John Lennon sang it out loud and clear back in 1968: “War is over.” He may have been a little ahead of history, but he was giving voice to a growing disgust with the warlike ways of our species. Other great singers of our time offer similar sentiments as they pose the perennial questions: When will they ever learn? How many times must the cannonballs fly? War—what is it good for?
We should have declared that war is over after counting up the dead from the wars of the twentieth century, during which an estimated 100 million people were killed in armed conflict.
We should have declared that war is over after the “little boy” atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, killing 170,000 civilians with one blast.
We should have declared that war is over after fifty years of the Cold War, which saw the United States and Soviet Union engage in the so-called “arms race,” with the two sides eventually building and stockpiling enough explosives to blow up the entire planet ten times over.
Instead of declaring that war is over, the U.S. Pentagon became mired in the absurdity and even made up a new word to describe our capacity to destroy— they called it “overkill”! (Presumably, the second time they kill you it won’t hurt so much because you are already dead.)
The idea of overkill doesn’t seem so far-fetched when you consider that the official Pentagon policy during the arms race was called “MAD,” which stands for “Mutual Assured Destruction.” The reasoning (sic) was that if both sides could blow each other up an equal number of times, then neither side would do it. Brilliant!
Eventually the Pentagon built a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons that the generals thought could be used without triggering a full-scale nuclear war. They named this new policy “NUTS,” which stood for “Nuclear Utilization Targeting Strategy.” So the Pentagon’s policy officially went from MAD to NUTS! Am I reading too much into these acronyms, or were there a bunch of cynical jokers over at the U.S. War Office?
The arms race became so crazy that at one time both sides began researching how to put missiles on the moon. If that sounds to you like lunacy, consider that both sides were also studying how to create a hole in the earth’s ozone layer. The idea was to target and bombard enemy territory with deadly doses of ultraviolet radiation. Until this procedure was banned by the United Nations environmental warfare treaty, it apparently received some serious discussion in the respective war rooms.
But the real tragedy is that during the Cold War the United States and Soviet Union turned the entire world into an armed camp, distributing modern weapons to anyone who said they were on one side or the other. And now the military mess is everywhere. And even though the United States claims to have won the Cold War, it is more accurate to say that everybody lost. The only winner was war itself.
So now it’s time to run the arms race backward, and the one nation that can lead the way is the United States. Unfortunately, the U.S. happens to be the biggest arms dealer on the planet. Haven’t you seen the advertisement?
ADVERTISEMENT: That’s right folks, and now’s a great time to shop at Uncle Sam’s World Wide Weapons Inc., where we’ve got tanks, missiles, jet fighters—you name it—all at rock-bottom prices. It’s our annual postwar prewar sale! And right now at Uncle Sam’s you can get yourself a “flexible armament system”—it can kill one at a time or twenty at a time—and it’s manufactured by General Electric, the folks who bring good things to life. And if you want to protect your home and family in these troubled times, maybe you should purchase a few of your own easy-loading surface-to-air missiles. The best are made by Ford, the people with “a better idea.” [Remember that Eisenhower warned us to watch out for the military-industrial complex.] We’ve been known to sell weapons to just about anyone—nations, tribes, two-bit dictators, guerilla armies, up-and-coming warlords—just as long as you’ve got the cash, and swear that you won’t use your weapons against us. Promise? Remember, at Uncle Sam’s we don’t have a foreign policy—we’ve just got weapons.
We can at least hold out hope that future wars might involve less killing. In the past few decades the Pentagon has developed some “nonlethal” weapons, such as a device that emits a low-frequency infrasound that causes enemy troops to vomit or defecate uncontrollably. So maybe we could have a war where nobody gets hurt, only humiliated. “Look, the enemy is pooping in their uniforms! We win!”
Another nonlethal weapon being developed is an ultraslick chemical that creates such a slippery surface that troops fall down and tanks are unable to maneuver. It’s Keystone Cops warfare, and I’m totally in favor of it. Of course, the best nonlethal weapon of all would be a bomb that sprayed nitrous oxide over the enemy. Get them laughing and they’re yours.
War is over—because it is simply too absurd to continue. Just consider the Geneva Conventions, which are basically a set of rules for conducting war. According to these rules it’s okay to go out and try to kill people, but if you don’t kill them and instead only capture them, then you have to treat them nicely. “Oh, so sorry we didn’t kill you. Can we get you a cup of tea and something to eat?”
There should only be one rule of war, my friends—no fighting!
The United States should declare that war is over, if for no other reason than the fact that our continued obsession with war is killing us—draining our energy, our genius and our resources. The same thing happened to the Roman Empire, and so many superpowers that came before us. We are spending well over half of a trillion dollars a year on our military, which is more than almost all of the other military budgets in the world combined. It’s a classic episode from the scenario of decline and fall. And, as George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
So let us declare, for our own sake, that war is over. Let’s tell the world that we are going to bury the hatchet for good, beat the swords into plowshares, trade the guns for butter. And I know it sounds politically naïve, but let’s announce a new policy on all weapons of war, and the policy is this: we don’t make them anymore, we don’t sell them anymore, and we don’t use them anymore.
Humanity may be nearing the end of ideological wars, the ones fought over the name of God or some utopian political fantasy. However, changing climate conditions are soon likely to present us with other reasons for conflict—diminishing resources, mass migrations, devastating droughts and floods. What will be required is for humans to shift our allegiance from tribes and nation-states to our common identity as members of a species and as an integral part of the whole of life on earth. What is becoming clear is that the coming era will require of humans a new kind of consciousness.
In the book of Genesis we hear God commanding us to “fill the earth and subdue it.” It seems that now it is time to subdue that impulse. For most of human history we have been busy trying to protect ourselves from nature, and now we are being called on to protect nature from us. But we are nature, and that is exactly the shift of perspective we need if we are going to live in harmony with the other life on this planet, if we are even going to survive as a species.
So we turn to the Buddhadharma, where we find a different kind of warrior, one who has learned how to use the sword of wisdom and the shield of mindfulness, and can tame his or her own mind. Humans seem to have the unique ability to learn how to override the fear and aggression that we inherited from nature, and it is through this newly discovered power that we can begin to break free of our tribal instincts and our stifling individualism. On the path of Dharma we can simultaneously begin to heal ourselves and our world.
And just imagine what could happen if we took all of the genius and energy we now spend on making and preparing for war, and applied that to healing the ecosystems of our planet. “You may say I’m a dreamer . . .” The coming hard times present us with a great opportunity. Let’s say it together, loud and clear—WAR IS OVER!
Wes “Scoop” Nisker is an author, radio commentator, Buddhist meditation teacher and performer. His books include the national bestseller Essential Crazy Wisdom (Ten Speed Press, 1990). His CDs, DVDs, books and teaching schedule are available at www.wesnisker.com
From the Spring 2014 issue of Inquiring Mind (Vol. 30, No. 2)
© 2014 Wes Nisker