CXLII – To End All Wars

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u201CWhat
if they gave a war and nobody came?u201D
This was one of the better bumper-sticker
messages of the Vietnam War years. Its
sentiments provide an insight to the
question of whether it is truly possible
to end the war system.

There
is a way to end all wars, and the means
of doing so can be stated in the following
words: we must learn to love our
children and grandchildren more than
we do the state. That's it. No international
treaties; no candlelight vigils; no
referenda by the electorate; no abstract
philosophic doctrines to recite. All
that is required to end the wholesale
butchery that most of us are eager to
celebrate with the waving of flags is
for each of us to put the faces of our
children and grandchildren alongside
the image of the state and ask ourselves:
which am I prepared to sacrifice
for the sake of the other?

There
is a common assumption, the falsity
of which is most often revealed in times
of crisis, namely, that parents have
an intense love for their children.
When the costs of protecting and fostering
the interests of our children are relatively
low, this statement probably finds a
great deal of support in human behavior.
I would go even further and, consistent
with Richard Dawkins' book The
Selfish Gene
, add that most
parents would likely risk their own
lives to save those of their offspring.
I have seen mother birds fake an injury
to themselves in order to draw a predator
away from her nest of chicks, a practice
as instinctively based as that of a
human mother putting her children behind
her when confronted by an attacker.
What we think of as our u201Cfree willu201D
is not always the product of our conscious
thinking, but is often driven by a genetic
disposition to continue itself into
another generation.

If
this is so, what kind of u201Ccrisisu201D could
cause parents to override these natural
tendencies to protect their children
from harm or death? This inquiry raises
the question of u201Cwhou201D we are. If, as
I believe to be beyond all doubt, each
of us is motivated by self-interest,
u201Cwhou201D is the u201Cselfu201D whose interests
we are fostering? Is it our protoplasmic
and/or egoistic sense of being? Does
it include our extended family relationships,
and perhaps that of our friends, neighbors,
and work associates? In the words of
Alice's caterpillar, u201Cwho are you?u201D

Since
early childhood, our minds have been
carefully conditioned — by institutions
presuming the authority to train us
in mindsets that serve their interests
— to regard our subservience to organizational
purposes as an integral part of who
we are. In a secular society, such subservience
is to the state. This is not simply
a matter of being trained to favor state
interests over our own, but
of learning to have such interests coalesce
into a unified sense of self.

It
is in this way that we develop u201Cego-boundaryu201D
definitions of u201Cwhou201D we are. Such categories
go far beyond political classifications,
to include race, nationality, religion,
gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, ideology,
or any of numerous other categories
by which we have come to think of u201Courselves.u201D

In
our politically-structured world, most
of us have learned to identify ourselves
through the nation-state of which we
are a part. From this transformation
from our biological/egoistic definition
of u201Cselfu201D into a u201Cnationu201D or u201Cstateu201D
meaning, our minds become prepared —
like that of a mother bird — to risk
our individual lives in order to protect
our enlarged definition of u201Cself.u201D It
is a mistake to assume that we are u201Csacrificingu201D
our sense of self in going off to war:
the interests of the nation-state are
the self-interests of the person
who has identified himself with this
ego-boundary. This is what drives the
suicide-bomber to destroy both himself
and others.

How
does one break into this vicious circle
of institutionalized and sanctified
destruction and put an end to it? We
make the feeble excuse that wars will
end when u201Cothersu201D change their ways
and decide to quit the practice. But
you have no control over others. The
illusion that you do is what creates
the war system. Since war involves
two or more parties, and you cannot
control the energies of others, your
efforts to end wars is necessarily confined
to the withdrawing of your participation
in the system.

But
how is this to be done? Our conditioning
often leads us to suppose that political
involvement — such as working on behalf
of candidates — is the way out of war's
destructive ways. But politics is
the war system, whether conducted
against domestic or foreign
enemies. Believing that you can
excise the most vicious and destructive
part from the political thinking that
spawns it, is like believing you can
end cirrhosis of the liver without confronting
the addiction of alcoholism. Such an
approach is a total evasion of the problem.
It is as though ending wars is only
a matter of generating popular slogans,
spreading the use of bumper-stickers,
or erecting international scarecrows
to ward off the same forces that underlie
all political action.

If
you have been conditioned to see yourself
as a manifestation of the u201Cego-boundariesu201D
with which you have identified yourself,
is it not evident that examining your
own thinking — including the processes
of your conditioning — might be a place
to begin? Does your very soul insist
— as it was trained to do — upon maintaining
its u201Cpledge-of-allegianceu201D commitment
to the state? If you consider your
existence subordinate to the state's
interests, upon what basis could you
urge a higher purpose for your children?

During
the Vietnam War years, I recall hearing
a few fathers — themselves veterans
of World War II — expressing shame over
their sons who fled to Canada rather
than getting themselves fed into the
war machine. I also recalled the statement
– whose author I no longer remember
– that a man had a moral duty to
not allow his children to grow up under
tyranny. What pathetic beings, and what
terrible parents, were those men who
felt disgraced by sons who regarded
their well-being more highly than they
did that of the state.

There
are few more depraved forms of child
abuse than those found in parents not
only allowing, but eagerly promoting,
the sacrifice of their children to any
purpose. This tendency is often brought
on, I suppose, by a lack of awareness
of the harm faced by the child. Politics
feeds and depends upon an ignorance
of the costs of its undertakings, a
lack of awareness that government schools,
the media, and other statist voices
have no interest in helping people to
overcome. If we were able to comprehend
the consequences implicit in our present
action, we would be less inclined to
act without assessing the costs of our
doing so.

If
your child wished to participate in
military action that others portray
as u201Cheroicu201D — an image reinforced by
movies starring the likes of John Wayne
(who had the good judgment to remain
out of World War II!) — your sense of
parental love and responsibility might
dictate your taking him or her to visit
a veterans hospital or cemetery to see
the costs others have borne.

I
disagree with those who do not want
to see military caskets or the bodies
of dead children shown on television.
The sociopaths who tune in to Faux
News in order to tune out to reality
should — along with other defenders
of the war system — be provided a steady
showing of decapitated children, or
bodies blown apart by cluster bombs.
Likewise, parents whose children are
of military age and inclination should
be shown photographs of soldiers blown
into many pieces by an artillery shell.
The purpose of making such pictures
available is not to gratify perverted
tastes, but to give everyone a demonstration
of the real costs of warfare.

It
is the essence of responsible behavior
for individuals to experience all the
costs of undertakings of which they
approve. Most of us prefer to hide behind
and take refuge in our ignorance. Perhaps
pictures of dead and maimed soldiers
and children can help overcome this
trait, tempering the enthusiasm with
which so many people feed their children
to the war machine.

How
do we dismantle the ego-boundary structures
in our mind, and walk away from the
citadels of state power? Is it possible
for us to discover how to be an American
— or an Australian, Norwegian, or Egyptian
— without attaching existential importance
to that fact? If so, we will likely
end the divisions between ourselves
and others and end our contributions
to the war system that is the
state. We will then be able to embrace
our children and grandchildren with
the love we have hitherto given to the
nation-state, and no longer be willing
to sacrifice their lives in the playing
of this insane game.

Perhaps
Dawkins' book may help us discover the
fact of our genetic commonality with
all human beings, an awareness that
will help us break down the walls states
find it advantageous to their interests
to erect among us. By ending the separation
between u201Cusu201D and u201Cthem,u201D we may find
ourselves unwilling to sacrifice the
lives of other people's children for
the u201Coffenseu201D of having been born in
the u201Cwrongu201D country, or of parents of
the u201Cwrongu201D religious views. Can the
war system long survive if the anger
and hatred generated by political systems
were to be dissipated by the forces
of love for our children?

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