Are We Really Committed to Peace?
How grateful I am for having had the opportunity to read 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis. Admiral Stavridis remarks, “This is not predictive fiction. This is cautionary fiction.” In other words, it is within us to chart a better future.
Jackie Salit sent the book, “In the hope that peace will prevail.” Yes, thank you, Jackie, that is my hope, too.
At first it seemed that the book was about the danger of a technology-dependent society, including a technology-dependent military. About our exposed vulnerabilities when we lose our competence and ability to operate without technology, always open to a rapid turn of events, with the devastating consequences that could so quickly befall us in the event of an “enemy” shrewdly hacking the important infrastructure we rely upon.
But this book is about more; it develops a bigger picture and has opened up my imagination as to who we can become.
The book is about people we recognize; it is about us. All of us.
It is about the tension that can be found between honorable patriotism and ultranationalism; self-defense and aggression; loyalty and conscientious objection.
It is about the tragedy of decisions being made with political considerations outweighing “what is right,” what is “moral,” what is humane.
It is about myopia: people only looking out for themselves and how things will affect THEM, or their Party, or their OWN country, or, people only thinking about the immediate benefit or consequence, and failing to look at the big picture, the greater good, the long-term consequences.
And it is about the need for individual and systemic change.
War is a terrible thing. So many lives lost. So much suffering. So much destruction. Senseless. It breeds anger, hate, sadness, regret, isolation. So much lost potential, lost beauty, lost creativity.
Any and all war should be avoided . . . at all costs. Are we truly committed to that?
We have developed, and cling to, our exceptions and “buts” — theories of “just war,” confidently rationalizing why war is so often unavoidable. And certainly, there are people who commit evil acts against innocent people: how do we protect innocent life without destroying more life or entering a never-ending cycle of aggression?
When we are so sure we are on the right side, the just side, and then we are confronted with a threat against “the right,” that undermines “the right,” or is hostilely opposed to us, then we feel it becomes our “moral duty” to “fight” that enemy. It becomes “us” versus “them.” And in the process, “they” are otherized, dehumanized, and not to be listened to, respected, valued or cared about. They are to be “destroyed.”
To some degree, we seem to romanticize war. Too often we find a kind of “heroism” in war, a satisfaction in “victory,” almost a longing or nostalgia for the good old days of “strength.”
When it comes to two or more nations going to war, many decisions are made that are out of our control. So what can we, average people do, to help ensure peace? Obviously, this isn’t an easy answer. But the more of us who are committed to peace, at all costs, the more likely such a mindset will play out on the world stage.
It starts by looking within. I can talk all I want about our public officials needing to be committed to peace. But am I a peacemaker in my daily dealings? Do I care about relationships more than about being right? Do I care about the big picture more than about how things affect me or my direct interests? Do I care about the process and the means more than about the ends? Do I value others as much as myself? In promoting my causes, do I remember the REASON why they are important to me, or do the causes become an end in themselves? Do I seek to implement my causes, my vision, through persuasion and cooperation or through tension and victory over others? Do I allow contempt to arise within me towards those who I find to be “in opposition” to me, my ideas, my causes, my well-being? Do I seek mutual value and edification with all those with whom I interact?
The truth is: although I believe in being that kind of person, and want to be that kind of person, I cannot say that I always am. When we care deeply about things, and I do, it’s easy to feel “outrage” towards those who appear not to, or who appear to be working directly against all that is good, all that is true and valuable, all that is important. We need to learn to not make things personal, about us or about them.
There was a point in the book where Lin Bao “allowed himself to conjure an alternative history, one in which the miscalculations of the past four months had not occurred . . . .” As he witnessed “the single greatest act of destruction in the history of mankind,” he couldn’t help but wonder if “[p]erhaps a single dissenting voice, properly applied, [could have] prevented this collective madness.”
Many of us have perhaps already learned that lesson of the need for dissent in the face of injustice, moral failings, or abuse of power. But how will we dissent? Can we do it without our own form of violence? In our “demand” for peace will we foster lack of peace? It will require much from us to be examples of how to stand up for goodness, truth, justice, mercy and peace without undermining those very things. To seek understanding of those who are opposed to us. When we are in the heat of conflict, it’s often too late. We have to start NOW.
My favorite part of the book was how it humanized those on all sides. That is the true tragedy of war. Everyone has value: a story, a family, strengths and weaknesses. It is up to us to bring out one another’s virtues and strengths. It is up to us to help create a world where instead of pitting ourselves against one another, we seek to build. At our core, we are One. If some of us lose, we all lose. There are no winners in war.
Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and President of New Hampshire Independent Voters and New Hampshire Ranked Choice Voting.
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