We All Have Knives!

February 17, 2014

I watched The Lion in Winter over the weekend. Written (both the play and the film) by William Goldman and directed by Anthony Harvey, it’s a fictional account of England’s King Henry II gathering with his sons and estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Chinon over Christmas 1183. They plot against one another over who will succeed Henry, but settle nothing.

There is a good deal of clever dialogue in the play/film, including this arresting outburst from Eleanor as the sons contemplate murdering their father:

Eleanor: Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little – that’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.

She’s addressing this particularly to her sons, each of whom has a significant measure of power (wealth, armed men, alliances), but she could say the same to any of us now living.

Forget “It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians;” that’s just a laugh line. We all do have knives and we are too prepared to use them. We like to blame wars on religious conflict or injustice or governments. She is right to say we are all killers and that we all breed war by not renouncing it. She is right that we carry war inside of us like a disease.

Peace begins with the active effort to love one another. We all have knives, but have such possibilities. We could and can change the world.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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2 Responses to We All Have Knives!

  1. Michael Snow says:

    Was it Reinhold Niebuhr who said that depravity was the only doctrine for which we have empirical evidence?!
    Yet, as you say, active efforts to love one another changes the world.
    A couple quotes from unexpected sources that you may appreciate:
    D.L. Moody: ” There has never been a time in my life when I felt that I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow being. In this respect I am a Quaker.”
    C.H. Surgeon: “, I always rejoice to find a soldier a Christian, but I always mourn to find a Christian a soldier,…The followers of Christ in these days seem to me to have forgotten a great part of Christianity.”

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