Read the entire article here: History News Network | Studying the 30 Years War Gives Me Hope about Our Religious Wars
We all say we want peace, but at the same time we unwittingly engage in behaviors that perpetuate violence. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “we are all players on history’s bloody stage.” Human nature is in large part to blame. However, biology is not destiny. The purpose of civilization is to tame our wilder side. Yet, we still have not been able to end the violence.
Critchley offers an important insight into this intractable problem: “We live in a world framed by violence, where justice seems to be endlessly divided between claim and counterclaim, right and left, freedom fighter and terrorist, believer and nonbeliever, and so on. Each side appears to believe unswervingly in the rightness of its position and the wrongness, or indeed ‘evil,’ of the opposition. Such belief legitimates violence and unleashes counterviolence in return. We seem to be trapped in deep historical cycles of violence where justice is usually simply understood as vengeance or revenge.”
This is not a new insight, but it one that is difficult to sell. If we were reflective enough, we would see this trap we’ve set for ourselves. This insight also requires a broad and deep knowledge of history. It is much easier to offer simple solutions that satisfy our egos and our intuitions. The good vs. evil narrative is simple and it lets us off the hook for any wrongdoing. Savvy politicians know this and use it to their benefit.
Is there any hope then? Critchley offers art, and music in particular, as a solution. But I don’t think this is enough. It will take a much broader effort to convince enough people that we are in fact part of the problem. We also need leaders willing to take up the cause and inspire a new generation to see the world and our place in it differently.
“The interesting question is this: What would a smart power campaign directed against the challenges represented by the Islamic State (which are of course broader than just that group) look like? What are the techniques; levels of resources; and strategies of cooperation, collaboration, and communication?” James Stavridis offers some suggestions: Killing the Islamic State Softly | Foreign Policy
This is a wonderful story on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor: “By Karin Stanton HONOLULU (Reuters) – Former U.S. airman Jack DeTour, 92, and Japanese fighter pilot Shiro Wakita, 88, sworn enemies during World War Two, together poured whiskey from a battered canteen into Pearl Harbor on Sunday to commemorate the 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base. As the sun rose over the USS Arizona Memorial, the two former enemy pilots joined the “Blackened Canteen” service on the eve of the 74th anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack, which took 2,403 lives and drew the United States into World War Two. Standing side by side after meeting for the first time ever, retired Air Force Colonel DeTour and former Imperial Japanese Navy Zero Pilot Wakita together gripped the war-torn U.S. military-issue metal canteen and poured whiskey into the watery grave of the U.S. Navy ship sunk by Japanese bombers.”
“When twenty-one year old Dylann Roof opened fire at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night killing nine worshippers, including its pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, he struck at the very heart of black America.” Manisha Sinha is right, but if it is blow at the “heart of black America,” it is also a blow to the entire nation. It is a reminder of a shameful past, a past that some don’t want to face. But we must if we are to ever to heal as a nation. It is a reminder that we all have a responsibility to call out the lies and prejudices that fuel all kinds of hatred.
And as Rev. Dr. Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, implores: “Each of us is accountable for ourselves. Each of us must examine our lives and our treatment of others if we are going to have even a remote chance of living with the tremendous diversity that exists in our country. We still have not learned the simple principle of living next door to someone who may be different from us. We have not learned to treat others in the same manner that we ourselves want to be treated. We can begin changing America now, and continue one day at a time, if we have the will.” (Time magazine)
Reflecting on the years he spent in conflict zones all over the globe, John F. Burns declared, “What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises. From Soviet Russia to Mao’s China, from the Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban to the repression of apartheid-era South Africa, I learned that there is no limit to the lunacy, malice and suffering that can plague any society with a ruling ideology, and no perfidy that cannot be justified by manipulating the precepts of a Mao or a Marx, a Prophet Muhammad or a Kim Il-sung.” Many of us who have studied ethnic/religious conflict have come to the same conclusion.
But the lesson goes beyond the violent and oppressive regimes encountered by Burns. As Walter G. Moss notes in his article on this topic (“Why Learning from History Means Saying No to Rigid Ideologies” HNN), “the growth of a rigid U.S. political conservativism” has been harmful as well, even if less deadly.
If ideologies are so destructive, can we eradicate them? Moss believes that we don’t need to completely reject “all isms or embracing an unprincipled opportunism. We can, for example, prefer conservatism or liberalism in our approach to politics, as long as we let our individual values and judgments and not some party platform (see, e.g., here for that of the tea party) determine our political decisions.” I agree, but this still leaves the problem of persuading individuals to let go of their cherished world views.
Ideologies are so pervasive because they are comforting and often intoxicating. They give us meaning, certainties, identities, and a sense of self-worth. The best weapon against ideological thinking is education with a healthy dose of the humanities. The study of history in particular could potentially inculcate students against the temptations of ideologies. If students learn how to critically evaluate evidence, make analytic comparisons, and learn to appreciate complexities and ambiguities they will be less likely to fall for the distorted views of ideologies. And any exposure to the long train of human misery caused by ideological rigidity might make them think twice before they fall under the spell of any ideology. I don’t believe that we’ll ever completely eradicate ideological thinking, but we must try to at least limit its appeal.
For now, we as individuals must take responsibility for our own beliefs, and the behaviors that flow from those beliefs. And here Moss’s advice is apt: “Political wisdom requires a proper mix of idealism and realism and other virtues or values such as the love, kindness, and humility mentioned by Pope Francis, as well as compassion, empathy, tolerance, a sense of humor, creativity, temperance, self-discipline, passion, courage, and prudence. The trick is finding the proper combination of such values to apply to any concrete, unique political situation in order to further the common good.”
This December 25 will be the hundredth anniversary of the Christmas Truce that occurred during World War I. An event worth celebrating! Usually most “outbreaks of peace,” as Adam Hochschild points out, are not celebrated but “the anniversary of this one is being celebrated with extraordinary officially sanctioned fanfare.” The fact that this event “did not represent a challenge to the sovereignty of war” and is receiving significant support from European governments and the Football Association [soccer] explains why this particular event (and not other peace promoting events) will be celebrated. While Hochschilds supports the celebration of this event he thinks that we should celebrate peace and peacemakers more often. He suggests:
I hope everyone will take the time to watch this TED Talk. Because Zak Ebrahim’s father was a terrorist he has a unique perspective on the subject. But Zak is not just any son of a terrorist, he is a thoughtful and compassionate human being that we could all learn from. His message is one of choosing love and compassion over hatred and revenge. The message is for all of us! Please watch the video!