These are the profound sentiments Barack Obama. “Firefighters, police and first responders rushed into danger to save others… Volunteers lined up to give blood…. Schoolchildren donated their savings… We were united, as Americans”. There is truth in these sentiments. In the days that followed September 11, America came together as a nation with a firm, steely revolve to rise above this disaster. There was a new found patriotism, born from the dust that engulfed the city as the Twin Towers crashed to the ground.
But once the dust settled, another side of America was unleashed – a lust, a burning desire for revenge, to inflict pain on the ‘enemy’. The call to patriotism bordered on savage jingoism, fueled by our elite politicians. George’s Bushs’ remark, “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” divided the Western World. “There is no in-between”. Our revenge gave rise to the War on Terror – it is a word that has gripped a nation, engendering fear and racial intolerance. Anything foreign was viewed as a form of dissent.
In Australia, as in Europe and America, multiculturalism was quickly placed on trial. The Howard government headed the prosecution, repeatedly demanding the integration of migrants whose failure to integrate had never been demonstrated, dreaming up citizenship tests, canning the ministerial portfolio of multicultural affairs, and haranguing Muslims about Simpson and his donkey. We embarked on War to ‘protect our freedom’, yet this is the very thing we were slowly denying on our home soil. A public culture of surveillance was quickly established.
Governments, with popular backing, took the profoundly illiberal task of interrogating the values of their citizens, telling them what they should be. The result for Western Muslims has been a decade defending their faith from associations with terrorism. We have seen a decade of division between Christians and Muslims, Westerners and ‘them’. And so, perhaps Barack Obama needed to add another line to his speech – September 11 also brought out the worst in us. Conflict can elicit our virtue Conflict can become the channel through which we reassess our values and change who we are.
As the very title of ‘The Crucible’, a vessel used for purifying materials, indicates, crises can test characters and elicit their virtue. The Salem Witch-Hunts were a gross manifestation of evil, yet, paradoxically, amidst the hysteria and paranoia, certain acts of heroism and courage flourished. Giles Corey is perhaps the most unheralded hero in the play. Initially presented as a self-serving, petty man, obsessed with executing his judicial rights, he displays an irrefutable courage when faced with the injustice of the theocracy.
The audience is full of admiration when Corey confronts the autocratic leaders, Danforth, Hawthorn and Parris, and demands his wife be released. Yet it is the exchange between Elizabeth and John Proctor which confirms his bravery; instead of admitting to “his indictment”, and thus forfeiting his property to the likes of Thomas Putnam, he died an honourable death. “Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or nay… he give them but to words. ‘More weight'”. As Elizabeth puts it, “it were a fearsome man”, a man who refused to compromise his values for anything, even life.
In hindsight, Miller’s earlier comments depict this; overtly, “he was a crank and a nuisance, but withal a deeply innocent and brave man”. Ultimately, it was the conflict of the Salem-Witch Hunts that brought this bravery into the world’s light. Channel through which we reassess values and change who we are Yet, conflict not only has the power to elicit our virtue, but also re-shape our characteristics, and as such, re-define our best. It is a notion exemplified by our present day political climate, wherein the life of two Australian men is dependent upon the clemency of the Indonesian president.
Six years ago Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran obnoxiously refused to cooperate with authorities after they were charged with drug-trafficking in Indonesia. They were, in their own words, “young, stupid and self-obsessed”. Yet, the conflict they are going through – their time in jail and the likely prospect of an untimely death by the firing squad – has ultimately tested them and posed questions, which identified flaws and offered the chance to reassess and improve. Chan and Sukumaran have become mentors for inmates, run art and language programs and, from the perception of the guards themselves, are “model prisoners”.
Greater men would have been excused for living out their days with a self-serving bitterness, considering the punishment far out-weighs the crime. Yet these two figures merely focus on each day, enjoying a life we often take for granted. Their conflict has acted as a catalyst for their own individual growth, and indeed these noble characters have developed through their ordeal and are a sterling example of dignified change in spite of the poisonous grasp of conflict. Conflict can bring out self-serving behavior: evil can thrive unchecked, no accountability
Yet, conflict can bring out petty, even sinister, self-serving behaviour in some naturally malevolent individuals involved. When there is the possibility to profit from a situation, our values are often subjugated to secondary importance. In The Crucible some characters shamelessly exploit the prevailing mistrust and hysteria, where “land-lust could now be elevated to the arena of morality”. It is therefore unsurprising “so many accusations against people are in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam”, as the vindictive, vengeful man went about “killing his neighbors for land”.
It appears one of the most constraining factors in society is political correctness. Often people act in a virtuous way, not due to a core altruistic nature, but rather a fear of condemnation. When this condemnation is removed, as often happens in the frenzied state of conflict, our most corrosive, spiteful actions can flourish. Indeed, once it was possible to do so without condemnation, “long-held hatreds of neighbours … openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions”.
Characters such as Ann Putnam and Abigail actively start to seek revenge against Goody Nurse and Elizabeth Proctor, because they can feel “justified” in doing so. As such, Arthur Miller’s play conveys the notion that often in conflict there is no one to hold us accountable for our actions, and when this happens, our worst, most piteous behaviour can thrive un-checked. Dictatorships today – worst behavior. Also – we don’t empathize The same power for conflict to bring out our worst is seen in the contemporary world.
The dictatorships which have acrimoniously in the past century are a testament to this fact. Last year the Democratic republic of Congo marked its 50th year of independence from Belgium. It has been 50 years of utter misery. Mobutu Sese Seko ruled the nation from 1965 to 1996 with an iron fist, locking up his political opponents, and ignoring the plight of his subjects. Corruption and nepotism were rife, while the country progressively decayed and descended into abject poverty and chaos.
When Mobutu died, armies trying to assert control, raped, looted and burned the country to the hearts’ content. There was no one there to stop them. The West certainly turned a blind eye: former US president Bill Clinton even referred to this period as an “African renaissance”. In this regard the conflict also exposed our worst – the inability to empathize when we don’t receive anything in return. It is easy to uphold moral standards during times of peace, but inherently difficult during animosity.
As such, conflict often displays our least redeemable features, as it exposes an inability to maintain our values when it most counts. Even today with all our attention turned to the ‘War on Terror’, we remain largely ignorant of a far greater travesty. It doesn’t help too that there is no oil to spruce our interest. An estimated 1000 people still die everyday from war, disease and malnutrition. However, it is the ongoing wholesale and systematic raping of women and girls by Congolese army soldiers and rebels that is the most unforgivable manifestation of how low the country has fallen.
The UN has attempted to help at least, but with layer upon layer of animosity added by every murder, every rape, with the human spirit seemingly torn asunder, this conflict will bring out even worse then the worse. Conflict can bring people together Yet, although conflict is credited with considerable unrest and separation, it can also unify many people as it compels us to rethink some of our individual assumptions. In Arthur Miller’s play, such heroic characters as John and Elizabeth Proctor not only react with satisfactory integrity to conflict, but actually use it as a stimulus to rejuvenate their own relationship.
In the first account of their life at home, the tension is almost tangible, where Miller instructs “a sense of their separation rises” and, as John comments, “I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies”. There is a sense of artificiality in their relationship; John “is not quit pleased” with the stew Elizabeth has prepared, adding his own “pinch of salt”, yet attempts to flatter her nonetheless, “it’s well seasoned”. However, once his wife is seized, he no longer has to feign emotion; he rediscovers his genuine affection and love for Elizabeth, “I will fall like an ocean upon that court”.
In risk of falling into a clichi?? , it encapsulates the notion that once something is taken away and threatened in conflict, you realize its importance. Indeed after their devastating treatment at the hands of the theocracy, they are made to re-evaluate their love for each other and it undoubtedly grows to a firmer bond beyond petty squabbling or even matters of fidelity – the stage note indicates that when they are allowed to meet, “the emotion flowing between them prevents anyone from speaking”.
The presence of a common enemy, and shared conflict has elicited their own individual virtue – John’s bravery and “shred of goodness” and Elizabeth’s resilience – but more importantly it has brought them together. Together they achieve the immense courage for John to go willingly to his dignified death, and as he lifts his wife into the air in a last passionate embrace, conflict has brought love anew, albeit with devastating consequences Crucible pot By examining the notion of a crucible itself, we can better understand conflict. A crucible is a pot which is used to melt elements together.
The elements within the pot, when incompatible, can often produce an adverse reaction, yet when the heat is harnessed in the right manner the crucible is able to produce a product of great value. In this way, conflict can act as the crucible. Sometimes it elicits our most admirable virtues, whilst at other times, it gives rise to our most maliciously wicked, unfathomably gruesome actions. As such, conflict can bring out the best and the worst in us. September 11 is this modern day crucible, and as such, it remains clear to see that conflict can bring out our best and worst