Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

War or peace?

“Peace be with you”, “Go in peace”, “Peace at any price”, Peace, peace, peace!

Time and again we long for peace, we work for peace, we pray for peace, and yet all we do is war! Meekly we kneel in prayer for peace: rashly we rush out to kill or be killed. How can our humanity justify that? What nonsense to believe that all is fair in war, when war itself is unfair, unjust and unnecessary! War and morality don’t mix! To claim that we fight to achieve peace is sheer stupidity. Retaliation breeds retaliation and the killing goes on.

Is war inevitable and who is responsible? Many philosophers believe “war is an all-pervasive phenomenon of the universe”. Greek philosopher Heraclitus (500BC) believed that, German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831), agreed, so did Voltaire,(1694-1778), champion of the Age of Enlightenment, Heraclitus decreed that: “War is the father of all things”. All change, economical, social, political and physical, can only arise out of war. It is almost a glorification of war. What about its ravages, damages, destructions and deaths? Some father!

If war is of man’s making, inherent in his nature, his culture, his predisposition, then he is not responsible. Plato supports that theory: wars, revolutions and battles are due solely to the bodily desires. “Man’s appetite perpetually overwhelms his reasoning capacity which results in moral and political degradation”. That is hard to swallow! Why therefore, is he always striving for peace? Opposing views claim that all is pre-determined and war is a fatal fact of the universe, “one that humanity has no power to challenge.” In other words: “It is written”! That is likewise, hard to swallow.

In his pamphlet “Perpetual Peace”, Emmanuel Kant, proposes that ‘Reason’ is the means to transcend culturally relative differences and sources of friction. Its abandonment is the primary cause of war.

Are we to conclude that man has lost his reason, or has not risen above those animalistic drives, unable to channel them into more peaceful pursuits?

Religion is the answer. All religions call for peace, from ‘Shalom’ to ‘Salaam’, but does religion defy man’s disposition? Can man, ever be truely religious? How often has he raised his sword to kill his fellow-man in the name of ‘Religion’!

Has no amount of reason, intellect, faith, polish, progress or refinement been able to harness that beast within?

On man’s beastly traits, Dostoevsky offers a stinging description in The Brothers Karamazov: “In every man, a beast lies hidden----the beast of rage, the beast of lustful heat at the screams of the tortured victims…the beast of lawlessness, the beast of diseases, vice, gout, kidney diseases and so on”. A harsh and distressing image of man, but as we view depraved and demonic acts of ISIS, it is futile to dispute the existence of such instincts. Yet man is capable of goodness, kindness, mercy and compassion. Do these virtues oppose our natural dispositions?

As we view the world around us, the cruelty, the apathy, the conflicts, the battles, we may be willing to concede that war is ingrained in human nature. Perhaps it is viewed as something noble, driven by the love of honour, free from selfish motives. Is there a greater sacrifice than one’s life? To fight for a cause, an idea, an ideal is lofty and grand, yet why are we reminded of the time when Stalin accused Napoleon and the French of fighting for money, while Russians fight for honour and Napoleon’s retort: “Everyone fights for what he needs.”

However, there was a Gandhi, and he has not been forgotten! Gandhi wrote: “They say means are after all means, I say means are after all, everything. As is the means, so is the end.”

No end justifies any means! There is no way to peace! Peace is the way!

That was the idea of the League of Nations, following WWI and the United Nations following WWII, so repelled was man with the violence and destruction. Whatever happened since?

A Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually to peace-makers since 1901, what right do they have to them? Since 1901 hundreds of millions have fallen victims to wars waged by the Chinese, the Balkans, the Ottomans, slaughter of the Armenians, Stalin’s purges, WW I and II, Mao’s Great Leap; in Viet Nam, Cambodia, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine and on and on and on…Has the beast overtaken the human?

Surely we cannot hold such a dim view of our nature! When reason rules the mind, peace rules the day. On the other hand, what is there to curb our pessimism? “There is no hope because men love war”, says author Fred Heed, “wars are what men do”. Hitler, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, did not fight alone, men followed them, ransacking, ravaging, raping and robbing, gleefully, triumphantly!

Since 3500 BC and the late 20th century 14,500 wars have occurred costing 3.5 billion lives. That leaves only 300 years of peace. Only 8 per cent of history has enjoyed peace, that sweet, brief interim between wars. According to Lawrence H Keely, of the University of Illinois, 90 to 95 per cent of societies throughout history have engaged in at least occasional warfare. Who are those 5 per cent and why can we not learn from them?

Historians, psychologists, politicians and others have failed to agree on why we war, and so have we!

There are 8000 peace treaties for peace. Could we not have one more, and keep it!

“Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.” 

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)


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