What prevents mankind from distributing happiness to all around is the inflated ego of its warriors, both civilian and military, a number of them in the garb of ‘democratic despots’, and others fired by so much of hate that they kill innocents, including their own
In his short address to the nation after the terrorist attack on the gay night club in Orlando, Florida in which 49 people were gunned down and 53 severely injured, with several in critical condition, American President Barack Obama put it to the Americans that ‘we have to decide what kind of country we want to have’. This comment was made with reference to gun laws specifically but also and by implication – given the latest mayhem — terrorist acts.One would have thought that for any right-thinking person this wouldn’t really be an issue, for the choice would be simple: a peaceful country where everybody is happy. Pundits and other experts would then add the details such as physical and environmental security, a healthy population, good government and governance, equal opportunity for all, and all able people in suitable jobs, etc.
About a year after the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in New York, the cover page of an issue of The Economist was headlined ‘A world of terror’. For Newsweek it was ‘Where next for America’s war on terror’. And the same issue of Newsweek also had a title on page 7, ‘New hope for WAR against breast cancer’ (capitals are mine). Many more titles around the world in all forms of media have since been about terror on a regular basis, and are likely to continue to be so for long. Unless love substitutes for hate in warmonger minds.
I think it is correct to say that ever since their advent on the world scene, humans have been warring against enemies real and imagined. It’s almost as if warring is the natural state of man, some men at least. If it is, what a pity indeed. More’s the pity that it is not and we are still at each other’s throats. And some are endemically active at it for religious and obscurantist or ideological reasons.
A betrayal of trust
It is said that we are what we eat and we become what we think. What we put in words reflects what we think. ‘If you desire peace, prepare for war’, goes the saying. And so we prepare for war, because war is what we keep thinking about. We have allowed war to penetrate areas where it should have no place, such as WAR against this or that disease. As a doctor I find this language most objectionable. It is all the more so when it is known that there is such a gap between knowledge and behaviour: knowing that cigarette kills still does not prevent people from taking up smoking. Massive publicity, ‘war’ campaigns have been shown to be less effective in making people comply than the one-to-one advice that is conveyed by gentle persuasion in the doctor’s consultation, because trust is involved. And every war is a betrayal of trust.
The constant harping on war in every conceivable situation does finally induce a warlike mindset, a lack of trust in the ‘other’. Is it a wonder then that there are so many zones of violent conflict around the world, and some endemic, as in Africa and the Middle-East? Those who desire war will not let others live in peace. It will be recalled that the United Nations declared 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace, with a massive worldwide campaign to gather 100 million signatures, which I think was achieved. But the event hardly got the coverage that wars and terror get. We have not heard any more since, but clearly we needed an ongoing equivalent, perhaps ‘International Future for Peace’ rather than just one year. This would be targeted, despite questionable chances of success, at the belligerent brigades, for peace-loving people who live with their heart do not need any slogan. Save to spread it to the others not like them, in the hope of some change of… heart in the latter, assuming they had any…
President Jimmy Carter, when he was awarded the Noble Prize for Peace, had said that he would have voted against the resolution that gave the go-ahead to President Bush in his fight against Iraq as one of the ‘axis-of evil’ countries, the other two being North Korea and Iran. If only Bush had been more mindful of his language, he probably could have rallied more consensus. He should never have used the term ‘axis-of-evil’. Allegedly, he even went so far as to say, referring to Saddam Hussein, that ‘after all this is the guy who insulted my father’. By making America’s problem a matter of personal vendetta, he gave an altogether different coloration to the situation. What he should have said, right from the beginning, is that there is a moral principle of righteousness in human affairs, and that those who did not respect this principle and caused harm to other people and to the common good of mankind by their actions would have to bear the consequences. In that case his fight would have been seen as being not against an individual but for a higher truth which is acceptable to all.
A higher truth
The higher truth is that we are all children of a planet that we are assailing from all quarters without due respect for the limits beyond which it cannot stretch. It is the considered view of those in the know that we are overexploiting our resources, polluting the air, the soil, the atmosphere, poisoning our bodies. In so doing, the haves prey on the have-nots so that the gap between these two is widening further at the international, regional and national levels. Despite the Millennium Development Goals – which as we know were not fully achieved – still nearly a billion people live in absolute poverty, and it goes without saying that every act of destruction only adds more numbers to this lot.
Instead of focusing on war, we should emphasize peace. One year for the culture of peace has clearly not been enough, as pointed out above. Winning the minds and hearts of peoples must be a permanent agenda at the UN and in countries, at all levels of society. Mediators of war must be replaced by promoters of peace. A standing team of ambassadors must be sent around the world all the year-round to speak the language of conciliation and peace, of harmony and mutual accommodation of physical and cultural spaces, of forgiveness and holding out of one’s hands to help those who are the most in need. Nelson Mandela, if he were still alive, would have been the ideal candidate to lead such a team with, among others, personalities such as Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Manmohan Singh and Jimmy Carter forming part. The cost would be peanuts – but the benefits would be immense. It is the choice between a world at peace and a world in pieces.
The option is clear, and humanity has long been in a position to feed, clothe, transport, provide leisure and pleasure to its millions by the combined resources put at its disposal by science and technology. It has all the human and capital resources too, as Arthur Koestler postulated many years ago. What prevents mankind from distributing happiness to all around is the inflated ego of its warriors, both civilian and military, a number of them in the garb of ‘democratic despots’, and others fired by so much of hate that they kill innocents, including their own, for the sheer pleasure of it: as Shakespeare put, ‘as men to wanton flies do’.
The war, if any, should be directed against them, and the language of war addressed to them only. For the rest, we need a paradigm shift in the motif of our language, from WAR to PEACE.
* Published in print edition on 17 June 2016