In Harlan Ellison’s Paingod, Trente is responsible for ‘dispensing unbearable anguish’, ‘incredible suffering,’ and ‘relentless torment’ to often blameless denizens of the universe. He is given this job by Ethos
He was Paingod for the universes, the one who dealt out the tears and the anguish and the soul-wrenching terrors that blighted life from its first moment to its last. Beyond age, beyond death, beyond feeling – lonely and alone in his cubicle – Trente went about his business without concern or pause
Unfortunately for Trente, and the universe, he contracts a disease – Concern. He begins to care for his deeds and ultimately reaches a state where he cannot any longer support his acts. To learn more about pain, he comes to earth to study a person he has inflicted with much pain – a drunken sot of an orator, erstwhile a sculptor. He discovers the sculptor would not be able to create his creations if not for his pain. In the end, this matures Trente and he returns to his lonely seat of power, meting out pain, and knowing happiness.
Real life isn’t like that, though.
As John Kerry stated in his Congressional testimony,
We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, not reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.
We as humanity, appoint many paingods to mete out pain and suffering. We cannot compass, however, the transformation of these men and women. For some, it is a means to reach higher understanding. For others, like a few in the Iraq prisons, it expresses the darkness in ways unimaginable. There are few who can bear such a burden and remain unchanged. The cycle of violence and reprisal that it breeds cannot be broken save through deep self-introspection & growth of the individual. When humans take on these roles, it is as if, like a Mask of God, the individual is transformed into something greater than herself. An artist, creator of myth, and even a reader, can be likewise transformed, although not to the same degree as a person who actually goes through the experience. Writing about war is not the same as being in one.
The War Poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfred Sassoon, who were actually on the frontlines, mused on the effects of war on the innocent youth – the first, original, lost generation
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires