I'm finding it harder and harder, the more I learn about world history, to maintain a completely pacifist belief system. Let me qualify that. I am, personally, a completely non-violent person. I would go to jail rather than serve in the military, and I believe, like Stephen Dedalus, that history (which is, mostly, the history of war) is a nightmare from which we humans have to wake up. On the other hand, it's becoming clear to me that war is not an aberration. We didn't fall from some state of grace to get here, and we are not going to hell when it's over. War is a natural part of the order of things. As living beings, we have been engaged in a struggle for resources since life began. Bigger beings consume smaller beings. Everyone has heard of the food chain, even if in their own minds they think "Isn't nature wonderful and harmonious! But it's kind of harsh. I'm glad we're not part of it any more."
Intra-species struggle is just as much a natural thing as inter-species struggle. War for resources between humans is not much different now than it was fifty thousand years ago, apart from an increased destructive power (which is probably roughly equivalent to the vastly increased population). So I can't look at the coming U.S. war against Iraq as a uniquely evil war in human history. In fact, given how many crimes and deaths Saddam Hussein is known to be responsible for, I am not even sure that I oppose the war any more. I am sure most peace protesters will have found it sickeningly ironic to find themselves congratulated by Hussein after the February rallies in cities around the world. They might even have felt manipulated - I know I would have. The feeling might almost have been worse than the feeling of realizing that government leaders in the U.S. and the U.K. were going to do their utmost to try and ignore the protests and hope they went away. We all saw George W. Bush doing his smug little smile and saying "They should be glad they're living in a country where they're allowed to march," and secretly thinking "Not for long, suckers." I am probably united with the rest of the world in laughing at the transparency of the U.S. motivations for the invasion, and wishing we lived in a more enlightened world, and I am scared of what will happen, especially if the U.N. is destroyed by all this and there is no institution left to contain the U.S., but seriously, is this a uniquely evil war?
All wars are ultimately fought for control of resources. Religion (and certain philosophies) often get blamed for wars, but religion is never the real reason. Religion is a cover used by those who want to persuade people to fight for them. I don't think Osama Bin Laden believes in Allah any more than George W. Bush believes in God. Bin Laden is the rich son of a rich businessman, who was so appalled and traumatized by what he saw in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew that he became an extreme radical. He was never particularly religious before, but after he became a terrorist organizer he realized that religion was the best, easiest and most powerful way to recruit soldiers and make them fanatically committed to his cause. It was a way to gain support from fundamentalist Muslim states. and polarize the world. So he says his prayers and calls on the fire of Allah to smite the infidels, all as a way to tilt the balance of world power and (ultimately) give more economic power to the people he feels have been exploited and repressed. It's both cynical and effective.
Bush does the same thing, as does Tony Blair. I don't believe either of those men has a religious bone in their body. They are simply making concessions to practical reality. Bush needs the support of the Christian fundamentalist factions in America, both voters and power blocs. Blair needs to maintain a moral certainty and moral high ground in order to try to persuade the British public and his own party to follow his lead, because the British don't understand rational argument anywhere near as well as they understand childish moral imperatives - "He is a bad man. We must hit him!" "I am a good man. You must do as I say!" Even that, however, is more sophisticated than the majority of U.S. voters, who seem programmed to follow simple primate pack-hierarchy instructions. Do what the biggest monkey says - OR ELSE! The French and the Germans probably look at this kind of thing with a kind of resigned despair, but then their own histories are not so defensible either. No one is innocent. That's my point.
Throughout history, cities, nations and empires have expanded when they needed to acquire more resources to accomodate their growing populations and standards of living. The process continues until natural limits are hit, either by coming up against an equal power or geographical constraints or something similar. When expansion is stopped, the process of internal dissolution inherent in all living systems has no counteracting force, and the city, nation or empire will crumble, the military will rust, the administration will break down, and the whole thing will break up into smaller, much less effective units. It's a process that has been repeated countless times, and it's perfectly natural. Everything ages, everything dies, and everything balances. The most recent example was the sudden downfall of the Soviet Union. It all happened so quickly because once the breaking point was reached, then the invisible structure that was holding it all together - a thought-structure, manifesting physically - simply ceased to exist, and suddenly everyone could see that it was only a thought. The Soviet Empire was just a thought, and when it was gone, there were just a couple of hundred million confused people left exposed, like hobbits whose magic rings had fallen off.
The Empire of the United States has clearly reached a similar crisis point. You could argue that it should never have got this bad - the United States had so many resouces and such a strong economy that with the proper management it could have become something truly amazing - but something has obviously gone wrong. The economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, smothering under a national debt of 7 trillion dollars (isn't that amazing? Let's all say that number out loud and try to imagine how many bars of chocolate it would buy) and an absolutely enormous commitment to military spending (despite the fact that the U.S. military is already overwhelmingly more powerful than that of most other nations combined). The same financial realities are also resonsible for the internal decay afflicting its huge cities. Low government spending on health care and education mean that these things are very expensive. Parents want their kids to go to college so that they can get good jobs and careers, so they save up for years and pay whatever it takes, probably never wondering how far poorer countries in Europe are able to afford to provide education for free. You have to have health insurance (which is quite expensive to buy) because if you don't, almost any medical treatment might bankrupt you. Pretty much anyone who can afford it, pays it, because what are you going to do? Die of a broken leg as a gesture of protest? Again, much smaller and poorer countries are able to provide free or almost free health care. The practical effect of the U.S. system is that the people who have the money to pay for health insurance stay healthy, while the people who don't (and there are many, many millions) get sicker or die. The people who don't have the money to pay for education or healthcare are disproportionately from ethnic minorities. The inevitable effect is discontent, crime and violence in their communities. Voila - as if by magic, you have a race problem. What should we do, kids? I think we should increase the powers of the government to deal with this kind of threat! Ice Cube's character left out an option in Boyz N The Hood - he said "Either they don't know, or it don't show, or they don't care what's going on in the Hood." It's worse than that. They planned it this way.
Anyone could see it has to break somewhere. There has to come a point where the administration is consuming so much of the available resources, just to maintain the status quo, that there just isn't enough money left to pay everyone working in the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the penal system, the police force, the Secret Service, the army, the navy, etc. All of these people who seem to be a part of the "system" are really just ordinary human people with families and friends. They're in it for the money - after all, this is America. That's when it all comes apart, and they all just go home and wonder what's going to happen next, and everyone can see that it was just a thought - that the thought had stayed alive so long because it was held firm in so many minds. Question it, and suddenly it isn't there any more. The breakup will be accompanied by war - it's almost inevitable. Any massive shift in the global balance of power has always been followed by a war or two, simply because a new state of equilibrium has to be found. No one really wants continual war, unless they think they have the power to win every conflict. Everyone wants to find the balance point again.
So in this kind of world, how can anyone maintain an absolutely pacifist stance? I guess the crucial test would be to look at Mahatma Gandhi, because if anyone made it work, he did. He held unwaveringly to a philosophy and practice of non-violence and civil disobedience, and his leadership and example were key factors in breaking the British control of India, because it forced them to a simple choice - are we really going to kill everyone in this country, just to keep control of it? On the other hand, look what happened directly afterwards. There was a civil war, India was divided and Pakistan was created. Gandhi knew that this would mean endless trouble, and fought hard against it, but in the end there was nothing he could do to prevent it. The two countries have been in constant conflict since then, coming close to nuclear war several times, and one day it just might happen. So was Gandhi right or wrong? Or to put it another way, did he do any good?
I guess it's impossible to answer questions like that. Could Gandhi have become a war leader, and led a united Hindu majority to a crushing military victory over the Muslims, creating a stable, united and peaceful India at the cost of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives? Would that have been "better" or "worse"? The question is purely academic because his personality and beliefs would never have allowed it. My point is that the "best" outcome is never easy to establish, because it's so hard to see into the future, and because conflict over resources is inherent in all of life. So if a bad man goes to war against another bad man, killing thousands of people in order (he says) to prevent thousands of other people from possibly being killed in the future, where is the "right"?
If there are two people, and one piece of cake, I want to live in a world where they always share the cake and then just chill out and look around and be happy just to be alive. However, I don't live in a world like that. I live in a world where the more likely outcome is that the bigger person eats the whole cake; and every attempt throughout history to change that fact has failed. Practically all of the belief systems that were supposed to indoctrinate people into sharing the cake ended up making them think that in order for the cake to be shared, they would have to be in charge of the sharing, because "you can't trust the other guy." Which just goes to show that indoctrination isn't a good idea, even if it's done with good intentions. I don't want to help to create a better system, because there probably isn't one, and all attempts to control the flow of life inevitably rebound. Everything balances. What is the "moral" person to do? Try to enlighten people? That might be a worthwhile way to spend one's time - but then tomorrow. the next day, the day after, a shift of the Earth's geophysical poles could set human civilization back a thousand years. Alternatively, the accompanying magnetic pole shift could jolt the consciousness of human beings all over the world into a higher plane of awareness. Our existence here is fragile. Either way, any attempt to control or influence other people is a waste of time, because the universe will take matters out of your hands at some point. In the meantime, we will all do what we have to do.
I don't have a final message. Nothing anyone else can say is any use to me in the end. I am my own audience, and once this is written I have already moved on from it. If anyone reading it finds it useful, it's only because their own understanding was already there, waiting for a catalyst.