Let's have no more war; replace it with empathy and understanding everywhere.

Today is Remembrance Day (November 11, 2018) and it is the theme for this month's "thought of the month."

Remembrance Day is dedicated to remembering the suffering of war, and also of the need for the people of civilized nations to defend against attack from aggressors. The annual Remembrance Day corresponds to the armistice that ended the First World War.

Throughout history there have always been wars. Though murder has typically been prohibited within every nation, killing of others outside the nation was not. Nations were ruled by kings and emperors, who believed it was their obligation to conquer smaller, weaker nations, and thus to expand their own. Smaller nations, for their part, would seek alliances in order to defend or to engage in their own conquering. It was a "kill or be killed" mentality, more suited to wild animals than to intelligent people.

Among the animal kingdom, creatures fight over territory or mates. They don't have the ability or intelligence to communicate and reach a rational solution, so that is how they handle conflict. The lack of ability to communicate also limits the animals' abilities to form groups, so typically conflicts are between solitary animals of the species. Neither can risk a severe injury, and because neither has overwhelming power compared to the other, their fights rarely result in death. Humans, however, can form very large groups of different sizes and power. Therefore, when humans behave based on primitive instinct, the results can be far worse.

The First World War was a turning point for human attitudes toward war. The "Great War" was unprecedented for its widespread destruction, due to the automation of warfare using machine guns, mortars, tanks, and airplanes, as well as the large number of nations involved. It was called the "war to end wars" because it was thought that humans would never be so stupid again, as to bring such devastation upon themselves.

But only 20 years later, the Second World War happened, unleashing even more powerful weapons of destruction. In the final stages of the war, two small atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, utterly wiping out their populations. It is not the first time in the war such destruction had occurred. Hamburg Germany was wiped out to an equal extent, but in that case it took a thousand flying bombers to do it. What changed is that the destructive power of technology had reached such a state that if World War III was ever to occur, no human on the planet would be left alive.

Some lessons were learned from these events. The "reparations" that had been forced on Germany when they lost the First World War caused hardship and resentment among the Germans that enabled Adolf Hitler to come to power, promising to make Germany great again. Understanding the mistake that the Allies had made at the end of World War I, a different approach was used after the defeat of Japan in World War II. Instead of punishing the Japanese, a new era of democracy, peace and prosperity was instituted in Japan.

Finally the people of the world have begun to realize that human beings everywhere are pretty similar, with the same desires, hopes, fears, and abilities. It is not so common to assume that someone with a different language, religion, or skin colour is inferior or evil, and therefore "fair game" for enslavement or killing. When people understand that the other people are "just like themselves," they substitute caring for arrogance and seek methods of resolving conflicts that are not based on force.

This kind of caring and understanding has apparently not reached all people of the world, however, because fighting still occurs in some regions. There are still many parts of the world where there is no real democracy; where extremes of wealth and poverty occur, and civil wars occur between those who wish to hold on to power and those who rebel against them.

Fortunately, there is progress on that too. There are tremendous amounts of money donated to international charities, in order to bring education to children of impoverished people, and to provide enough food and clothing to them and their families so that they have hope of a better future.

I recall attending a university class years ago where an anthropologist described wars that occurred among primitive tribes, based on studies of primitive peoples that still lived in isolated areas of the world. Sometimes a conflict would arise because of something that a person in one village did to another. So all the men of each village would meet in a field with their spears and clubs and fight until somebody got badly injured or killed. Then they would all go home, one side glad that they had "taught a lesson" to the losers. That was their concept of a "war". If it was a big war it would last all day, and the elders would tell stories of it around the campfire for decades.

There are some people in the world who still have that kind of mentality. Education can help, but the traditions will not disappear immediately. Even when the traditions are irrational, traditions tend to span generations. Think for example about the persistence of smoking in modern nations, among people who know better, but yet they still do it.

Now let's think again about the primitive tribe I described, and this time imagine that they have been supplied with modern weapons. You can see that the situation will be much worse than before! The next conflict that occurs will not be a war of a day, but rather it will be devastation. It will be like a fire going through a forest, where the fire jumps from tree to tree, destroying each of them. Unlike the trees, humans have a choice about whether to spread the fire, but once burned a person needs an incredible strength of willpower to not spread it to the next person.

In wars there is such suffering that peoples' normal caring for each other is impaired. Those who are not yet dead have family and friends who are maimed or dead. Those still living insist that such suffering shall not be in vain, and nothing less than victory over the oppressor shall satisfy them. The "oppressors" are in exactly the same situation. An agreement that would have satisfied them at the outset of the conflict is no longer acceptable once the war has begun, and thus the war continues.

From our knowledge of the wars of the past, and our understanding of how it works, we can see that there is a path that could eventually result in durable worldwide peace. So, as the thought for the month of November, 2018, here it is:

Prevention, the most effective method:

  1. Spread knowledge around the world, so that people everywhere understand that all other people are pretty much the same as themselves. This can be facilitated by travel and communication across national boundaries.
  2. Those with spare capacity to help others should use their spare resources to provide education and aid to those in the world who lack it. Eventually those people will be in a position to do likewise.
  3. Similarly, spread knowledge to all people, rich or poor, about methods of governance that leads to widespread happiness, in which the leaders are held responsible to the people they govern.

Handling of conflicts in progress:

  1. Establish means whereby conflicting groups within a nation can bring their grievances to an impartial external authority, in order to establish a fair solution. This can be effective in the early stages of a conflict, before the "fire has begun to engulf the forest".
  2. Where there are dictatorial governments supported by an elite to oppress an impoverished, heavily taxed population, cut off their supply of weapons and ammunition. The peaceful nations of the world have the power to do that, by agreement among themselves about appropriate sanctions to apply. (Better yet, prevent supplying the dictators in the first place.)
  3. Provide a means to "stop the fire" by providing separation. Sometimes combatting groups will make a peace agreement among them but yet the fighting continues. The militias and rebels can't stop despite orders to the contrary, and sometimes there are devious leaders and generals who profess peace only for publicity purposes while secretly perpetuating the conflict. Just as two individuals engaged in a fist fight need friends to pull them apart, sometimes the combatants in a war need someone to help them too. This is why the peaceful nations of the world must maintain some military capability, for a peace-keeping mission.

In general, the preventative methods are best, because the latter "conflicts in progress" methods are not always effective. Sometimes things get so out-of-hand that the best we can do to help is to rescue the refugees, while meanwhile the fire in their homeland burns until the land is left black. That is also a way to peace, albeit a very painful one.

Eventually, people everywhere could reach the understanding that war is a manifestation of stupidity, because there are better ways. Meanwhile, individuals can do their part to bring about a better future, by becoming knowledgeable about people everywhere, and by using their spare resources to support charity around the world including the spread of education.

- Arthur de Leyssac, November 2018.

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