First Tentative Outline for Future Conversations
By Lennart Lundh
I’ve been a pacifist for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t in keeping with family tradition. Growing up, there were heated arguments at the dinner table. There were threats and physical violence. For a while, I was outcast and homeless. I thought war was, at best, stupid. My father, who built weapons prototypes as part of his daily job, regretted not being able to serve in World War II and Korea. It wasn’t until I came back from Vietnam and talked about what I’d seen, and until I stood against the Navy and refused to return to Vietnam, that an uneasy truce was established.
Dad thought war was necessary because it was the solution to otherwise insoluble problems, while I was focused on war as eternally causing problems. We were both wrong. The Forever War in Afghanistan changed his perspective. The end of “my” war in Southeast Asia changed mine. For both of us, nothing was globally changed by war or its temporary absence.
Don’t get me wrong. My father will cheer the soldiers as they march to another war if he’s convinced there’s a cause worth killing for. I still want to see Chamberlain’s hope to avert war in our time be more than a foolish dream or a bargain with the Devil. Whichever side of the argument we stand on, the progression is what’s confused and stymied us. Whether we fight a war or refuse to take part in one, we can’t achieve some magic Peace on Earth that will automatically be followed by eternal Goodwill towards Men. Quite the opposite. We need to take care of each other first. We must learn to be kind without thinking about it. Only through a culture of Goodwill can we have Peace, or at least a chance of it.
I’m not talking about mastering personal or universal perfection before we can get there. That’s where I think the Christian New Testament goes astray, with its poorly hidden undercurrent of, “Be perfect, or abandon hope.” Even worse, it’s where Thoreau’s one-person social experiment at Walden Pond missed the mark, saying of his neighbor, “I’m perfect. You’re not.” Rather, I’d prefer to be Gandhi-an in approach and attitude: I’m flawed. We’re flawed. But I’m working on it, and a majority of us working together at it the best we can in each moment make it do-able.
Finally (for the moment), is that very human matter of patience. To drag Jim Morrison into this, we want the world, and we want it now. If we can’t have it now, we’ll throw up our arms in frustration and go do something else. On this, too, I recommend Gandhi’s view, as well as Merton’s: It’s anything but easy. It probably won’t happen today, and tomorrow is iffy. I’m seventy this year, so, for me, it might not happen at all. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying my best, contributing to the collective effort and future. It means remembering King, keeping his mountain in sight, and having the faith that we can help others reach the summit.
My current, mutable two cents’ worth. What say ye?
Lennart Lundh is a great-grandfather and writer. He served in Vietnam in support of Marine Corps operations in 1968 and 1969, and was discharged as a conscientious objector in 1970.
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