Is war necessary in the 21st Century?
by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
I saw this question on a Gallup Tuesday Briefing recently and wondered how many future generations will ask such a question. For over thirty years, Gallup polls have asked Americans their views on the need for war, whether Americans saw war as an outmoded option or as sometimes necessary. I found it interesting, but not surprising, that American viewpoints on the necessity of war changed significantly post 9/11.
It was June 1971, when Gallup first polled Americans on war as a necessary means to resolve conflict and settle differences between nations. At that time when the number of American deaths in Vietnam had surpassed 50,000 and antiwar sentiments where high, 46% of Americans believed war was an outmoded solution while 44% believed war is sometimes necessary.
Against the backdrop of war in Iraq and an ongoing military campaign against terrorism, a recent Gallup poll indicated 24% of Americans felt war is outdated while 73% thought war is sometimes necessary.
What does this change of opinion say about the pulse of America? That Americans are struggling with a loss of hope? That we, individually, feel helpless and powerless? That we believe peace in the world now seems beyond the realm of possibilities? That we fear the war against terrorism is going to be a long and uncertain battle? That we have concluded military action will continue to be inevitable?
Maybe these latest stats speak to a war that is being fought here at home. And I don’t mean the threat against the security of our homeland. I’m talking about the war to crush the American spirit. The siege to conquer our hope, optimism, and faith. How do we fight this enemy?
Suppose every prayer, blessing, kind word or good deed, wears away unjust political, racial, social, economic and geographical distinctions. Suppose every time we replace deceit with honesty, hatred with love, or apathy with compassion, we make way for freedom and brotherhood. And in so doing we combat the enemy that lurks from within our borders and our hearts.
My daughter recently completed an internship at a US Congressman’s office. A lesson she left with was every individual can make a difference. One instance in particular seemed hopeless. But the situation was resolved because hundreds of people made the effort to let their voices be heard. The situation could have been described as unjust and yet because of hundreds of compassionate actions and words, the unjust was changed to what was just and fair. The words of anthropologist Margaret Mead rang loud and true: “Never doubt that the work of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
September 11, 2001 resulted in many changes in opinions and actions. Some of these changes were short-lived and some have lingered. Sadly, some really good changes are among those that didn’t last. Remember those first few days following 9/11? When knees were bent. When we wept for people we didn’t know. When we sent money to folks we’ve never seen. When Republicans stood next to Democrats. When news headlines shifted from scandals and sports to families and the future of the world. Some journalists called the changes the “new normal.” We were reminded that the enemy is not each other. Have we forgotten?
An author who lived through the civil war of these United States and also overcome many conflicts in her own life, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “No greater hope have we than in right thinking and right acting, and faith in the blessing of fidelity, courage, patience and grace.” While I don’t make the decision for our country as to whether or not war is necessary, I can answer that question for my own life. And as my daughter learned, there is power in each individual, each one of us. Power that results in change. How I think and act can make a difference.
So, in pondering the necessity of war, I’m looking within. If peace begins with me, how about it? Is there peace or is there war? In my marriage? In my family? In my neighborhood? In my church? In my job? And if there is war, perhaps I need to ask myself, is it necessary? Is there another way to act or resolve any conflict?
Maybe peace does begin with each of us. Maybe we do have the power to change the world. Maybe that’s how the world is changed – individual upon individual, family upon family, and so forth. Maybe there is hope for peace in the world and we can have faith in our hope.