This is Part 1 of a two-part essay about our culture, which has shown that it sees war as an answer to ideological differences. They address what can be done to shift our perspective from that which views deadly conflict as a legitimate solution to the challenges we face, to one that values inclusion and sees it as the future of mankind. One thing is becoming mightily apparent: we can’t have it both ways. So, what can be done? How do we start? This short series offers some possibilities.
Looking back on the history of humanity, we know one thing: war will never bring lasting peace.
War alone has never shown itself to bring anything but a temporary ceasefire until the next conflict. The ceasefire may last hours or years, but war always returns. The peace is illusory, incomplete, and can be almost infinitely expensive in terms of lives lost and resources committed, contrasted with often dubious benefits to the survivors of the conflict.
In other words, war is a poor value in terms of both cost and benefit.
After all, both sides suffer immensely. The vanquished can look forward to abuse, being labeled as wicked, worthless and less-than-human. Historically, they’re imprisoned, raped, murdered and disallowed cultural identities, or worse. For these the war continues, often pushed underground where it’s injected into successive generations. But the wounds are also deep for the victors, with the karmic calculator racking up incalculable costs on their behalf that will be paid, if not by the warring party at the time, in generations to follow. As for the conflict itself, it often pops up again and again in spite of the promises of the profiteers, promoters and politicians, the self-righteous and the lovers of deadly contention.
Take World War 1. It was called, “The War to End All Wars.” How’d that piece of propaganda work out for us? It’s been pretty much continuous war ever since - and beforehand, for that matter. It was apparent even a hundred years ago that it wasn’t going to work out the way it was pitched, as British politician Archibald Wavell cynically noted of the Paris Peace Agreement when he said, "After the 'War to End War', they seem to have been in Paris making the 'Peace to End Peace'.
The war on terror, the war on ISIS, the war on drugs, the war on Communism, the war on wickedness… all of these have occurred within my lifetime, or are yet active. Yet none of these wars, even if temporary battles are “won,” will ever yield permanent solutions. Humanity itself will be destroyed before these issues, and most others we’re determined to fight, are “eradicated.”
Look around. Is this not exactly what you see? More importantly, why is this so?
Three reasons. First, most wars have an ideological basis, and a strong ideology can’t be destroyed through war alone. Secondly, the universal Law of Resistance comes into play within most kinds of conflict. Third, the concept of war as a permanent answer is attractive to unethical moneymakers and politicians, but antithetical to a culture that values peace - and as a culture we’ve yet to make a commitment to peace due to a conflicted fundamental belief structure.
Let’s take each of these in turn.
Let’s be clear: if I’m forced to let go of my beliefs via threat of annihilation, I’m going to cling to them harder and go underground. This is particularly true if the offending ideology glorifies the persecution of it. Significantly, this is the case with all the major religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism (Buddhism is not technically a religion). Yes, I may be better behaved, however my conquerors define that, but there’s no permanent change because the underlying worldview hasn’t changed. In other words, there may appear to be shift, but since my foundational beliefs haven’t substantially shifted, it’s just play-acting. Stuffed into caves, on mountaintops or literally incubating underground, the seemingly defeated but stubbornly resistant holders of the ideal protect it, treasure it and strengthen it. Here it stays, where it festers for as long as it must until it explodes with volcanic violence upon a complacent conqueror who, now that the war is ‘over’, has moved on to reconstruction, repatriation, rehabilitation, pillaging resources or otherwise enjoying the dangerously-charged spoils of war.
As mentioned above, failed “wars” abound. Importantly, they fail because the underlying cause for the behavior in the first place has not changed. A change of heart is what’s needed, and the effectiveness of the fragile process of creating a space that might allow such a change is inversely proportional to the amount of force used to make to happen. In other words, we can force people to change their behavior, but until they change it for their own reasons, we’re only mandating our version of “righteousness” at the expense of theirs, which is still lodged in their hearts.
For an illustration that’s closer to home, anyone who’s had a teenager knows that for certain personalities in particular, we can threaten and punish until we’re blue in the face, but until the pubescent person perceives parental prudence on their own – and even considers it his own idea – the behavior, the rebellion, zee resistance’, shall continue.
So much for changing beliefs through war or the threat of war alone.
The Law of Resistance
This law is familiar to anyone who works out at a gym. If I do enough curls, my biceps grow. (Or, they used to, before I turned 50.) Age notwithstanding, the idea is to provide gravitational resistance to the biceps muscle. As it resists the pull of the weights, over time, the muscle gets bigger and stronger. The weights don’t destroy the bicep; in the end, they enhance it. The same can be said of many things with which we choose to brawl.
And, for those of us who are concerned about environmental issues, any victory in the “fight” for clean water, for instance, must be viewed as temporary. Those who are somehow motivated by other things simply grasp harder to their “righteousness,” called “capitalism,” “democracy,” “manifest destiny,” “freedom,” or profits, among others. Like a giggling two-year old running away from a scolding parent, scissors in hand, the louder we yell, the more resistant or distant they become. Certainly, our voices must be raised in certain situations, and most kinds of activism have their place, but don’t think the war on “those people” or resistance to them will ever be a permanent solution.
The third item from above, that the concept of war as a permanent answer is antithetical to a culture that values peace - and that we have yet to seriously embrace it – will be addressed later.
What Is the Answer to “War Is the Answer”?
You already know the answer to this question. If you’re unable to get in touch with it in this moment, it’s understandable because it’s been suppressed as certainly as a child that speaks to imaginary friends is told to “stop such foolishness.” Everyone who’s ever been told they’re a “dreamer” or “too idealistic,” likewise knows the answer. Our most enduring and respected spiritual leaders have taught it.
The answer is Unity through Love.
Oh, come on.
How are we supposed to do that? I mean, really? With ISIS beheading people and politicians doing their incomprehensible dances, with addiction and mental illness, with a planet on life support and rampant corporate crime and violence?
Yes. Even though those things, love is still the answer.
Here’s why: it’s not about “eradication,” and never was. I submit that idea is a remnant of powerful, generational teachings that have informed our thought processes. In other words, it’s not about a great god in the sky, burning up all the bad guys so the good guys can have an easier time of it. It’s not about “trying harder,” or having more patience, bigger guns, or more rallies. It’s not about stopping athletes from protesting. And, please hear this if nothing else: it’s not about teaching them to be like us; converting those poor, misguided souls into something more advanced, better, smarter, more “spiritual,” etc. This is ultimately just more war. Rather, it’s all about a monumental shift in collective perspective, one soul at a time. That’s kind of fun to say, so I’m going to give it its own line.
A monumental shift in collective perspective, one soul at a time.
One soul at a time.
Until we admit that it’s neither our responsibility nor within our capability to change another person, we’re bound to suffer war after war after war. This doesn’t mean we don’t healthfully debate, teach (if someone wants to be taught) and share our perspectives with empathy and humility in ways that respect the sovereignty and autonomy of the individual. As the mantra goes, “safety first:” no one ever learned anything too advanced while psychic or literal bullets were flying overhead. If we’re to consider a fundamental change then, a safe and peaceful environment works better than one requiring smart bombs and bayonets.
Our responsibility is to meet people where they are in the only moment that matters: the present. One critical component of this is to seek to understand, sincerely and with an open mind, the “whys” that underlie their assumptions. It’s to commit to compassionately love them how they are – as difficult as that may seem, and, due to our own limitations as well as theirs, may truly be. After all, show me love that doesn’t require some self-sacrifice and I’ll show you false love. Ultimately, true love and authentic acceptance mandate a blurring of boundaries between “us” and “them,” even for those who would harm us. In other words, with boundaries so blurred, Jesus’ counsel to “love thy neighbor as thyself” takes on a new meaning. It’s more like, “love thy neighbor as if he were thyself.”
In the next essay, we’ll talk about what we can do from this point to shift our personal and collective perspectives from ones that value war, to one that values peace, with all that such a change entails.