergeant the other an officer. Their conversation begins around the reassignment of the sergeant. Though that conversation takes a graver turn.
I heard once that the person who prays the strongest for peace is the soldier on the front lines. When it is your life on the line you better believe that your greatest hope is that you won’t have to pay that price. This is what we learn through their dialogue. The sergeant has found a way to make war obsolete. Without weapons and implements of war mankind can move on to other things.
But that is the gist of things. The weapons we use are not the focus of why we fight. They are merely the tools we use to bludgeon and break each other. Take those tools away and we will find a new way to unleash our fury on our enemies.
This sergeant unlocked a way to rust the metal of weaponry, to turn it to little more than powder and uselessness. But to take away the weapons of war does nothing to change the nature of those who wage it. Our cats have been declawed in the front, they don’t scratch up our furniture anymore. This change did nothing to their nature. When they go outside they are still able to kill mice and shrews. Inside the house they still go through the motions of sharpening their claws on the furniture. The removal of the implements of war does nothing to stop the war.
In the end we find that the sergeant has begun his quest to end war by removing the weapons, even though the officer has done his to dissuade this line of thought. Words only have power for those willing to listen. At times it is actions that must add weight behind the words. When the officer is left with nothing to end the threat now posed by his sergeant he is forced to improvise. A wooden chair leg will not rust.
Granted if the sergeant had really been creative he might have found a way to oxidize wood and he could have taken away that line of attack. But that might just be reading too much of my own personality into the ideas.
In the end, I loved this story. In a collection of really great stories it is one that stands out. If you get the chance to check out the collection it will be worth your time. The visual access brings a new dimension to the realm of storytelling.
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