Veterans Day is a reminder that wars must become unthinkable

With every war that breaks out, we should realize the need to double down on learning and practicing nonviolence.
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On Nov. 11, 1918, the Allies and Germany agreed to stop killing each other. Almost 20 years to the day later, on Nov. 9-10, 1938, Nazi thugs led a coordinated attack — known as Kristallnacht — on Jewish shops and places of worship, launching the Holocaust.

We humans know how to start wars (see John Stoessinger’s classic “Why Nations Go To War,”). We also know how to end them — eventually, if we don’t think we’re “winning.” However, the thing we still don’t seem to know how to do is avoid them.  

The problem is, to avoid war, we have to go much deeper than political arrangements or institutions (like the United Nations). We have to rebuild our whole image of who we are and what we’re doing here. It’s a tall order, no doubt, but unavoidable.

The best way to start this massive undertaking is to better understand human consciousness. Unfortunately, many people still have the wrong idea about how we’re really built. Just the other day I was watching a documentary that was forwarding the same old dead wrong story: consciousness comes from matter, specifically the “grey matter” we’ve been endowed with.

Yet the right formula is no mystery; saints and sages, among others from times immemorial have been trying to tell us how we’re really built, how reality is really structured. My paraphrase: Consciousness, taking the form of energy, creates the appearance of matter.

What does all this have to do with war and peace?  This, too, is not that complicated: On the level of matter, we’re perfectly separate. Here I sit in California; my friend Stephanie, who asked me to write something today, is in Virginia. You could be anywhere. On the level of minds, we’re in alignment.  On the level of consciousness, we’re one. Consciousness is not situated in space-time.

Of course, we can’t “explain” consciousness, and for the immediate purposes I won’t even try. The point is that if we really realized who we are we wouldn’t even need to avoid wars: They’d be unthinkable.  There are men and women who knew this. Gandhi is a case in point. When the Boer War broke out in 1899, he felt he had to do something to help Britain because he was benefitting from being a British citizen — but he couldn’t pick up a weapon and prepare to kill, so he founded an ambulance corps. When the threat of a Japanese invasion reared its head two wars later his awareness was fully mature, and he’d developed the “matchless weapon” of nonviolence to express it in action. What he urged then might shock  most of us, but it’s the tall order change we’re talking about: He recommended that men and women go to the border and stand in resistance, that if the Japanese massacred them “they would not be able to repeat the experiment.”

To be sure, this was an extreme case where hostilities had been allowed to build and build; there would have been many ways to intervene earlier far less painfully if his “matchless weapon” had caught on in time.

And that brings us to our situation, today. With every war that breaks out, be it in Ukraine or wherever, we should realize that we need to double down on learning and practicing nonviolence.  

Our humanity demands it; our history guarantees its reality.

This story was produced by Metta Center for Nonviolence

We provide educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, with the recognition that it’s not about putting the right person in power but awakening the right kind of power in people. We advance a higher image of humankind while empowering people to explore the question: How does nonviolence work, and how can I actively contribute to a happier, more peaceful society?

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.