War Ends Today
Today is a good day for war to come to an end.
The symbolic number of 1,000 U.S. casualties was passed today in Iraq—I am writing this on September 9, 2004—most of the deaths occurring after victory was declared over a year ago. What is the world like on the day you read this? I cannot predict, but I know, even if this particular war is over, you will be confronted with terrorism, suicide bombings, insurrections and civil war somewhere on the planet, and nuclear threats from rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. Violence will still be raging out of control, no matter what day you read these words.
At the outset of 2003 it was estimated that thirty military conflicts were being fought around the world. It's a good day for all these wars to come to an end. But will they? And if they do, what will replace them?
To end war, you have to think of ending not just one conflict, and not just thirty. What we have to end is the idea of war, which has turned into the habit of war, and then into the numbing constancy of war. The last time the U.S. wasn't on a war footing was December 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor inflamed the U.S. into declaring war against Japan. Since then, America has accepted the need for a huge standing army, the growth of arms manufacturers and merchants into a massive part of the economy, thousands of troops stationed around the world, intensive research into new technologies of death, and a political climate in which it is suicide to come out against war. This whole situation, which reaches into every home, keeps us on a war footing even when there is no declared war to grab the headlines.
Like any habit, war has worn a groove in our minds, so that when we become very afraid or very angry, the response of war comes naturally. It has an easy track to follow. Even as the body count rises in the Sunni Triangle and the photographs of torture from Abu Ghraib prison stun one's conscience, the groove is still there, deep and familiar. War has almost become a secret pleasure. It brings excitement and revs up the routine pace of life. In Mira Nair's film adaptation of Vanity Fair
, a woman comments smugly at a party, "War is good for men. It's like turning over the soil." We reach for war the way a chain-smoker reaches for a cigarette, muttering all the while that we have to quit. In the past four decades America's war habit has led us into Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Panama, Grenada, Vietnam, and Cambodia, not to mention more covert military operations into places like Laos, Nicaragua, and Colombia.
This book is about erasing that groove and substituting a new way to respond when we are very afraid or very angry, or even when we aren't. The way of peace has to become a new habit. To do that, it must offer a substitute for every single thing that war now provides. You may feel immune to the appeal of war, but everyone has benefited from war's gifts in some measure.
War provides an outlet for national vengeance.
It satisfies the demands of fear.
It brings power to the victor.
It provides security to the homeland.
It opens an avenue for getting what you want by force.
By contrast, living in peace one breathes easily. There is space to allow for connections with other people. Arguments proceed with mutual respect for either side. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa lived different aspects of peace. We learned from each that the way of peace can end suffering and oppression, not by warring against an enemy but by bearing witness to wrongs, and by allowing sympathy and common humanity to do their patient work. War smothers all of that.
War's gifts may prove bitter and empty in the end, but that hasn't eroded the groove of war in our minds. Today, after a century in which more than 100 million people died from war, we survivors still turn to war because we think it does some good. The satisfaction of waging war cannot be replaced by philosophy or religion. The Buddha and the Prince of Peace could not have spoken out more strongly against violence, yet their beliefs have been distorted into a cause for bloodshed at the hands of their followers.
Our age is steeped in mechanized warfare that is totally terrifying in human terms. Somewhere in this country teams of scientists are working on a bomb that will vaporize human beings on contact without destroying the buildings they inhabit. Somewhere in this country other scientists are figuring out how to disrupt an enemy's water, electricity, communications, and transportation using signals delivered by the Internet. Soon we may be able to cripple other nations without even having to set foot in them.
We are almost there now, thanks to high-altitude pinpoint bombing and long-range "smart bombs" that can guide themselves to their targets while our soldiers remain safely out of harm's reach. This technology makes some people, even in the military, very queasy, for it means that our army can kill at leisure without loss of life on our side. The last vestige of honor on the battlefield was respect for the enemy, but no more. The satisfaction of managing death so efficiently has to be added to the list of war's gifts.
Can the way of peace really substitute for all that? Can it succeed where centuries of wisdom and morality have failed?
It can, because the way of peace isn't based on religion or morality. It doesn't ask us to become saints overnight, or to renounce our feelings of anger or our thirst for revenge. What it asks for is something new: conscious evolution.
The time has come for us to stop being passive, and to take control of our own destiny, one person at a time. What keeps war alive? Backwardness of response, a reliance on reactions that human beings have followed since the beginning of history. Violence is not the essence of human nature. It is prevalent, yes, and it is innate. But so is the opposite of violence: love. The way of peace is love in action. Although humankind, explicitly or implicitly, seems to believe that violence is more powerful than love, this is the same as saying that death is more powerful than life.
That simply isn't so. Humanity has evolved to transcend many things that once seemed innate. We have learned to use reason triumphantly. We have overcome superstition and disease. We have exposed the darkness of the psyche to light. We have delved deep into the workings of nature. All these successes point the way to the next step, which is the realization that human beings have outgrown war.
Today isn't the day that I or anyone else can say that human beings are finally and forever beyond war. The only recent news item that gives hope is a small one, a piece of reported data which says that the last twelve months, despite the headlines from Iraq, brought the fewest deaths in war since 1945, the end of World War II. The total body count from all conflicts over the last year was 20,000 worldwide. So the trend may be starting already. You and I, in our anguish to end war, may be catching tremors from the future.
Today is the day to act on them. Just as Newton's formulation of gravity meant that human beings were finally and forever on the road of a new science, a road that has led to a completely transformed world, you and I can create a new turning point. I would argue that for the majority of people in America--and many other parts of the world--the tide of the future has turned already. People are ready to follow the way of peace, if only they can learn what it is.
The way of peace is based on the same thing that ushered in the age of science: a leap in consciousness. When they witnessed demonstrations of steam engines, electric lights, and vaccines, people adapted to them at the level of their own awareness. The idea of being human could no longer be consistent with reading by candlelight, traveling by horse, suffering through high rates of death in childbirth, short life spans, and the ravages of disease. A leap in collective consciousness took place.
The way of peace, I believe, can change the future in the same way. If you and I demonstrate that peace is more satisfying than war, the collective consciousness will shift. Today you and I woke up and found it easy not to kill anyone. Our society, however, can't say the same. It's time for society to take a direction that conforms to what the individual wants. There can be no excuse for living our comfortable lives embedded in a culture of mechanized death and violence. You and I are not innocent bystanders to war. We depend upon it politically, economically, and socially. I will show in detail why this is true, and how we can shift our allegiance to a way of life that is not entangled in war or death. The more people who join us, the faster war will come to an end. Instead of wishing that others would stop killing, you can become a force for peace, and in so doing make the ultimate contribution.
If you shift your allegiance to peace, war ends for you today. This happens one person at a time, but it works. A million tiny earthquakes move more ground than a single cataclysmic quake. There is no better or easier way to live than by catching the wave of evolution. How hard is it to look up and say, Today is a good day for war to end. If your consciousness follows these words and remains true to them, war will never return to your life again.
Copyright © 2005 by Deepak Chopra. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.