This week, was 100 years since the end of world war One. Armistice has been observed since 1919 and whilst I passionately remember those whose sacrificed and served their country. I wonder why so much conflict still exist and why the loss and bloodshed has not moved humanity to develop better ways of addressing conflict. H. G. Wells referred to the First World War as “a war to end all wars” due to its horrific nature. Yet a little over 20 years later and we saw another world war. We see many conflicts happening, simultaneously, around the world. Sometimes we send troops, or take military action. Other wars, like in the Congo, seem to go largely unreported.
I shall not be addressing the moral question on whether war is a correct course of action to take and in what circumstances. However, the human suffering that results from war is difficult to justify. I do not think I am the only person looking at the world right now, questioning values of humanity. Many ‘conspiracy’ theories propose ideas of a super powerful elite, controlling the worlds affairs, for their own gains, with disregard for the many. Such sinister motives may explain why world leaders involve themselves in some conflicts and not others. I do not know where the truth lies within these illusions but sense a growing discontent and a movement towards wanting greater transparency and accountability.
I consider whether world peace has ever been achieved. I was not able to come up with any reliable information on this, it can vary, depending on your definition of war and other factors. We can be sure that for much of human existence, war has featured. There is a lucrative trade in arms, with an emphasis on protection. However, if weapons are profitable, can there be a commitment to lasting peace?
With levels of violence increasing and more terrorist events happening around the world, can a time without war be considered a time of peace, anyway? It seems to steer us to live more in fear than in peace, and perhaps this just fuels the dilemma. It seems a pertinent time, to reflect and consider the way humanity is moving. Is it ‘out there’ to suggest a rethink of values with an ultimate goal of world peace, rather than our purpose being defined by the accumulation of wealth and power? Mother Teresa said that “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other“.
I try to imagine what it must be like to be a soldier experiencing war, I can’t. What life would be like if war broke out in my city? The atrocities experienced and witnessed by those involved in war are too horrifying, too sad, and too abstract for me to be able to relate to. The brutality and fragility of human life. War is not just about loss on the battlefield. The human cost of war is far-reaching, and lasts long after victory is won. Many mediums are used to tell the personal stories of courage and endeavour, depicted in provocative and meaningful ways. The enormity of what these strong individuals had to overcome, externally and internally, is still somewhat incomprehensible.
Despite the devastation of war, men and women sign up to serve their countries. Wilfred Owen’s poetry, explores ideas of nationalism and pride associated with war. It speaks of great patriotism and honour; individuals prepared to lay down their lives to protect the many but he also contrasts this to the reality of warfare. I feel nothing but gratitude and respect for these people. For me, remembrance is not only to show respect to those who gave so much. Surely, we owe it to them, to understand and seek out ways to prevent such destruction happening again. Aside from the depredation caused through war, it must also be recognised that in such desperate situations, we see heroic acts, displays of camaraderie and true altruism, enlightening us to our endowed, limitless capacity to love. This is the seed of all hope.
There is a feeling that the world is growing more volatile, whether that is the reality or just the rhetoric, it modes the way we perceive the world and as a result, the way we behave. Increased anger and violence, desperation and suffering, creates a culture of fear. Leaders snarling venom, promoting ego and competition, enabling greed and inequality. Groups of people divided against each other, disadvantaged and marginalised. If we are looking to blame and hate each other, how can we be seeking harmony, compassion and affinity to one another?
Accepting that fear can lead to violence may help us find a way forward. There is a rise in the number of young people carrying knives, in some cities, in the UK. Parents, youth workers and the young people, themselves, have stated that in many case knives are carried with no intent to cause harm but through a need to feel safe. However, when we feel threatened we instinctively have a fight or flight response and reactions happen without thought and people die. The solution to the increase in knife crime has been largely directed towards the police with an emphasis on control. Young people don’t think of the police as supporting them to stay safe but perceive them with opposition, adding another layer to the conflict. This further layer of conflict is likely to increase the overall violence and not reduce it. The root of the solution lies with understanding anger, hatred and desperation, and working from there. Solutions that are based on principles of protection and compliance, are also rooted in fear. The fear of a situation getting out of control. This often means we try various means, including force, to ensure compliance. But is this not compacting these very real emotions, enabling them to fester and grow, rather than providing resolution?
Emotions are powerful things, the word emotion, comes from the Latin emotere, literally meaning, energy in motion. If there is a mass of negative, destructive emotions, then is it surprising that these emotions manifest in actions? So surely a solution seems more likely to come out increasing a sense of well-being, of community, trust, fulfillment and worth.
Looking into history, the end of the Second World War in the UK saw the establishment of a welfare state and our National Health Service. I believe the solidarity felt between people during the war, crossed the boundaries of social grouping, deepening our understanding and compassion for each other as human beings, without assumption or judgement.
It is right to remember those who died in wars fighting for our country. However, I believe we need to do more than simply remember. I believe we need to learn and we need to act in a way that promote harmony, sending out our emotional energy, wisely. In the pursuit of peace, perhaps we need to learn from those who could be considered prophets of peace, and learn from their wisdom.
Mahatma Gandhi challenges us to “be the change you wish to see in the world“. It is only by being peaceful that we can create peace. Just as fear, anger and hate can spread like a disease, the same must also be applied to love, understanding, and peace.
Nelson Mandela states “Our human compassion binds us one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future“. We have to seek out the things that connect us not the things that divide us, learn to have the courage to triumph over fear itself and spread love.
Many philosophies refer to an era of peace in ancient times, a golden age. I am not sure anyone can say this time ever existed but I live in hope that it is possible. I think the majority of people on the planet would aspire to peace, I think we have just forgotten how to create this. Mother Teresa, makes the connection between peace and love in the simple act of smiling, “Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love“. You will recognise the power of this, if you have ever walked down the road in a low mood and received a warm smile from a stranger. This is a golden moment, embrace it.
The ruling to go to war is taken by a select few. Trusting the motives of those making the decision is problematic. The outcome can never be preconceived, the censored intelligence can not be scrutinized and the aim seems remote from the actual human cost. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable but I think it is right to feel this way. I also know that I am not alone in feeling this way. We have to recognise that we are empowered beings, our thoughts, emotions and actions can influence the wider world, and this is perhaps how we begin to be advocates of peace, together. So I am going to end this blog with a quote of hope from Martin Luther King in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech (1964) “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality“.