Nurturing a World Without War | February 27, 2022 by Dr. Dorsey Blake
Let the bells be silenced Let the gifts be stillborn Let the cheer be muted Let the music be soundless Violence stalks the land: Soaring above the city of the dying Rising above the whimper of the starving Floating above the flying machines of death
– Howard Thurman
I am told that when this poem was written many were disturbed by it, seeing it as protest against the Vietnam War. Knowing Dr. Thurman, it was. Dr. Thurman joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) as a sophomore at Morehouse College. Not only was he a member of FOR, but so was Co-Founding Pastor, Dr. Alfred Fisk. A.J. Muste, who passed the letter from Dr. Fisk inquiring about identifying a Black seminary graduate to join him in creating what was to become Fellowship Church, was Executive Director of FOR for many years. James Farmer and Bayard Rustin of The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) were members. CORE was spawned by FOR as was the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU). The United States FOR is an interfaith peace and justice organization founded in 1915 by pacifists in opposition to the entry of the United States into World War I.
It is only natural then that Dr. Thurman’s sensitive soul and commitment to common ground among the people of the earth and the earth itself would see war as profound negation of common ground. His response aligns with that of Mahatma Gandhi: “My politics and all other activities of mine are derived from my religion. I go further and say that every activity of a man of religion must be derived from his religion, because religion means being bound to God, that is to God rules your every breath.”
Thurman’s poem came to me as I wrestled with what recent activities, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, mean. My soul was stifled, at a loss regarding what to say, do, feel.
Nothing justifies the invasion of Ukraine. War is not the answer and must not be deployed to settle differences or to quiet fears. The people, particularly the working class and poor, are always the ones who suffer most during war. And we need to try to look at the rationale, the perceived threat from the U.S. and NATO military buildup in Poland near the Russian border and the refusal to uphold an agreement made under the George H.W. Bush administration that NATO, the military arm of the U.S. and its Western allies, would not advance any farther territorially. Yet it continues to expand. An expansion to Ukraine would mean weapons could/would be placed along the border of Russia.
Again, nothing justifies the invasion. As G. Lowes Dickson in a book published in 1923, War: Its Nature, Cause, and Cure, stated “if mankind does not end war, war will end mankind.” That is a frightening warning that we, the nations of the world, have not heeded. For him war and civilization are incompatible. President John F. Kennedy revamped this theme in his September 20,1963 address to the United Nations.
But I would say to the leaders of the Soviet Union, and to their people, that if either of our countries is to be fully secure, we need a much better weapon than the H-bomb – a weapon better than ballistic missiles or nuclear submarines – and that better weapon is peaceful cooperation.
. . . Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on.
Today we may have reached a pause in the Cold War – but that is not a lasting peace. A test ban treaty is a milestone – but it is not the millennium. We have not been released from our obligations – we have been given an opportunity. And if we fail to make the most of this moment and this momentum – if we convert our new-found hopes and understandings into new walls and weapons of hostility – if this pause in the Cold War merely leads to its renewal and not its end – then the indictment of posterity will rightly point its finger at us all. But if we can stretch this pause into a period of cooperation – if both sides can now gain new confidence and experience in concrete collaborations for peace – if we can now be as bold and farsighted in the control of deadly weapons as we have been in their creation – then surely this first small step can be the start of a long and fruitful journey.
. . . It is never too early to try; and it's never too late to talk; and it's high time that many disputes on the agenda of this Assembly were taken off the debating schedule and placed on the negotiating table.
. . . And Archimedes, in explaining the principles of the lever, was said to have declared to his friends: "Give me a place where I can stand – and I shall move the world."5
My fellow inhabitants of this planet: Let us take our stand here in this Assembly of nations. And let us see if we, in our own time, can move the world to a just and lasting peace.
I assert that the invasion could have been avoided by engaging in dialogue with Russian leadership rather than totally rejecting the overture that President Putin had made weeks ago. It would help if we could look at the history of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. For, the tensions did not manifest only recently. As President Kennedy stated: “It is never too early to try; and it’s never too late to talk.”
I applaud Pope Francis for visiting Russia and expressing his concern over Ukraine. It is my hope that President Biden and leaders of the NATO alliance will make similar gestures. With such universal condemnation there is confidence that we shall move beyond this moment, mending what has been ripped apart, fashioning a new whole.
The culture of violence that spills over into our daily rounds here and abroad awaits being addressed.
I believe the nonviolent movements here and globally have had a significant impact on the reactions of people to the horror. I wonder if the nearly universal condemnation of the invasion is a sign of the effectiveness of these movements. Certainly, the condemnations differ from the response to our invasion of Iraq without provocation. Nonviolent protests have taken place in numerous places. Maybe we have grown to understand our global interconnectedness and what the striking of one of the fifteen nuclear power reactors plants in Ukraine might mean for global health. I sense that “one” of the reasons that the United States has not retaliated militaristically “yet” is that the nonviolent movement in this country has helped elect people to Congress that have demanded accountability to them before a decision to go to war can be made. Maybe more have come to believe as our Fellowship Community member David Hartsough does that there can be, must be a world without war.
Nonviolence is the moral equivalent of war. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Perhaps training in nonviolence should be mandatory in our schools. So that embracing and living it become natural for us. If our allies could make it a way of life, it would spread in such a way that other nations would no longer be seen as enemies, but as nations that we need to understand through dialogue.
While I was anguished in heart, the following letter appeared in my email inbox.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We heard the deafening explosions of yesterday which brought the worldwide speculation of impending conflict to a halt… and the grim reality of the shocking and undeniable images of war in Ukraine and the surrounding areas. The quickly unfolding bloodshed and violence are jeopardizing the lives and safety of so many people.
As people of diverse religions, spiritual and philosophical expressions, and indigenous traditions from 112 countries around the world, we stand united in solidarity with collective actions toward peace and resolution to this conflict. With heavy hearts, we pray for healing for the already mounting casualties and the devastating effects of war.
URI’s purpose is to build cultures of peace, justice, and healing. Aggressive conflict and violence are the antitheses of this very aim. We promote all options for peace and diplomacy, and support the Ukrainian people, the Russian people - their families, their children, and their communities. War hurts all people and has destructive ramifications on nature and our environment. This impact will have lasting effects on Ukraine, Russia, and our interconnected global world.
As we look to all the ways the URI community can come together in support of humanity and all living beings in harm’s way, we pray that light will find its way to a path toward ending this conflict swiftly.
For now, we extend our love, care, compassion, and deep concern. We share the pain and suffering with the people whose lives will be touched by these frightening and horrifying events. In our many languages, voices, colors, and communities, we are holding this part of the world closely in our hearts while we seek to understand more meaningful ways by which we can help.
As people of URI and our global community, we are united for peace, justice, and healing.
Kiran Bali MBE JP
URI Global Council of Trustees
How good it was to receive such a beautifully sensitive and powerful expression that opened my heart, my inner being in such a way that I could feel and sense my breath returning to normal, breathing the breath of life, animating me, and calling me to listen again to the heartbeat of the universe, the undefeated continuing creation that affirms goodness, hope, love, and my highest resolve. I believe we are experiencing a period of grace, a period not to be ignored, but one in which we must invest our imagination to “get it right.” Shall we continue to choose chaos or life-giving community?
The opening poem of Dr. Thurman did not end where I ended it. It continued:
Listen to the long stillness: New life is stirring New dreams are on the wing New hopes are being readied: [Hu]mankind is fashioning a new heart [Hu]mankind is forging a new mind God is at work.
This is the Season of Promise