bonny_kate: (book love)
I have been lately thinking about honor. I read a decent amount of older adventure books growing up (The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Prisoner of Zenda, and such), and I think that some of them overemphasized honor. Modern society tends to go the other way, often. But that is not excuse; it is not good to go from one extreme to the other. Certainly the high ideas of honor in the adventure books is good, but only to a certain extent. Sometimes it is better to break one's word than to keep it.

I recently read the Chronicles of Count Antonio (by the same author as the Prisoner of Zenda, although not nearly such a good book). The Count is an honorable man, and has pledged to serve the Duke. (Here I should mention that I'm going to proceed with many and numerous spoilers, so as to explain the book and my meaning.) The Count is in love with Lady Lucia, and the Duke refuses to let the two of them marry (he wants Lucia to marry some other man that she isn't in love with at all, and tries to force the marriage.) The Count runs off to the hills. There are a few particular instances that I want to mention, and are results of a war that is fought. A neighboring Prince fights the Duke, and the Count steps in to save the Duke, as he is sworn to do. So, the first instance I should mention of honor weighted incorrectly, is that after the Count has fought for the Duke, he rides past the city where the Lady Lucia is. She rides out to meet him, and wants to run off with him and marry him, but he refuses, saying that it is dishonorable to take her with him under those circumstances. This is ridiculous. The Count owes allegiance to the Duke, but not when the Duke is clearly wrong (forcing a girl to marry, and actively trying to kill the Count when he intervenes are clearly wrong). Lucia ought to run away from the Duke, who is claiming more power over her than he really can. This would also save lives, as the Count would be safely in the next country, and the Duke could stop trying to kill him (and in the process killing his men). The next instance is a little later, when the Count returns to the battle to find that the Duke hadn't really won, and the Prince is stating the terms of the Duke's surrender. The Prince was originally planning to conquer, but because of the Count he has found it harder than he thought, so he agrees to peace if the Duke will only forgive the Count and let him marry Lucia. The Duke refuses. Worse, the Count upholds the Duke's refusal. He does not want forgiveness on such terms; he would rather be an outlaw in the hills than marry Lucia if the Duke objects. This is ridiculous. The Duke is clearly wrong, and has an irrational hatred of the Count. The Count should accept the terms (although arriving by means of force) as it would result in such good things (an end to the skirmishes and resulting deaths of the Count's men and the Duke's men, the marriage of the Count to Lucia, the reinstatement of the Count who was only attempting to let Lucia choose who she wanted to marry) without negative consequences.

Honor is important. Keeping one's word is important. But sometimes it is better to break one's word than to keep it.

I think, tied up with all those ideas of honor, I had some bad ideas about war (from those same sort of adventure books). There is honor in war, but war is not a gentleman's sport. It isn't an extremely dangerous form of chess (and oughtn't to be treated as such). In the Chronicles of Count Antonio, the Count rides past a few soldiers, and offers them the choice of either not reporting about him, or dying. The soldiers (rightly) choose to promise to hold their tongues for half an hour until the Count is gone. One of the soldiers breaks his word, yells out about the presence of the Count, and dies horribly (the implication being that he has a heart attack because he broke his word, and oath breakers are evil). Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether one ought to be on the side of the Count or the Duke, I should like to briefly consider the idea of the word of honor given not to escape. It seems to happen most often in adventure books of a certain era on ships. The English capture the French ship (or are captured), the captain gives his word of honor that he won't try to escape, and then is given free reign of the ship instead of being locked in the hold. Having thought about it (and talked to Joel about it at some length), it seems bad to offer that sort of deal. War is not (and ought not) to be primarily a matter of honor. People are killed, property destroyed, and it should not be entered into lightly or for bad reasons (I think there are good reasons, and that a just war may exist). Prisoners are enemies, and should be treated as such (that is to say, as people who are on the wrong side, and are working against and to thwart good, and so should not be trusted, but neither should they be tortured). The proper response to taking the ship is, I think, to lock all the prisoners in the hold and feed them on bread and water. If, on the other side, one is given the option to give one's word of honor, one should give it, and then put all one's effort into escaping or retaking the ship. This is an instance where it is better to break one's word than to keep it. It is similar to being a spy against the enemy; deception is not necesarily dishonorable.

One further point I should like to make; it is not always dishonorable for a man to hit (or kill) a woman. Women are just as human as men, and may be just as involved in war. There are, in that sense, no special considerations for women.

Now I'm going to think more about honor, and specifically honor in fairy tales and when one's word is given under coercion.

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Kate Saunders Britton

October 2017

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