Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Broken Promise of War

by Troy Chapman

(published September 03)

War told us it would make the world a better place. It told us it would increase goodness and reduce evil.

So we said, “Yes, let’s wage war.” True, we might have said no to this or that particular war but we have said yes to the idea of war again and again. We’ve said yes so often war has become part of who we are.

Yes to war on crime. Yes to war on drugs. Yes to war on poverty. Yes to war on abortion or on government control of our bodies. Yes to war on getting old. Yes to war on fat. Yes to war on communism, terrorism, violence, and ultimately, yes to war on anything we think is “evil.” War is our response to evil.

And war promised to win; it promised to stamp out evil. But it has lied. The world is not a better place; there is not more good and less evil, and war has become the evil it set out to kill. The more war we wage, the more evil worms its way into our world. We attack it on one place, it changes form and comes up somewhere else. War generates evil.

Why? Because when we’re waging war we’re ignoring goodness. We assume that if we kill enough evil, goodness will simply rise up spontaneously. This is a deadly error. Goodness isn’t just what “happens” when evil is eradicated. Goodness is something that must be cultivated, planted, tended, and grown the way we grow wheat. But we’ve left the fields and gone off to war. When’s the last time you heard a politician calling us to goodness? The nation scoffed when Dennis Kucinich called for a national department of peace that would look for and implement ways to grow goodness the way the department of war looks for and implements ways to “fight evil.” We believe in war but not in goodness.

Where do we begin to turn that around? Where do we begin saying no to war and yes to goodness? Many people protested the war in Iraq but as I watched it all I wondered how many of the protesters were really against war — the whole idea of it — and how many were just against this war. It seemed to me that in many ways the protests were an affirmation of war. The protesters were waging war against the war in Iraq, on President Bush in general, and considered him as much an enemy as he considered them.

If we want to say no to war it can’t be just the wars we happen to disagree with. If we want to truly say no to war we must say no to it in our own hearts and minds. We must say no to the very idea that harming, crippling, and destroying will increase goodness.

Ultimately war is an attempt to control. If we want to say no to it we must trade our impulse to control for a desire to influence. We can’t make life or people do what we want. What we can do is influence them. And nothing influences people more toward goodness than love and goodwill. When we realize that life is inherently uncontrollable (the only way to truly control it is to kill it) we will return our attention to mastering the art of influence that we abandoned for the promise of control.

Only love will increase goodness and make the world a better place. When we realize this we will commit fully to it and learn to apply it effectively. If it seems impotent, it’s only because we’ve starved it of our creativity, our energy, and our respect, choosing instead to pour these into war and control.

Ask yourself what would happen if we put only half as much energy, creativity, and human resources into love as we now put into war. What would happen if Americans poured into prisons, teaching, validating, restoring, confronting, and provoking offenders to rise up and be whole? What would happen if we went into juvenile homes, claimed these children as our own and acknowledged our failure of them? What if we wanted them to change for their own benefit rather than for ours, that is, simply because we love them?

We want goodness without the bother of having to love people. That’s the promise of war: that we can make people “be good” without loving them. How many times must this promise be broken before we realize it’s a lie and abandon it?