The language of war, of destruction and killing is everywhere, it comes easily to us. Even if you only occasionally watch, listen to, or read the news, you cannot escape it. The words create images that permeate the brain, clouding perception of the immediate and darkening what might lie ahead.
‘Peace is boring,’ she said with the certainty of a thirteen-year-old. ‘If we all lived in peace life would be very boring.’
Every time another wave of organised violence crashes down upon innocent occupants in their flats and houses; their lives exploding with horror and misery, I am reminded of this girl’s words in that class of children some fifteen years ago. There was an imperceptible murmur of agreement from a few, but mostly there was a profound silence. It may be true that we have become slaves to entertainment and crave excitement and stimulation in our passive and disconnected lives; but it is certainly true that there is part of us buried deep within our minds and hearts that yearns for stillness, calm and tranquility.
Our advancing technologies and scientific innovations continue to give the illusion of the progress of humanity, that time is an unstoppable process from one success to another, constant improvement. However, we know that this is not the case as we remain in the thrall of hatred, division, fear, and greed. Our relationships are built on ever shifting ground and we are constantly looking for safety through power and material security.
In Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Myanmar and now in Ukraine, to live in peace is what the vast proportion of these populations want. They want to go about their lives with their families and friends without the threat of being destroyed by bombs, bullets, shells, and rockets. Meanwhile, weapons are being bought and sold through the multi-billion-pound arms trade, and new, more effective, weapons are being researched and produced. There is much profit to be had in killing our fellow human beings under the euphemistically named ‘defence industry’.
‘This is, I’m afraid a very naïve piece of writing. You cannot believe that what you have written here could possibly happen... It’s rubbish really.’
The teacher tosses the piece of paper towards me with disdain. After all this man was high up in the Sudanese Colonial Police Force before he became a teacher, he had sentenced people to death. The British Empire was not built on the ideas of this foolish boy.
I am about fifteen years old, sitting in a class of boys in a boarding school in 1967. I had written an essay in support of the phasing out of all nuclear weapons. I had argued that these weapons threatened the very existence of the human species, and that it was only a matter of time before a powerful leader with access to nuclear bombs and missiles would threaten to use them. Once the threat was out then it would only be a short step to their actual deployment.
The teacher turns when he reaches his desk and, with a withering look, says,’ Nuclear weapons have made the world a safe place.’
The year before this took place, I was sitting in the school chapel enduring another daily compulsory school service conducted by the chaplain. I sat, like most of the boys there, reducing whatever went on to a background noise to whatever daydream I chose to conjure up. My years at boarding schools had convinced me of the astounding hypocrisy of the teachers, professing the love of Jesus on one hand and yet treating us with continuous aggression and cruelty. Like many of my peers, I was keenly aware of what was happening in Vietnam, in the USA and the increasing solidarity among young people in protesting against the war. Much of the music we were listening to proclaimed peace and unity.
I heard the Chaplain read from the Sermon on the Mount and my attention was caught by the words of compassion, humility, and care for those who were suffering. If the meek were to inherit the Earth, then surely the arrogant, the greedy and the powerful were going to destroy it.
Peace is not boring – living in tranquility and harmony is the only way we are going to be able to address the challenges that face us. Not only a war where there is a distinct possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, but also climate breakdown and serious global economic meltdown. But we love conflict, we love to oppose, to compete, to compare, to be superior and powerful. We are entertained by the drama that is the tragedy of others. We are easily convinced that we have enemies who will destroy us, and, as the conflict in the east of Europe plays out on our screens, we become mesmerised by heroes and villains. We watch this story unfold and forget the refugees that are being driven from their homes by conflicts all over the world, forget the pain and suffering caused to so many by institutional violence.
I must, after all, treat you with dignity, compassion and respect, for you are a fellow human being.