It was a mild evening, already dark, and now and then threatening rain. The succession of faces in the lamplight stirred the Lieutenant’s imagination; and it seemed to him as if he could walk for ever in that stimulating city atmosphere and surrounded by the mystery of four million private lives. He glanced at the houses, and marvelled what was passing behind those warmly-lighted windows; he looked into face after face, and saw them each intent upon some unknown interest, criminal or kindly. “They talk of war,” he thought, “but this is the great battlefield of mankind.”
Inseparable from cities but not native to them, the secret war rages on. Viewed from outside, and above, the war might almost look like anarchy; but there is an order to it, though ever-shifting and temporary. One soldier, one single-man army and nation pitted against another, perpetually at odds, often treating with each other even while locked in combat. Truces and cease-fires take the form of sleep or death.
Why is this a secret war? Is it because in comparison to the great, bloody struggles known as wars, this little undercurrent of struggle is something to be ashamed of? Or is the secret war simply too small to come fully into consciousness? How is it related to large wars? Do a hundred thousand small, secret wars join to form one large, open war? Or are the two kinds of war unrelated?
The secret war begins at birth and ends with death: another way of saying that the war is always beginning and always ending. Echoes of it are heard in conversation, traces of it seen in games. Victory is an illusion, but withdrawal is true defeat.