Human beings are perhaps the only species in nature who crave so acutely for peace all the while actively pursuing war. Violence is universally present in nature, but except among humans, it is rather economical.
As a rule, animals do not hunt unless they are hungry. Nor do they store their kill for the leaner winter months ahead. Violence is usually swift and mercifully brief.
It is restricted to feeding and, to a lesser extent, reproduction. There is no revenge or retaliation among animals, except in apes closest to humans.
Even among our simian cousins, its scale and scope are severely restricted. Though they are tool makers and users in a rudimentary sense, monkeys never use sticks and stones to fight with one another.
In fact, nowhere in nature, except in the human species, do we find organised war and bloodshed. Unlike animals, human beings kill even when they do not need to, even when their biological survival does not depend on violence. Does this mean that in our so-called exalted and rational species, “homo sapiens sapiens”, war is utterly unacceptable but, apparently, entirely unavoidable?
Weariness and disgust
After each war, humanity hopes and dreams that there will be no more wars. The end of feudalism and colonialism, the growth of democracy and freedom, the United Nations and the development of a rule-based world order — all these lull us into thinking that war is obsolete, that humanity has progressed beyond war. No more wars, we say to ourselves!
Yet, alas, the world is full of conflict. When Russia-Ukraine war broke out in March 2022, who would have imagined a prolonged conflict, which is still dragging on? Now, war has also broken out in the Middle East, after Hamas’s surprise invasion of Israel early morning last Saturday.
Writing over a hundred years ago, during the height of the Great War, Sri Aurobindo said, “War itself, it is hoped, will end war; the expense, the horror, the butchery, the disturbance of tranquil life, the whole confused sanguinary madness of the thing has reached or will reach such colossal proportions that the human race will fling the monstrosity be- hind it in weariness and disgust.” His series on the subject was later published under the title “War and Self-Determination.”
Barbarity of war
Right now, as the unspeakable barbarity of war has been unleashed once again in what is one of the most volatile regions of the world, Sri Aurobindo’s words, once again, ring true: “But weariness and disgust, horror and pity, even the opening of the eyes to reason by the practical fact of the waste of human life and energy and the harm and extravagance are not permanent factors; they last only while the lesson is fresh. Afterwards, there is forgetfulness….” Human beings return to fighting and killing. Neither commerce, nor science, nor physical or financial exhaustion end wars.
Because, Sri Aurobindo argues, “So long as war does not become psychologically impossible, it will remain or, if banished for a while, return.” War, though not a biological necessary, seems to be humanity’s psychological compulsion. Even after the physical war, “fought in physical trenches, with shell and shot, with machine-gun and tank and aeroplane,” ends, another war, fought in “mental trenches and bombproof shelters, with reconnaissances and batteries and moving machines of thought and word, propaganda and parties and programmes” begins.
That is because “Men fight for their personal or communal or national interests or for ideas and principles of which they make watch- words and battle-cries.” Wars will persist, says Aurobindo, until they become “psychologically impossible.” In other words, wars begin in the minds of men and women. It is there that we must find their root causes as well as the ways to end them.
Violence against humanity
In addition to diplomatic, economic, political, religious, social, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and other solutions to war, we must not neglect the psycho-spiritual. Here Mahatma Gandhi becomes relevant. Hatred breeds hatred. Even righteous wars must be fought dispassionately, with a calm mind. What is more, killing all your enemies will not end wars. More will be born, perhaps from among your own. For the seeds of violence and hatred, even if they are dormant, will sprout in time.
Let us remember that war is not a localised affair, even if seemly so. War in one place affects all of humanity. Because humanity is one, war wounds the collective psyche of the human race and ruptures planetary consciousness itself.
Any act of violence against any individual is also an act of violence against humanity itself. Therefore, whichever side of the conflict we might find ourselves, we must remain fighters for peace. Within that very side if needed or in partnership with those like ourselves on the other side.
To end the present bloodletting in the Middle East, the principle of coexistence will have to be accepted. Whether within one state, or in two or more entities, Israelis and Palestinians will have to recognise each other’s right to life, dignity, and security.
Live and let live is the law of nature, not live and let die. Human beings, regardless of our religion, race, ethnicity, or culture are a part of nature. Let us learn from the errors of the past and work together for a better future for all.
The first step is to stop making excuses for ideologies and organisations that promote hatred or commit unjustified acts of violence against innocent civilians. Those who claim to stand for peace must not be sucked into legitimating aggression. Placatory liberalism should be exposed and opposed as forms of weak-kneed cowardice.