For a while, I pondered the unlikelihood of the premise of 86: that a nation could have a slave army which reaped none of the benefits of citizenship and which fought without the direct coercion of the citizens. It is true that Spartans fought alongside their Helots, and galley slaves rowed as Roman soldiers fought on the high seas; yet, there never existed a purely Helot Spartan army or a Roman navy consisting only of their slaves. Why would slaves or second class citizens fight for someone else’s rights unless they were under the strictest coercion? The main reason citizens fight for a country is because they want to protect their life, liberty, and property. These protections are guaranteed them by their government. Should one’s country be taken over by a hostile nation, one is liable to become a slave and lose one’s property, liberty and even life. So, a slave does not have motivation to fight for their masters unless there is some guarantee of freedom after their service.
San Magnolia has the appearance of recognizing this truth. They claim that an 86er can gain his freedom after six years of military service. *SPOILER ALERT* Yet, the closer 86ers get to fulfilling their term of service, the more dangerous missions they get sent on until they are at last sent on a suicide mission. This fact becomes apparent even to the 86ers themselves, leading the heroine to ask Shin why he continues to fight for people that hate him and see him as less than a machine. He gives an interesting answer:
Major, we’re not going to die. We’re finally following the path we’ve always wanted to follow to the place we wanted to go. We can finally be free.
Shin’s answer reminds me of something a military chaplain named Emil Kapaun, whose cause is being put up for canonization, said. Fr. Kapaun was captured during the Korean War while ministering to wounded American soldiers. He continued to aid his fellow POWs while in captivity, saving many from death and despair and converting 200 men to the Catholic Faith. Though he earned the undying love of his fellow soldiers, his communist captors hated him and sought for a way to kill him without causing a riot in the prison camp.
This finally happened when Kapaun fell ill. The communists insisted that he be taken to the camp’s hospital. Though called a hospital, people rarely returned recovered from their illness. It was considered a death sentence to be sent there. The POWs seemed like they would riot then; however, Fr. Kapaun, worried more about harm coming to his fellow soldiers than himself, said: “Don’t worry about me. I’m going where I’ve always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.”
To both Fr. Kapaun and Shin, death both frees them from the misery of this life and unites them to the Supreme Good, the perfect union to which cannot be had here. In 86, this eternal beatitude is hinted at by the reunion of Shin and his brother. All the hatred his brother had for Shin is gone. In heaven, charity is made perfect and hatred is no more.
In the early centuries of the Church, Christians in the Roman Empire acted much as 86ers in San Magnolia: they fought for the lives, freedom, and property of others who could suddenly deny them these same things. Many martyrs were Roman soldiers, like St. George, St. Achatius, and St. Eustachius of the Fourteen Holy Helpers or the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. These martyrs were killed as soon as their Christian identity was discovered. And, they died without any ill-will towards their pagan murderers. The blood of the martyrs paved the way for the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, which the empire finally gave legal status in Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313.
To return to Shin, the reasons he gave for fighting concern loving the good Celena of San Magnolia and feeling like the decision to fight made him free. For God’s sake, the Roman martyrs also loved the societies which hated them. They imitated Christ: “But God commendeth His charity towards us; because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us…” (Romans 5: 8-9). Christians are the greatest friend to any society, because they bring the good news of salvation to it and reveal the goodness of God to others through the operation of grace in their souls and their imitation of Christ. Not even an entire empire’s hatred of them can dim the Roman Martyrs’ charity, and they obtained the object of their struggles: eternal life with God.
It has been said that the world hates the Church as the body hates the soul. The desires of the flesh will destroy both the body and the soul if the flesh has its way. If the soul leads the body according to the Spirit, both the body and the soul will be saved. Here is a very odd relationship where one side wishes to destroy the only thing which can lead it to salvation! We see that phenomenon playing out across the world today where Christians are the most persecuted group of people on earth. Even in Canada, vandals are burning churches to the ground.
The question for us is whether we can imitate 86ers in our own way. Can we do our part to convert people who hate and even want to kill us? Our Lord said: “Yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think he doth a service to God,” (John 16:2). One sees this prophecy come true in places where Muslims persecute and murder Christians. In Western countries, the oppressors of Christians often did not think that they were serving God but the vision of an earthly utopia. They thought that they could create this utopia if only they rid themselves of all dissenters.
It is far easier to meet hatred with hatred than with love. It’s also far easier to have contempt for those who contemn us than to respect them as people whom Christ came to save. Most of the 86ers at the front line have hatred and contempt for those who sent them to the front to die. And, most Christians probably indulge their feelings of hatred and contempt for those living for the world and the flesh under their leader, the devil. Yet, God calls us to imitate His Son and His special friends, the saints, in loving those who hate us and helping them see the happy end God wishes for them. May we be able to accomplish God’s will through His grace and the intercession of the Roman Martyrs. Amen!
86: EIGHTY-SIX can be streamed through Crunchyroll.