Is Peace Possible? War – Part 1 of 4 – 1967 Editorial

December 20, 1967

War ravages many lands on this, the 1,967th birthday of He who is called the Prince of Peace.

It is appropriate, therefore, that we examine the nature of war and the prospects of peace before we take up the pleasantries of Santa Claus or even the inspirations of the Miracle Birth.

It is passing strange that so fundamental a human activity as war — something that affects our lives deeply — should be so little understood. There has grown up over the centuries a great deal of nonsense about the nature of war that interferes with our perspective. Not until we know the truth of war can we decide for peace.

From the personal view of those engaged in military combat, war is a nasty, negative business. General William Sherman is reported to have summed it up in an address before the Michigan Military Academy in 1979,

“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

We start, then, with the unassailable observation that war is, indeed, hell.

From this point on, however, let us examine war from the larger viewpoint of society for it is at this level that wars are made and ended. The first step forward in our quest for truth in this matter should be a realization that death and agony of individual participants has little bearing on the popularity of war. The advantages of war have to this date outweighed the horrors.

From studies of primitive peoples in isolated parts of the world today, anthropologists have deduced that our hunting and herding ancestors were accustomed to fighting for territory. However, tribal destruction was rare. Only warriors engaged in mortal combat. Possessions were not fixed in place so retreat was more sensible than a fight to the finish over territory that would be abandoned sooner or later.

Organized, sustained war is an invention of civilization with the same degree of ingenuity as the wheel, alphabet and bronze. It began with the discovery of wheat and establishment of permanent farming villages in ancient Sumer (Iraq) some six thousand years ago.

With the planting of crops and lists the building of houses, man was anchored and could not give way to aggressors. The acquisition, development and defense of new territory now required the coordinated efforts of members of ever larger groups. When conflict over territory occurred between two anchored groups, a “war” of death, destruction and subjugation was the easiest solution.

From history and anthropology we learn that war is not a carry-over from our animalistic beginnings. Rather, it is a comparatively modern institution invented and continuously improved for civilized goals.

There is no inherent tendency to war in the nature of man. Nothing in his psychological makeup drives him to wanton killing. Very few of Nature’s creatures seek combat for the thrill of it, least of all primitive people whose existence is precarious at best. The most fearless of animals or nomadic hunters will retreat before fighting if given the opportunity.

War is only an institution serving man!

Contrary to popular thought, war is terribly efficient in advancing the interests of civilized groups. It is this very efficiency that makes war so frequently used. Time and again our decision makers have persuaded us to accept the hell of war because of the recognized efficiency of war for gain or for defense.

It must be admitted that under the demands of war we have accelerated our technology and social organization. It took man several millions of years as an independent, comparatively peaceful being to progress from stone hammers to farming.

Under six thousand years of “civilization” (literally: man of the city) we have come from mud huts to space rockets. The necessity of keeping up with Enemy Jones has spurred us to stupendous, inventive effort. What we call progress is due in large part — but not wholly — to the requirements of war.

Being an intelligent being, it is likely that man would have gone to the moon eventually, but in millions of years instead of thousands. Whether the acceleration in technology and supporting activities has been worth the sacrifice is a philosophical question only. Whether we wish to continue the pace is a pertinent question of great import.

Jesus preached the brotherhood of man as the instrument of peace. Cynics are wont to put down this thesis as impractically idealistic. Yet, logic — if not faith — compels concurrence with Jesus’ wisdom.

In recent years, anthropologists have confirmed what Jesus declared nearly two thousand years ago — that peace is dependent upon universal identification of man with the single group of man, and the sharing of wealth with those not having it. In non-theological terms it means peace will be possible when we no longer think of ourselves as Americans, or Moslems, or black men, or communists or any other distinguishable group.

Also, we must invent a better institution than war to resolve group conflicts in a manner that distributes available resources more or less equally to all men.

Different groups have different wants. Until we share equal standards and equal satisfactions, we will suffer from inter-group conflict and resulting inter-group aggression.