In response to the invasion of the Ukraine our friend Alexandra Morosco recently loaned us her moving and timely sculpture that I have attempted to capture above. A parental figure kneels between two agitated children tenderly restraining them and holding them apart. Alexandra entitled it “When God’s Children Fight.” The sculpture captures the poignancy of any level of conflict. Whatever the cause in any conflict, our immediate impulse is to seek a way of understanding and addressing the real or perceived wrong that led to the situation becoming violent, and then to want to intervene, to provide comfort, and to settle the dispute as best we can.
The sculpture is a personal representation of our response to conflict. It may not evoke a direct connection with the war now being waged in the Ukraine, but as we observe the invasion we are most moved by the photos and stories of individuals, most often innocent victims, as they face the tragic loss of homes and the constant fear of bombings and death. If possible our heartfelt response would be to comfort and protect them, to stop the fighting all together, and then to support a healing process that would settle the original conflict.
I detest war. War depresses me. It is the most egregious failure of humanity. It is brutal and destructive beyond imagination. Like being told the most outrageous lie imaginable, we are inclined to deny or ignore the vast and tragic way war undermines our faith and trust in each other. War is institutionally sanctioned preparation and execution for the gruesome death of combatants and the murder and displacement of innocent people. It is most often justified as defense, although none of the most recent wars could be honestly reconciled with just war theory.* I am primarily a pacifist because I consider war so evil, so counter to the meaning of life, culture, and moral bearing.
Although I am a pacifist I have been fascinated with war history as a means of trying to understand it and prevent it in the future. Adam Hochschild’s book, To End All Wars about WWI, for example, describes an account of war’s carnage and the failure of leadership. WorldWar I was thought to be horrific enough that the world would never want to engage in war again. They were wrong because the injustice of the settlement of WWI was actually a set up for WWII. And most recently I honestly thought that the only redeeming possibility of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan would be that it should prove conclusively the cost, futility and misguided madness of war making. But I have my doubts.
Enough about war. What I actually want to write about this evening, in spite of the failure to prevent the invasion of the Ukraine, is my response with a fervent hope that it will be possible to abolish war as we have slavery. I believe humanity will create viable alternatives, most of which we cannot yet imagine, that will prevent international, internecine and tribal deadly aggressions. But before you dismiss me as only a wishful idealist, current research and experience is actually very encouraging.
Space does not allow an extensive review of why I think we can yet abolish war, but I would like to offer four examples.
1) I would start with citing February 15, 2003, “The Day the World Said No to War.” In some 800 cities across the globe it is estimated that between 12 and 14 million people took to the streets to demonstrate against the Iraq war. While the demonstrations did not prevent the war, the protests proved the clear illegality of its justification, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists.
2) Truth and Reconciliation as a means of healing violent conflict and preventing ongoing bloodshed as happened in So. Africa.
3) There is a growing movement beyond the United Nations to provide opportunities for peaceful negotiations that prevent war. The U.S. government supports several U.S. agencies committed to preventing deadly conflict before it occurs.
4) Current research by Erica Chenoweth and others in her book Civil Resistance has shown that civil, or nonviolent, resistance, is actually significantly more effective than violent revolutions, and it is being used widely throughout the world.
Now back to the Ukraine. The world did not have the capacity to prevent the Russian invasion Ukraine, it is true, and that is a source of great disappointment and sadness. We have yet to assess what we can learn about this failure and continue to search for alternatives. What can the world do to stop further destruction and end the conflict through extensive and ongoing diplomatic efforts similar to the adult figure in our sculpture? Will the Ukrainian people be able to muster effective nonviolent civil resistance?
Many of you will disagree with my passionate hatred of war and perhaps my idealism that war can be prevented. But I do believe there is hope based on the inspiration of those who continue to study nonviolence as an alternative to deadly conflict. I only ask that you be open and curious how efforts to abolish war are continuing. The figure in the sculpture, in a way, represents the better angel of humanity, if not of God, that wants to prevent the causes of war and find better ways to heal its aftermath.
Blessings and peace,
*The seven principles of the justice of war are commonly held to be: having just cause, being a last resort, being declared by a proper authority, possessing right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used.