By SEAN GONSALVES
Well, it’s New Year’s Eve and like millions of other Americans I’ve come up with a resolution. I hear that self-prescribed goals have a better chance of being met if the promise-maker shares it with someone else, based on the theory that most people want to live according to what they say they are going to do.
So I resolve to meditate more. Call it the Year of Meditation, which, according to many experienced contemplatives, is not a mere mental exercise but a prelude to right action.
Let the meditation begin. Right here. Right now.
I am led (compelled?) to meditate on peace, it being the holiday season.
But meditating on peace at a time when war is being advertised, or rather sold, as the way to peace gets confusing.
Considering my status as a spiritual weakling, I brought along some help via “The Little Book of Peace,” given to me as a Christmas present, hoping to stand on the shoulders of giants that I may catch a glimpse of a better world.
The great English novelist Joseph Conrad asserts that “what all men (and women) are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace.”
Everyone — and I mean everyone — is for peace. Even Hitler wanted peace — not a just peace but a peace that excluded non-Aryans.
Of course, before Conrad there was the German monk Thomas à Kempis who expressed a similar sentiment: “All men desire peace but few indeed desire those things which make for peace.”
Or to put it another way: “Being a pacifist between wars is as easy as being a vegetarian between meals,” in the words of the Christian anarchist Ammon Hennacy. That’s why it’s not enough to call for peace. The important question is always: peace under what terms?
I’m amazed at some of the arguments hawks use to defend war policies, which usually go beyond polemics for a “just war” and descend into ridicule of pacifism and non-violence as being dangerously naive in the face of “reality” and human nature.
But there is truth about human nature contained in the Buddhist insight: “Hate is not conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.” Who can refute it?
Or how about the less esoteric observation made by Anna Julia Cooper, former slave turned feminist? “Peace produced by suppression is neither natural nor desirable.”
Why? Woodrow Wilson answers: “Victory would mean peace forced upon the losers, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which the terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only upon quicksand.” How’s that for keeping it real?
Yes, the world has changed since the days of so-called Wilsonian idealism — one notable change being that to express such a truism in public discourse is to run the risk of being blacklisted as a terrorist sympathizer.
But to sidestep the predictable consequences of war by pretending that the elimination of a particular enemy will bring peace is just as foolishly naive as peace activists’ vague calls for disarmament.
The world is not yet ready for disarmament. Doves would do well to consider what philosopher William James wrote in his famous study on religious experience. “What we now need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war: something heroic that will speak to men as universally as war does, and yet will be as compatible with their spiritual selves as war has proven itself to be incompatible.” Pro sports may be our best hope in this regard.
Until we find a “moral equivalent of war,” we will continue to have wars. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should lie to ourselves. Our military tradition, at its finest, is a legacy of brave men and women risking their lives to fight for our rights.
But let’s not deny that many, if not most, young people who join the services these days do so because they are looking for educational or job opportunities, not because they want to defend “freedom.”
And with our heavy reliance on superior air power and high-tech weaponry to fight our enemies, not only has the battlefield changed with modern war but the spiritual dynamics have changed also. And that comes with a high moral price.
“Technology has allowed the world of men in our society to separate itself from the sight and the sounds of killing; from the horror of it, but not from the killing. It must be easy to kill from a roomful of fluorescent lights and wash-and-wear shirts,” says Caryl Rivers, a Boston University professor.
And finally, there is A.J. Muste’s famous quip, which must irritate the sensibilities of those who ask: What is the way to peace? “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
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