Fear of death puts a definite crimp in the long struggle for peace. When Gandhi proposed non-violent protest, he did it with the clear understanding that death was a possibility. Fear of death creates a need to be physically strong—to be able to overcome someone who is trying to take away something you love. When two opponents who are both afraid of annihilation have the need to be right then one (or both) of them will have to be brought low.
When I think about the wars that have occurred since early in our career as humans, I am humbled by the sheer numbers of young men and women who felt it right and proper to die. They were not afraid. Something larger was calling them to service and they were (usually) willing to go. (I’m not sure the 6-15 year old boys who have been conscripted into fighting were actually willing to leave home and start shooting—you can argue this point with me if you have other details.)
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day." (Willy the Shake. From Henry V)
And I want to say, for the record, that I’m grateful to those who fought to get rid of Hitler and Pol Pot, although I also want to say that these horrid creatures had pretty much the same DNA as I have and that’s damned scary.
We’ve been maturing in our view of the world, albeit in geographic patches around the world. Time has been on our side, but we can see that ongoing, persistent war takes a toll not only on human life and progress but on the planet as a whole. Widespread rape by soldiers sends shockwaves through a society that can last for generations. Landmines kill and maim long after the victors have called it quits. Our short lives, no more than the span of a fruit fly when compared to the universe we inhabit, seem purposeless when they begin in violence and end while walking to school through a field of hidden mines.
And yet we have been guaranteed purpose.
Consider how discord and dissension have prevailed in this great human family for thousands of years. Its members have ever been engaged in war and bloodshed. Up to the present time in history the world of humanity has neither attained nor enjoyed any measure of peace, owing to incessant conditions of hostility and strife. History is a continuous and consecutive record of warfare brought about by religious, sectarian, racial, patriotic and political causes. The world of humanity has found no rest. ….In this most radiant century it has become necessary to divert these energies and utilize them in other directions, to seek the new path of fellowship and unity, to unlearn the science of war and devote supreme human forces to the blessed arts of peace. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace p230 from talks given in 1912 (emphasis mine.)
(to be continued….)