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. 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?
One hundred years ago in 1914, Europe blundered into World War I, a story of chilling diplomatic failures brilliantly told in Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914—a book every member of Congress and the diplomatic corps should read over the holiday break. It’s scary to see how peace can fall apart so easily.
Then there was 1814, a year during which much of the world was at war. Napoleon won a few battles, but lost bigger ones. Paris was occupied and Napoleon finally abdicated and was sent to the island of Elba. Meanwhile the Americans were fighting the British in the War of 1812. The Americans won at Niagara Falls, but lost when British troops marched into Washington and burned down many of its most important monuments. Another inconclusive set of battles which accomplished very little but brought death to far too man young men. The centuries roll on, but young men in every time and every country continue to be treated as though their lives were of no value.
So what will 2014 bring? The world is not starting out in very good shape. There are wars in Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Unrest continues in most of the Middle East including Egypt for which we had such high hopes only a few years ago. Israel and Palestine continue their seemingly endless and dangerous dance. And violence is reappearing in Russian cities.
The world needs a new broom. Does anyone besides me still remember the poem “Welcome to the New Year” that Eleanor Farjeon wrote more than half a century ago? I found it again in one of the favorite books of my childhood More Silver Pennies by Blanche Jennings Thompson.
Hey, my lad, ho, my lad!
Here’s a New Broom.
Heaven’s your housetop
And Earth is your room
Tuck up your shirtsleeves,
There’s plenty to do—
Look at the muddle
That’s waiting for you!
Dust in the corners
And dirt on the floor,
Cobwebs still clinging
To window and door.
Hey, my lad! Ho, my lad!
Nimble and keen—
Here’s your New Broom, my lad!
See you sweep clean.
(Eleanor Farjeon Come Christmas)
What would a new broom consist of these days? Perhaps a new approach to solving the world’s problems without war. If each of us decides to raise our voice and let our leaders know that we are sick and tired of constant fighting and endless wars, maybe at last we could get something done.
I strongly support the efforts of the Friends Committee on National Legislation to urge Congress to take four steps to stop the endless wars:
1. Repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force
2. Disclose the Rules for Using Drones: No More Secret Wars
3. Repeal the Patriot Act
4. Close the U.S. Prison at Guantanamo Bay and End Indefinite Detention
Perhaps if enough of us speak out, we can build a new broom that will make 2014 a better year and the 21st century more than just a repeat of earlier centuries and endless wars that accomplish nothing except to sow the seeds for another war. Let’s stop the cycle now.