A few weeks ago, I completed the Isle of Thunder storyline in World of Warcraft. It picks up after events already documented, with Lor’themar Theron’s Sunreaver Onslaught and Jaina Proudmoore’s Kirin Tor Offensive working with the neutral Shado-Pan Assault to (1) bring down the Thunder King (which is what my raid team is trying to do, if only we weren’t stuck on Horridon) and (2) procure ancient artefacts that they could use against Garrosh when the time to depose him finally comes.
The climax of the storyline involved Taran Zhu (leader of the Shado-Pan) defusing the conflict between Theron and Proudmoore:
I see now why your Alliance and Horde cannot stop fighting. Every reprisal is itself an act of aggression, and every act of aggression triggers immediate reprisal.
The cycle ends when you, Regent Lord, and you, Lady Proudmoore, turn from one another. And walk. Away.
I didn’t think much of that at the time, certainly not from outside the game universe. But then we had the Boston Marathon bombings, and while I only maintain a passing interest in current affairs, something about that attack and the Isle of Thunder questline seemed connected, somehow.
If we take a look at the global war on terror, there’s a clear pattern of aggression and reprisal. We can look at the 9/11 attacks, and events on either side of it for a clear example. al-Qaeda felt aggrieved by the U.S. millitary presence in Saudi Arabia, their backing of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and probably countless other things, so they took out the World Trade Center in an act of reprisal, which triggered the United States to strike at al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which led to a massive conflict in Iraq, continued U.S. drone strikes, continued terrorist attacks… basically, it’s one whole vicious cycle of reprisal and aggression. Just as what’s happening in the World of Warcraft universe at the moment — in a way, it’s almost eerie of how it mirrors global, real-life events. (As of me writing this, the perpetrators of the Boston attack are believed to have close ties with Chechnya — I’m unaware of any hostile connection between Chechnya and the U.S., so if someone would fill me in, it would be much appreciated.)
As someone not involved, and hence as a neutral observer, I don’t believe that it’s my place to take any side here but, like Taran Zhu, I have to ask the question: can all of those in this global conflict turn from each other and walk away? Right now, I feel that that’s improbable, to say the least. As things stand at the moment, there’s too much fanaticism, hatred, indoctrination and the like on both sides that suggest that either side, much less both, are capable of doing this at this point in time. Perhaps future generations will be able to break out of this cycle. One can always hope for that.
Granted, it’s difficult to do, and I speak from personal experience here. I’ve been in more conflicts than I’d like to admit where relations have deteriorated into such a cycle, and every time, I’ve struggled to even realise that such a cycle exists, and then struggled even harder to break it. (Some such cycles, I’ve yet to break.) That’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s definitely possible. But if I have so much difficulty with this on a personal level, I wonder just how long it would take on a global level. Maybe for those involved, as it is for me, some form of virtual escapism is the answer.
Maybe we should ask the question from back in the Mists of Pandaria trailer: what is worth fighting for?