This is a solemn subject that weighs very heavily on me. But it seemed appropriate to comment on this, especially in light of this week's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize by a President in the precarious position of presiding over two ongoing wars. This seems a perfect example that, despite how much we all may prefer a world of absolutes, we seldom have the luxury of things being either black or white.
I want to be clear that I have never served in the armed forces. I have no personal experience with war. I have never been asked to lay my life on the line for someone else, nor bore the burden of taking another’s life. Accordingly, I would never presume to tell someone who has bore these burdens how they should feel about it. Their experience is their own, as are their feelings about it, and I have no judgments about those.
For the rest of us who stand on the sidelines and debate whether to send our Troops into battle, but do not bare that burden ourselves, I would like to offer some thoughts. And, again, not having any personal experience to draw upon, I’ll borrow some words from those who do. First, in response to those who oppose war at all costs I would offer these words from John Stuart Mill:
"War is an ugly thing, but it is not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free unless made so by the exertions of better men than himself."
Mills’ words, although perhaps a little more passionate than I would state it, are completely true. I believe that we, as human beings, can and will reach a point in our evolution when we learn how to live together in Peace, and that we will realize the futility of war. We are not there yet, unfortunately. And until we are, there will be times and places when we must be prepared to fight for what we believe is right. And we will need the service of those who are willing to stand up and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.
Having said that, I do believe that we have reached a stage in our evolution as human beings when it is time to recognize our own responsibility for the wars that have plagued our planet for most of our known history, and to start owning the responsibility for preventing them from happening in the future. We can no longer point the finger to other countries, other governments, other leaders, or even to our own government and blame them for the violence perpetrated in our names.
There is a theory in psychology (and in some spiritual circles) that all of our decisions and actions are motivated either by Love or by Fear. That’s it – it’s one of those two. If we look at what causes war and killing, it seems a given that it is more motivated by Fear than by Love. General William C. Westmoreland put it this way:
“War is Fear cloaked in Courage.”
As we examine our interpersonal relationships, it is not difficult to recognize that when we come from a place of Love we feel strong, safe, confident, compassionate, abundant, and understanding. We are willing to bend, to meet the other half way, or even give entirely of ourselves in order to serve the greater good. When we come from a place of Fear we feel unsafe, needy, a sense of scarcity, defensive, and even aggressive. We are unwilling to bend on even the simplest of issues, and we are concerned only for our own well being. Fear is a natural thing, and it’s not always bad – a healthy dose of Fear can keep us alert and aware of potential problems. It’s when we allow the Fear to be the driver in the solutions for those problems that we become hostile and aggressive, and we allow our Fear to get the better of us. When problem solving deteriorates to violence, we have failed to deal with our Fears (and other’s Fears) in a productive way. Isaac Asimov put it this way:
“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
The critical factor in our evolution as human beings is the realization that we are all one – we are part of a collective. And the energy we bring to that collective in the form of our thoughts, opinions, and feelings has an impact on the decisions and movements of the whole. We point to our political leaders and blame them for the failures to find peaceful solutions to our international issues. But in the end, our leaders are ultimately trying to serve us – to provide us with what we are demanding through our lifestyle choices. In the end, our leaders are elected by us – they work for us – and they do what we are telling them we want. We may not be telling them verbally, but we are telling them through our lifestyle choices. And so, in the end, the Fear that we most need to deal with is our own – each and every one of us – our Fear of lack, of “not enough”, of “I need more in order to be fulfilled”… our Fear of change itself. Francis Meehan put it this way:
“Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself.”
The irony is that every war reaches a point where people have had enough killing, enough dying, enough of the futility of destruction. But we forget. We live a few years in prosperity until we are again threatened by change, and we allow our Fear to get the better of us again. What will it take to shift our focus from Fear to Love? To make the option of loving one another more palatable than killing one another? We thought that it was going to be WWI – “the war to end all wars.” But it wasn’t. Just a few short years later the entire world engaged in an even greater war. And there have been many since. Near the end of WWII, President Roosevelt said:
“I have a suspicion that when this war does end, we shall not be in a very celebrating mood, a very celebrating frame of mind. I think that our main emotion will be one of grim determination that this shall not happen again.”
I’d like to encourage all of us to face our own Fears, and not ask others to do it for us; to embrace that grim determination that war shall not happen again; and to take personal responsibility for asking, “What can I do in my life to reduce the likelihood of wars happening in the future on my behalf” and making those changes. If we can save the planet by riding our bikes and recycling our trash, what do we need to do to prevent our deterioration to violence? Let’s find out – for ourselves, for our children, and for those who serve and bare the heaviest burden. We owe them nothing less.
“The Soldier above all others prays for Peace, for it is the Soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”