War, Always With Us, Just Gets Worse


(OPINION) War has always been with us — eight decades for me. I was 3 when Hitler launched World War II, 9 when Hiroshima ended it. The Cold War quickly followed, with hot wars in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere. It’s got to stop.

In 1948, what was then Palestine was partitioned into Israel and a patchwork representing leftover Palestine. Conflicts arose immediately between Muslim countries and Israel. Regional wars have continued, but October’s terrorist attack by Hamas and Israel’s overwhelming response unleashed a humanitarian nightmare that’s gripped the world. Real-time images flood our electronic devices. War shapes our lives, sometimes encouraging violence, verbal and physical. Outside war zones, ordinary citizens find ourselves drawn into taking sides.

How can we create a better future for our children, ourselves — even for those we don’t know?

We can listen

In a recent Moscow-Pullman Daily News column, Tracy Simmons suggests that we “Treat listening as a spiritual discipline.” Each of us can develop this skill, essential for informed civil discourse, which requires both listening and speaking.

As a child, I shouted at others, then, hands over ears, made noise to block any responses. As adults, we chant and scream epithets to drown out opposing screams and epithets. Are we so insecure in our own beliefs and opinions that we can’t risk hearing differing ideas?

Telling others how and what to think, believe or do is much easier, and more immediately satisfying, than thoughtful listening. High-decibel, inflammatory speech, often laced with lies and profanity, preclude such listening or speaking.

To what end?

Rewards of civil discourse

Most of us know what we think, what we believe. Listening helps us understand what others think, to explore our commonalities. We can agree to disagree temporarily, as we move into uncharted territory. That’s the only way we can progress toward mutually agreeable solutions.

“The shining spark of truth,” ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote, “cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.” Good ideas arising from disparate sources demonstrate that none of us is as smart as all of us. Simple courtesy inspires civil discourse, thoughtful consideration of others’ opinions. As Tracy’s column noted, “For free speech to work … we need to listen to one another, even if we disagree.”

Humanitarian distraction

The Israeli-Hamas conflict is a distraction. This year, wars elsewhere total 31, with attendant casualties and humanitarian crises affecting entire populations. Victims are guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, unable to escape. Children, women and men continue to suffer, often welcoming death as a blessing.

Events past and current

Current events generate comparisons with the beginnings of World War II. Consider, rather, its aftermath: how the victors responded by creating the United Nations. During its 78-year history, the U.N. has endured much criticism. But, as its website notes, “The history of the United Nations is still being written.” That history contains hope for humankind. Conceived in idealism, the U.N. arose from the ashes of the League of Nations.

Nations lay in ruins following both wars. The world wanted peace. In the spring of 1945, representatives from 50 countries gathered in San Francisco to draft, then sign, the U.N. Charter, in hopes this new international body would prevent another world war.

When our own nation lay in ruins in 1863, President Lincoln revitalized America’s unique vision: “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Might we revitalize the idealism underlying the U.N. and hope for a new world in which all humans are recognized as equal?

At 78, the U.N. is still a work in progress, not unlike our own nation. The U.N. works to maintain international peace and security, provide humanitarian assistance, protect human rights and uphold international law. It also provides guidance never envisioned by its founders, with sustainable development goals, including climate action, guiding nations to achieve a sustainable future for populations worldwide.

The humanitarian presence of the U.N. has been felt in Palestine, Israel and untold other nations. In Palestine, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency maintains the largest presence on the ground along with the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent agencies and many other humanitarian nongovernmental organizations.

The cauldron of war

The Israeli-Hamas war promises to continue indefinitely. In our country, factions form, rancor grows, hatred blossoms. Worldwide, people choose sides. The simmering cauldron of politico-holy war threatens to engulf much of the world.

This roller coaster, transporting the world between peace and conflict, must stop. Stakes are too high. Expanding nuclear capabilities increase the probability of mass destruction. Sophisticated electronics hone accuracy of weapons. Increasingly, artificial intelligence guides military strategies.

The world has never faced an existential threat such as this. If we don’t learn to get along peacefully, we may never have to.

This column is republished with permission from Spokane FaVs.

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