Friday, November 03, 2006

War - Part 1: Cry Havoc

This is my first instalment in my treatise of war: Cry 'Havoc!' And let slip the dogs of war.

I’ve just finished watching the movie “The Dogs of War” again, with Christopher Walken as Jamie Shannon. And the tagline above is originally from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

I want to examine this phrase, to which I attribute loaded meaning.

Cry, yell, order to havoc. Assumes there is a personal imperative or command to do so. Probably well out of one’s control, might I add. That one would even order the creation of havoc is the essence of conflict. The personal reasons to reek destruction is never without some kind of trigger, such as retribution, revenge, lust for violence, power or as in this case, money. We’re not talking juvenile vandalism here!

Havoc is obvious. Used nowadays in the phrase “play havoc”, I agree with pundits who portend that it’s lost the force of the earlier phrase. Havoc is not a bed of roses; it is general devastation and destruction. The watered down version yields great confusion and disorder, which isn’t exactly devastation by any stretch.

“Let slip” is even more obvious as a synonym to release, but almost reluctantly. A firm grasp is simply now, not so firm, as the leash slips, not ripped or thrown, it is let.

The dogs has two distinct meanings, the face-value which appears as a ferocious animal since it is borne of war.

However, I’ve come to understand a second meaning, possibly cynical in nature, those dogs are also locks or devices to stop or hold fast some kind of machinery. This illustrates a concept that maybe war is always upon us, but always held in check by the locking mechanisms of peace and process. If the dogs are released, the machine is then free to begin its purpose of mayhem and death.

Merriam-Webster also mentions dogs are synonymous with feet. Yet again the image is significant and intense: feet of war, will trample.

That phrase, which is notorious, as are many quotes from that literary genius Shakespeare, has always held this kind of significant meaning for me, ever since I read Fred Forsyth’s book, with the phrase as a tagline on it as well. It was years later saw the movie adaptation for the first time.

In the movie all our mercenaries, except Drew, go home. The book however ends with blood in the protagonist, Jamie Shannon’s mouth. It’s his own. Now, make of that what you will.


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