Ain’t Gonna Study War No More: An Unorthodox Proposal for Master Chief’s Fate

Greetings everybody. Sorry for the lack of activity, but as someone moving through a teacher credential program I’ve had little time to devote to the blog. That said, a thought that has been kicking around in my head for a while now is one that many Halo fans share. Specifically, what should the fate of the Master Chief be when his foray in the Halo story comes to its inevitable end? I’ve seen fans suggest he go out in a blaze of glory in order to represent the soldier we all know him to be. Some feel he should remain alive in order to train a new generation of Spartans or be a military commander who isn’t necessarily on the front lines. Yet, what if the Chief does not pursue a military career and opts to become a teacher of a different sort: a teacher of children? I know I’m a bit biased here suggesting that Chief becomes a teacher of all things, but I think it would be appropriate and if you’ll humor me I’ll explain my reasoning.

The genesis of this idea actually came from reading Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. In it, the main character Juan Rico explains the philosophy of the Mobile Infantry and how they make war personal. He wonders if one day humanity will ever be at peace and sing that they, “ain’t gonna study war no more.” Of course, he sarcastic disregards this position by asking if the leopard will then shed his spots and become a Jersey cow. I wondered what this saying referenced and my research found two things. One, “ain’t gonna study war no more” is a lyric to Down by the Riverside, a “negro spiritual” from before the Civil War. The overall meaning of the song hopes for moving past human aggression and transitioning into a more spiritual path. The singer wishes to lay down their sword and shield, wear a robe of white, and cross the river (the river being the Jordan River). The Biblical references are obvious, the Hebrews crossed the Jordan after the exodus to enter the Promised Land. This had the dual symbolism for escaped slaves before the Civil War hoping to find their own Promised Land, a common but brilliant form of subversion used by slaves to sneak these messages over the heads of their masters.

Yet the phrase itself can be found in the Old Testament as well. In the Book of Isaiah says: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isiah 2:4 NRSV)

This can also be found in Micah 4:3 in a similar saying if you would like to so further reading.

What does this have to do with Chief? Well, this language is where we get the swords to plowshares concept. Weapons of war under this concept are retired from their former purpose and adapted for peaceful civilian uses. Could the same not be said for the Spartan-IIs assuming a lasting peace does or can come in the Halo universe? Still, why a teacher of all things? This I base off of the Hero’s Journey popularized by Joseph Campbell.

While Campbell’s system does have some flaws connected to it, notably the idea that it can be too general and tends to be used by writers a lot to the point of creating repetitive narratives, I think it’s end point raises a fascinating implication for John. Assuming he lives, where would John return to? Odysseus returns home to his kingdom in Ithaca. Gilgamesh returns to his kingdom in Uruk. John’s home of Eridanus II is gone, however, glassed by the Covenant decades ago. Yet where is the first place we meet him in the lore? Playing on a school playground against other children in a game of king of the hill.

Screenshot 2017-03-18 at 10.21.43 PM

Why not allow John to end his story once more at a point like this? Seeing a new generation of humanity at play, blissfully unaware of the horrible times that forged their old teacher. With the higher-level education the Spartan-IIs had in mathematics, history, reading, writing, and so on, John would be more than qualified and I think whatever government structure representing humanity at this point would not hesitate in giving him a position. Perhaps an unorthodox and considerably less flashy ending for the Master Chief than a blaze of glory or military commander, but an interesting way to bring his journey to a full circle.

“When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”

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