A 350 year old painting of a soldier about to slaughter an innocent child while a helpless Mother claws futilely at him to stop rings true today just as it did back when the painting was done. The painting depicts a European reality at the time of the Thirty Year’s War. This was a particularly gruesome time to be a civilian or soldier, and it is oddly very similar to today’s existence in many places.
When Nicolas Poussin crafted this painting, it was at the height of the Thirty Year’s War. The time was riddled with shattered innocence, and civilians were slaughtered wholesale. There was no avoiding the costs of war. Men, women, and children all suffered, and all for reasons that mirror the motivations of war in our world today. Back then, the soldiers would destroy anything they came across that could add value to the other side, to include fields of grain or food, shelter and homes, and any type of supplies. What cost would a widowed woman and children pay with a field no longer able to bear food? What reasons were the wars being fought? Greed, Religious fervor, expansion, politics, and ignorance. It is scary to think that we as a world are fighting the same fights all these years later.
Today, we are fighting a war against all of the same things. We have expansionists among us in the Middle East, masked or otherwise. We have religious fervor throughout the world. We have greed in every corner of our universe, and politics and ignorance are at an all-time high. War came to a head and reached it’s horrid peak during this Thirty Year’s War following a period where scuffles were going on throughout Europe. France was fighting from within. The Spanish and the Dutch spent eight decades fighting. Russia and Sweden, as well as Poland, struggled over ownership and ideals. Eventually, they all spilled over into the most brutal war in Europe’s war-torn history.
Looking upon Poussin’s painting and thinking of the current state of affairs, one must consider the similarities. The sword may have changed to a nuclear missile, and the uniforms have changed. The baby lying helpless on the ground with the soldier looming overhead is quite the same. The Mother desperately trying to save her child still rings current. How many innocents have died in our lifetime due to war? Is the payoff worth the incredible costs? Time passes and the paintings may change, but the subject matter still remains the same. At what price do we push our ideals and our ambitions?
Imagine you are the woman depicted in Poussin’s painting and are watching the slaughter of your baby for no good reason other than destruction, or maybe the soldier he is to grow up to be. See the horror in her face and imagine the millions of women over time who have watched very similar scenes in the name of expansion, greed, religious fervor, and politics. I ask again, at what price?