On the playground we were all warriors.
We played many games, all of them designed to replicate real wars. Move the ball, score on the opponent. Victory and defeat. Triumph or humiliation. Attack and defend.
Sometimes we played Capture the Flag, a game that almost exactly mirrors the activities of war: stealth, death, deceit, guard duty, all the highlights. The entire play area is divided into two territories, and two teams, who each hide a flag or an icon of some sort in the farthest reaches of their territory. The object is to find and steal the flag of the other team, and bring it back to your own territory. Along the way you can be captured and imprisoned, or killed, and if you catch the other team on your ground, you can kill them instead.
Sometimes things would escalate beyond gaming. Someone would get pushed too hard, and get too serious about the offense. The undercurrent was always there. At these times you would try to defuse the situation. The parties involved could not back down, and any intervention could lead to greater tensions, and punches could be thrown, shoves administered. Would-be peacekeepers could get bloody noses.
Eventually someone would draw a line. Step over it, and I’ll break your head. Take it any way you want. There it is. A line. You could go for it, if you were tough enough, or if you thought you had no credible choice. You could ridicule the concept as a way of not ignoring it but not having to brave the possible consequences. Some of your playmates might see it your way, and not think you a hopeless chicken.
But one thing was sure: When it got to that point, when the line was drawn, it was too late for intervention. It was past the point of no return. Someone was going to get hurt, physically or psychologically.
What were we doing, with our lines and our threats, and our posturing? Readying ourselves, instinctively, for the Game of Life that we were headed for, a game where the winners take what they want and to hell with everyone else, where you draw a line around your territory and warn all who pass, step over this at your peril, where you penetrate the territory of others, steal their stuff and race with your spoils back to your homeland. Welcome to the Big Game of deception, betrayal and death.
Like children, power mad and run amok, we have marked the whole world with lines, an elaborate system of borders, and we have warned each other in the harshest possible ways do not step over our line. We no longer remember why the lines are there, but we will kill the trespasser, and the killers shall wear medals, and we will honor them and they shall be known as heroes.