War and Peace

There are a lot of arguments put forward in favour of war. That it is necessary to combat evil. That wars bring huge social and technological advances. That we must fight to preserve our own safety and access to resources. Nations are carved from conflict and shaped by a history of fighting each other. It’s been a defining aspect of human history for a very long time. At a very basic level, most cultures seem to have the notion that war is not just ok, but necessary and in some cases, desirable. The people who make money out of wars do not tend to be the ones who bear the consequences of blood, pain and loss.

If no one was willing to take arms, there would be no wars. I know it sounds both naive and obvious, but this is a critical truth none the less. While there are some people who thrive on war and enjoy violence, the vast majority of people do not. However, violence begets violence, and once conflict starts and reasons for retaliation mount up, more people are drawn in. Part of this stems from a widespread ‘eye for an eye’ mentality, that it is reasonable to respond in kind. We will do unto others as they do unto us. We mistake revenge for justice.

People have the right to protect themselves from aggression. But why do we face that aggression in the first place? What provokes other people into taking arms and acting violently? What makes a person feel that it would be ok to injure or kill another human being? If we want an end to war and conflict, these are the motives we must understand and tackle. Those who take by force will always have an explanation, a justification for their action. Unless the beliefs underpinning such reasoning get challenged, people will carry on using force on each other.

At a Peace One Day ritual, I invited people to consider what they felt it was worth fighting for. What situation justified hurting or killing another person? We mulled this at length, and came out clear that we felt justified in fighting for freedom, and for survival, or to protect loved ones. We also considered that endlessly tricky notion of fighting for peace. But would we also fight for food if there wasn’t enough to go round? Would we fight for the country? Or for our immediate community? Would we fight for justice? And in situations of dire need – which do often provoke violence, what would we do? It’s easy to sit in a comfy chair with a full belly and feel morally confident, but how would any of us fare if we found ourselves in any of the world’s conflict zones? In truth, none of us can know what we would do, until or unless we are actually tested to our limits. However much we may loathe conflict and despair over wars, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn any ordinary person caught up in them – we do not know that we would do any better.

I invite you to take a moment, and consider what you would fight for, kill for or die for if it seemed needed. What would you support your government over, where war is concerned? If you don’t support your government, how do you deal with that? When is it right and necessary to fight? Some people feel that conflict can never be justified. Where do you stand? We have no hope of achieving peace if we don’t understand what makes us, all of us, inclined to fight each other, or tolerate wars undertaken in our names. If you want to share your ponderings as comments, please do. It’s always good to hear what other people think.