No one wins at war

Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “I cannot believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war”. The world has had a chance to see the truth of that statement over and over again during the last half century, most recently in the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians have been struggling and fighting ever since the creation of Israel and no one has won.Eleanor_Roosevelt Many people have lost—lost their lives, their families, their freedoms—but there are no winners. There are no winners in Syria or Central Africa. Wars keep exploding and then sputtering out in temporary truces and ceasefires, but no one ever wins.

The same is true in all the wars against abstractions that America keeps declaring—the War on Cancer, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty—some have produced some limited good, but not one has ever been won. None will ever be won.

There is something wrong in the way we call for war every time we see something we don’t like. The only wars won these days are the fantasy wars on TV and movie screens where unreal villains are vanquished by unbelievable supernatural heroes. And only children believe in those.

The truth is, as the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation keeps telling us War Is Not the Answer.

It is not war that solves the world’s problems; it is hard work. That means the hard work of negotiating even with people we don’t approve of; the hard work of rejecting the schemes of arms manufacturers and refusing to send weapons to combatants; the hard work of education so young people will learn the value of compromise and conciliation; the hard work of listening to all the members of the UN no matter how unwelcome their comments.

War tries to exclude people—to push aside and overcome anyone and anything we don’t like, but life is lived by including as many people and opinions as we can, by hammering out agreements and compromises to keep the world moving ahead. How many of us remember the poem by Edwin Markham, a mostly forgotten poet, who wrote a verse favored by many anthologists and teachers?

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Eleanor Roosevelt knew that peace had to be won by drawing people in; the Friends Committee on National Legislation knows it too. How long will it be before our political leaders learn that simple truth?

3 thoughts on “No one wins at war

  1. Here! Here! I was listening to the radio this morning about how ISIS in Iraq is taking over oil fields to literally fuel their war. And all of this started back on 9/11. I often wonder how things would have turned out if America had turned the other cheek. If we as a nation had opened a public debate on how we were failing to engage with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine, Iran etc on a humanitarian level. How much pain and suffering could have been averted? And America’s international image could have been upheld up as an example of a powerful peace maker. The idea of democracy can never be spread through war–only through understanding and patience.

    • Yes, I often wonder what would have happened if we had thought more before invading Iraq and getting involved in wars with nations we don’t understand. We need more diplomats and fewer generals. All the memorials to WWI remind me of how often countries get involved in wars that cause immense suffering and do so little good. It’s heartbreaking.

  2. Another great post! I love the Markham poem and heartily agree with all you write. Maybe someday people will no longer rush to war, but that day seems a long way off . . . .

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