Saturday, April 29, 2017

What is peace?

Peace as high as the sky, 
Sky to earth
Earth to sky  

In my own paganism,  my partner and I have hit upon an important practice of going to actual battlefields and praying a version of the peace prophecy.  We make offerings to the land,  the Gods and the dead without judgment of why they fought. We seek to heal the blood soaked land,  and bring peace back to it and peace to all those who once fought, and still fight.

But what do we mean by peace?

We often think of peace in terms of total surrender of the enemy,  of the goal of total war.  During the American Civil war,  William Tecumseh Sherman waged total war in the South,  burning Atlanta and destroying every plantation he found as a way of demoralizing the Confederates into surrender.  His goal was to utterly destroy their will to fight,  and his vision of peace was complete unconditional surrender.

In August of 1945,the United States had a plan to invade the Japanese home islands,  called Operation Downfall,  which would have involved a larger landing force that D-day, and was projected to have casualties in the tens of thousands. Despite back channel overtures of armistice,  the US used two nuclear weapons on the islands to force complete and total surrender, resulting in over 100,000 Japanese killed in the two bombings.

In each case, total victory was achieved.

And peace followed.  But this peace was bought at the price of utterly destroying some deep part of the losers’ identity.  The American states would never think of themselves as “these united States” but the language was forever changed into “the United States”. The union was unbreakable, eternal and irrevocable.  Lest another Sherman be loose upon any state or part thereof that thought the contract with the federals was at will,  or Amendment Ten mattered.

Japan would become a vassal of America, an outpost to enclose the Soviets and Red Chinese.  Never would they aspire to the martial glory of their proud ancestors.  
And thus peace is bought.  

According to LTC Dave Grossman in his book On Killing, the universal human phobia is homicide.  We instinctively recoil from the horror of death,  even of our enemies.  Most human conflict has been the raid, and not ironically the epic poetry of Ireland includes stories of cattle raids, not total exterminating war.  The conflict was usually fought either with champions facing off against one another,  or when mass battle,  one army was routed.  The ideas of respect for the enemy are a later construct of chivalry or bushido,  but the goal wasn’t winning through destruction,  but winning by capitulation. To quote The Princess Bride,  we don't fight to the death,  but to the pain.  

The psychology of why this was so common before the 20th century is that this is the more natural state of human war.  Genocide is contrary to the survival of the species. What is really at stake was usually resources,  and once secured the conflict ended.

One of the future trips we planned is to a place in Florida called Dade Battlefield.  During the Seminole Wars,  the Indians ambushed an army column.  Instead of running,  the army built a barricade and went to ground to fight.  The Seminoles slaughtered all but three soldiers who escaped,  and two died of their wounds on the way back to St Augustine.  When later asked about the ambush,  the Seminole fighters said they regretted killing the soldiers,  because according to their customs, the enemy was supposed to run away,  not dig in.  If the army ran they'd not pursue, because they’d have victory.  Slaughter wasn’t their way.

Some propose that wholesale killing in war follows industrialization,  but as late as the Vietnam war,  US soldiers were by some accounts shooting 25,000 rounds of ammunition for every kill. The cause was determined to be the unwillingness of soldiers to kill other human beings.  Guns are fantastically loud,  scary, produce smoke and flashes.  In line with the human tendency to scare enemy into submission,  they were not hitting their targets.  The solution was to change training: instead of shooting at bullseye targets,  shoot human silhouette targets to reprogram the subconscious to kill a human figure.

And thus,  become more deadly and kill more enemy.

So what has this to do with being pagan?

We live in an age of total war.  Any disagreement isn't about facts or experience,  but about character assassinations. About torment and gang warfare.  Witness the latest pagan dumpster fire online,  and it’s easy to spot how destructive we've become in the pursuit of being “right”. In total war,  it's not good enough to disagree, and walk on.  It's only acceptable outcome is utterly destroying a person with either tactical nuclear style terrorizing or attacking their loved ones, businesses or family.  I've seen all that in the pagan community,  and in the wider world too. But pagans being a minority,  we tend to do an excellent job of alienating and then tearing apart our own.

Summer in winter,
spears supported by warriors,
warriors supported by forts.
Forts fiercely strong;
banished are sad outcries
land of sheep
healthy under antler-points
destructive battle cries held back. 

Then what is peace in our context?  And why should we seek peace if it means accepting into sacred spaces those we don't agree with?

It’s actually critical for the building of community, and the furtherance of an environment that supports each person in their own growth to have a place where Pagan wars are forbidden.  For the past year,  we've done this through a Pagans in the Park event we run, and the key rule is this: leave the drama at home.

It works.  I don’t care if you're left wing or right,  if your pro or anti,  if you’re a lover or fighter.  You're welcome as long as you can play nicely and be polite.  Practice real tolerance, and mind your manners.

Peace doesn't look like winning at all costs.  It doesn't look like marching around calling strangers Nazis because you refuse to understand them. It doesn't look like scorched earth and character assassination.  It doesn't look like trying to drive someone’s out of business or harass their employer.

In short,  the total war will never bring peace. It brings resentment,  it destroys communities,  it breeds fear and mistrust.  And too many pagans embrace it and are killing their own religion.

Wished for earth
getting a boast
proclaiming of borders
Borders declaring prosperity
green-growth after spring
autumn increase of horses
a troop for the land
land that goes in strength and abundance.
Be it a strong, beautiful wood, long-lasting a great boundary
‘Have you a story?’
Peace to sky
be it so lasting to the ninth generation

(Translation M. Daimler copyright 2014)