It’s presumptuous, one might say, for me to title a blog post after Tolstoy’s magnum opus. I would counter, with all respect due a great Russian writer, it is we who own those three little words. War and peace summarize human history. They define our ever-present choice. We bear their weight. We endure their consequences.
Ask any friend, neighbor, or man on the street if he is willing to go and fight in a war. You’ll be hard pressed to find a taker. He knows it means shooting at people. Getting shot at in return. Explosions, bloodshed, death. No thank you.
But attach the question to another idea, and you’ll get some interest. Are you willing to go to war for country? To fight for freedom? To die for God?
Conflict is a choice we make, not for the sake of conflict itself, but for its attachment to ideas. The battle between ideas defines our existence. There is no escape from this battle. But there is hope we can use it to rise above violence and blood-letting. Reason is more powerful than enmity.
On Sunday, Veterans For Peace Chapter 104 will present the first Gary E. May Peace Scholarship for $1,000. Our group has instituted this annual award as a means for “nurturing thought to abolish war.” Twenty applicants submitted essays in response to one of four prompts: 1) Are drones harmful or helpful to the cause of peace? 2) Which U.S. foreign policies promote peace? 3) What lesson can we take from history to avoid war? 4) How might we end terrorism without war?
I had the privilege to serve on the scholarship committee and to help judge the submissions. We received some good writings. Reading through them stirred a sense of optimism in me about the choices young people are making. Our committee members were in complete accord on our selection of a recipient. Although it is not a condition of the award, she has agreed to read her essay at the award presentation. (If you would like for your morale to get a humanistic boost, come out and hear what she has to say.)
The choice between war and peace is swirling around us with renewed vigor today. Negativity, fear, and cynicism threaten to pull us into their ugly undertow. Before we are sucked in, let’s think about the real enemy. Bad ideas will never be subdued by bullets or bombs. They can only be defeated by good ideas. That’s why this scholarship effort is important.
I look forward to joining my family at table on Thursday. Thanks to my associates in the peace movement and the younger voices joining our chorus, I’m already giving thanks. I’m feeling “that thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” I hope you feel it, too.