I recently participated in a forum at a teach-in on peace and the war in Afghanistan. I was uncomfortable because I had previously concentrated more on community development, civil rights and the war on poverty. I considered peace and anti-war activism to be the same cause.
The anti-war activist always seemed to me to be fighting against wars after they had started, rather than preventing them. I know my assumption was based upon my ignorance and naiveté. I had to give this issue more thought and attention.
I learned that war and peace deserve more of our attention than most of us have been willing to give. I believe that the Afghanistan War is the result of a war paradigm. Corporate war profiteers, lobbyists, politicians and others encourage a war paradigm for their own self-interest. The loss of life and limb, prestige, integrity and other resources by many is too great a price to pay.
The impact of war doesn’t stop when wars end. The physical, religious, psychological, political and economic effects of wars stay with us for too long a time. Influential elites are rarely serving in the wars anymore. Our young men and women who serve are forced to fight for veterans' benefits when they complete their duty.
We live in a world devoid of the seeds of peace.
We live in a world that nurtures the seeds of difference, hostility, oppression, war and ultimately extinction.
Too many of our learned and cherished behaviors are not preludes to peace. They are pathways to war. We begin early in life encouraging hierarchical comparisons of people based upon values and characteristics, which we think put our group in advantageous positions.
We encourage the notion that others aren’t as good as us and consequently have less value.
Since they have value only commensurate with the traits we proclaim they share with us, we can easily be hostile toward them.
Bullies rationalize their behavior in this manner.
When we engage with each other, competition is encouraged and rewarded over cooperation. We want to win to maintain our sense of superiority. This negative and hateful thought process encourages disrespect rather than love of our fellow inhabitants of earth.
These seeds of hostility and violence are imbued in us and refined as we age.
When harm occurs to "lesser others,” we rationalize they had it coming or they are collateral damage in our quest to win. Attempts at negotiating with the opposition are frowned upon. We must win over them.
Drones, bombers, land mines, suicide bombers and maybe more nuclear devices that could exterminate everyone and everything are the result of our indifference to “others." If we are to address this war-oriented behavior, we must develop a paradigm of harmony, cooperation and negotiation while learning to encourage and value differences. We must look for the many essential commonalities rather than the insignificant differences. This will provide us with a wealth of resources and relief from war anxiety. The Chilean coal miner rescue efforts illustrate what different people and nations have the capacity to achieve working together for peaceful, unselfish goals.
Peace is not a plateau but a process that must be constantly nurtured. After participating in the teach-in, I encourage every organization in the U.S. to learn more about the cultivation of peace and the dangerous impact of war.
Whenever our interactions with others occur, we have an opportunity to choose a peace or war paradigm. We should respect and love all life and choose peace.
"All we are saying is give peace a chance." —John Lennon
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and an MU professor emeritus.