We have met the enemy.
“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
The famous phrase, spoken by Commodore Perry during the War of 1812, was planted in our nation’s consciousness. It was over two hundred years ago, yet the words are still remembered.
Some have turned the words around to change the meaning. We may talk about that a little later.
The naval battle followed one a few months before in which the foe had won decisively, reminding the upstart United States Navy of the storied might of the British fleet. Sailing into the Battle of Lake Erie, victory was anything but certain for Perry’s fleet.
History relates the United States Navy tried their skill and courage against the best the British had to offer, capturing every vessel and man brought against them.
The message seems a little over the top.
We own them. Every one of them.
They are ours.
Commodore Perry knew who his enemy was. He prepared to meet them in battle, placing his ships in just the right position, ordering his men to be at their stations and ready to do their tasks.
I’m not Commodore Perry.
Twice today—that’s right, twice—I’ve thought I had an enemy in my sights. Once, I even opened fire.
Earlier today, an unfamiliar fellow entered the music store and picked a fight with me. Well, that’s not completely true.
He said something with which I disagreed.
The man had the gall to denigrate my favorite brand of guitar strings.
I’ve been putting strings on guitars for over thirty-five years. I’ve sold strings to nearly-famous musicians. I’ve tuned instruments for children barely big enough to hold a guitar on their laps.
He called them over-rated.
I bristled, then shot back.
The enemy! Right here on my premises. Who could blame me?
Turns out—I could blame me. It was only a momentary lapse and I was back-pedaling, suggesting that there might be circumstances I didn’t know about.
He’s not an enemy. He might even turn out to be an ally, someone I’ll need to have my back someday. You never know.
When he left the store, we were friends—almost. But, never enemies.
So, he doesn’t like my favorite strings. So what? At least now I might have another opportunity to convince him.
The way things started out, I never would have had that chance. Never.
Again, late tonight, I nearly opened fire. This time it was on the young man who pulled his motorcycle into the driveway of the vacant house behind mine.
He yelled at my black monsters. Told them to shut up. I get to do that. No one else does.
I went out to yell back—and possibly call the police about the interloper. Instead, I reached my hand over the fence to shake his as I introduced myself to my new neighbor.
Not my enemy. My neighbor.
If you follow my writings, you know my thoughts on neighbors. They’re the ones the Teacher said I have to love. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a requirement.
I sit here in the quiet of these early morning moments—battles done—and contemplate my failures. Oh, not just the two above. I didn’t fare so badly with them. I’m thinking now about a lifetime of engagements.
Engagements with enemies, that is.
Commodore Perry had nothing on me. I’ve fought innumerable battles and conquered countless foes.
He took captives; I took none. It was total annihilation for my enemies. All blasted to Kingdom Come.
Does that offend you? Kingdom Come? It does me too. Now.
Still, it’s what I thought I was doing. Bringing the kingdom of God on earth. Destroying enemies.
Perhaps it’s time to talk about the twisting of the brave Commodore’s message, as I promised earlier.
A popular comic strip in the sixties and seventies, Pogo was written and illustrated by Walt Kelly. On Earth Day in 1970, the little lovable o’possum (the only one of that variety I ever saw) suggested the modification of the victory memorandum.
We have met the enemy and he is us.
It has always been thought of as another way of saying we’re our own worst enemies. In truth, that’s almost certainly what Mr. Kelly intended. He’s not far wrong in many ways.
But, I’d like to suggest a different reading.
I’ve found when I attack people, there is little difference in who we are at the core. When we strip humans down to the basics, clearing away all the facades and all the defenses, we are the same underneath.
It is true in battles over politics, in relational difficulties within families, in cultural differences.
God created mankind in His image.
More than that, He sent His Son to die for mankind—all of it—each person.
If Jesus died for that person I’m doing battle with, could he or she possibly be an enemy?
I am my enemy. My enemy is me.
Not enemies at all.
Thousands of years after the question was first asked, I still want to know what religious hypocrites everywhere have always wanted to know:
Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37)
Well, I don’t really want the answer to that question; I just want to get clarification so I can know who my enemy is. I don’t want to know who to love; I want to know who to attack.
I want to love my neighbor and despise my enemy. The problem is, there is only the former.
His love demands it. (Matthew 5:43-48)
The delightful quiet of the late-night is ruined as the voices around me shout in my ears. In this small room by myself, I hear the battle cries.
The political situation in our country demands enemies. You’ve heard the anger, the hatred, the sheer terror that our side will be overrun and destroyed. Liberals, conservatives, moderates—all have named names and gone into attack mode.
The enemy is on our shores, ready to attack. The enemy is closing the doors, denying shelter. The enemy is stingy. The enemy is giving away too much.
All about us the battle rages. It always has.
Grace calls us to higher things. Mercy demands open hands and hearts.
We don’t fight against any human enemy in our battle for our Captain. Not one person. (Ephesians 6:12)
I wonder if it’s time to reach our hands across a few more fences.
Our Creator saw enemies and made us His sons and daughters.
We have met the enemy.
He is us.
She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding. Wonder came into his face, and then he smiled in answer.
(Fellowship of the Ring ~ J.R.R.Tolkien ~ British writer/poet ~ 1892-1973)
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:7-9 ~ NIV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.