We have ants in our kitchen. Or we did have ants in our kitchen. I wiped down their supply routes and marching trails with vinegar and put out some ant bait traps.
I inspect the damage after a day. I’m down to about three confused and wandering ants. I look down and see one lunatic ant drunkenly circling a tiny piece of dried onion skin and the irritation of yesterday transforms into melancholy. I have destroyed this ant’s village and all of its kin. I look at the sad little wanderer and I contemplate the tragedy. This war began without intent on either side. We are at war because we both want to eat, nothing more, nothing less. But my sympathy is useless. Not only have I murdered this creature’s fellows in my pique, even my pity is dangerous. Even to touch him might undo his tiny fragile body.
However, I suspect that this sadness is short lived. It is pity I can afford because I have won this battle for now. I do not pride myself that his entire civilization has been exterminated and I still shudder if I think about the teeming masses that may still live behind my wall. I am kind only in victory, only when I can afford to be kind.
Soon the ant’s compatriots will take note that they have lost this battle. Fearless, they will again find their way through some miniscule tunnel and renew their assault on the pantry. Faced with the ruination of my stockpiles of food, I will once again go to war, pity forgotten, wiping up scores of them on one vinegar soaked rag and reveling in the destruction. But for now…watching the lone ant move aimlessly along the wall, deprived of all it knew, directionless…I allow myself this moment of pity.