Saint-Exupéry shows starkly how war changes the calculus on a sixpence. Trees which have been nurtured and enjoyed for hundreds of years, slowly expanding their beneficient presence through seasons of growing, suddenly become a momentary obstacle to a minute piece of military action, which itself may prove futile even within its own narrow terms.
Things no longer mean the same. Here are trees three hundred years old that shade the home of your family. But they obstruct the field of fire of a twenty-two-year-old lieutenant. Wherefore he sends up a squad of fifteen men to annihilate the work of time. In ten minutes he destroys three hundred years of patience and sunlight, three hundred years of the religion of the home and of betrothals in the shadows round the grounds. You say to him, ‘My trees!’ but he does not hear you. He is right. He is fighting a war.
Three hundred years wiped out in ten minutes. Is that one of the measures of war’s efficiency? The capacity to reverse the process of creation thousands of times faster than it took to reach this inflection point in its existence.
Source: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras, trans. by Lewis Galantière (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), p. 64
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