This blog features some of the author's lengthy essays on sacred scriptures, theology and history.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


by Lope C. Robredillo, SThD

IS THE HEART OF MAN in his weapons?  The statistics is staggering.  Despite all the effort to limit or abolish war, it seems that war is more normal than peace.   For instance, from 1496 AD to 1861, it is claimed that the world knew 3,130 years of war and only 227 years of peace.  From 1945 until the 1980s, there have been more than 150 conflicts throughout the world.  How normal war is could be gauged from the fact that that in the last 400 years, European nations, it is noted, have signed no less than 8,000 peace treaties.   One can easily recall Bernard Shaw’s observation in his play, “Man and Superman”: in the arts of life, man invents nothing; but in the arts of death—well, look at his inventions for murder and mass destruction; they become more sophisticated as years go by.  Nations continue to allot huge budget for their military storehouses.  If they are not in open war, they continue to engage in arms race, war of nerves, psychological warfare, war of ideology, cold war!  Who can blame Karl Marx for viewing history as a history of class warfare?

The Heart of Man Is Not in his Weapons

            For all that, however, the heart of man longs for peace.  That yearning is classically expressed by the Prophet Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Isa 2:4).  Understandably enough, this hope for peace, this pining for a conflict-free human experience is central to all religions.  Jews expect the fulfillment of the divine promises about the final peace (cf Zec 9:9).  Christians affirm that when Jesus comes again, peace will be established (cf Col 3:15).  International peace is one of the 10 basic principles of Baha’i faith.  Buddhists look forward to world peace once it is established within individuals.

            Indeed, even ideologies accept peace as part of their goal.  Socialism, as well as communism, postulates that once the state withered away after a period of proletariat dictatorship, there will be a classless society where peace will be achieved.  In fact, even those who wage war have no other purpose than peace.  “For even they who make war,” writes Augustine of Hippo in his classic, City of God, “desire nothing but victory—desire, that is to say, to attain peace with glory  For what else is victory than the conquest of those who resist us? and when this is done, there is peace.  It is therefore with the desire for peace that wars are waged, even by those who take pleasure in exercising their warlike nature in command and battle.  And hence it is obvious that peace is the end sought for by war.  For every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace.  For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better.  They do not, therefore, wish to have no peace, but only one more to their mind.”

Powerful Nations Define Peace

            The problem then is not that the heart of man is in his weapon; the problem is that people are not willing to pay the price of real peace.  In most cases, nations approach peace in terms of self-interest. It is like the peace that obtains in the family because the man dominates his wife and children, or, among brothers and sisters, because the domineering brother imposes his will on the rest.  There is peace because the power of the strong remains unchallenged.  In his encyclical Centesimus annus, John Paul II analyzes it thus: “In a word, it is a question of transferring in the sphere of internal conflict between social groups the doctrine of ‘total war’, which the militarism and imperialism of that time brought to bear on international relations.  As a result of this doctrine, the search for a greater balance between the interests of various nations was replaced by attempts to impose the absolute domination of one’s own side through the destruction of the other’s side capacity to resist, using every possible means, not excluding the use of lies, terror tactics against citizens, weapons of utter destruction.”

            There is peace, in other words, because stronger nations weaken if not ruin others militarily and economically.  Nowhere is this more true than in the Philippines.  Since its independence in 1946, the country has been dependent on the US for its military supplies and, consequently, can be dictated upon whom to fight.  What Claro M Recto said in 1956 remains true: “In a polarized world of Giant Powers we can be described as totally unarmed… The result is that, whoever we depend on for arms necessarily is in a position to dictate to us why, when, how and against whom the arms are to be used.  Thus we are deprived of the sovereign right to determine who shall be our enemy or our friend or our ally.”   As for economy, Recto said that it was heavily dominated by aliens and not meant to develop to bring welfare to the common people.  Its economic policy, which remained colonial, “has for its basic objectives: to keep the Philippines the agricultural country that it has always been; and to attract to the Philippines foreign investments.”  This dependency state of the poor nation is ensured through the local elite that further the interest of foreigners.  In the end, it is the powerful nations that control the wealth of the smaller nations.  Thus, weakened both militarily and economically, other nations have scarcely any chance to fight the powerful.

            In this connection, John Paul II, in his encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, asserts that various mechanisms employed by powerful nations worsen the poverty of Third World nations: “One must denounce the existence of economic, financial and social mechanisms which, although they are manipulated by people, often function almost automatically, thus accentuating the situation of wealth for some and poverty for the rest.  These mechanisms, which are maneuvered directly or indirectly by the more developed countries, by their very functioning favor the interests of the people manipulating them.  But in the end they suffocate or condition the economies of the less developed countries.”

War of Nerves and Arms Race

But how is peace maintained among those who are powerful?  While on surface they are not at war, yet they are engaged in outdoing each other both militarily and economically.  Historically, what took shape was a cold war between powerful nations, led by the United States on one side, and by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the other side.  The war of nerves had the effect not only of preventing an open war between the two, but of dividing the Third World countries, which were too weak to fight the powerful, into two blocks, and which served as their puppets, almost capable of nothing except to bark or wag.  Russia had her Warsaw Pact, the US her NATO and SEATO.  But, while the cold war was beneficial to the rich nations, it further undermined the poor countries and made them dependent on the mighty.  Billions of dollars that should go to development were used in the production of arms, and dragged them into wars for which they should not have been involved in the first place.  The wars in Vietnam, Korea, Israel, Afghanistan, Congo, Kenya, are a few examples.  In these poor countries themselves, the ideological war between East and West is continuously waged, like the one between the government forces and the New People’s Army in the Philippines.

Arms race is the main strategy of this war of nerves.  Each side tries to outdo the other in terms of military superiority on the conviction that it assures desistance by the militarily inferior country in attacking its more powerful enemy, and therefore guarantees peace.  Which is why, although both the East and West have arsenal of arms that is enough to destroy humanity and the environment, they continue to spend trillions of dollars every year in order to ward off threat by the enemy.  Mutual assured destruction, which is possible under a nuclear war, guarantees peace between rich nations.  Besides, the arms race means good money and business for them, even though it impoverishes the poor nations that are caught up in the race, since what should go to development and uplift from misery are spent on arms.  Says John Paul II in Centesimus annus: “An insane arms race swallowed up the resources needed for the development of national economies and for assistance to the less developed nations.  Scientific and technological progress, which should have contributed to man’s well-being, was transformed into an instrument of war…  The logic of power blocs of empires… led into a situation in which controversies and disagreements among Third World countries were systematically aggravated and exploited in order to create difficulties for the adversary.”

Small Nations in the Face of Precarious Peace

In this kind of politics, only the powerful nations, it can be seen, would find the world peaceful, but almost nothing is experienced by the weak countries but year-round instability and poverty.  How then do the small nations, given their weakened position, respond to this precariously “peaceful” situation?   What are ants to do in a quarrel between elephants?  A recourse that presents itself is for the poor nations to align themselves with, and serve as satellites of, the powerful.   Here, for instance, one pursues a mendicant foreign policy.  As Recto eloquently noted after the war, “in the world of parliament of the United Nations, it is no more difficult to predict that the Philippines will vote with the American Union than that the Ukraine will vote with the Soviet Union.  American policy has found no more eloquent spokesman and zealous advocate, and Russian policy no louder critic and more resourceful opponent, than the Philippines.  Americans may disagree violently with their own foreign policy, but it has no better supporter than the Philippines.”

Another alternative would be to organize small countries against any form of domination by the powerful nations.  Recto, for instance, as early as 1954, envisaged an Asian solidarity “against colonialism in any form, political or economic, from whatever source and direction and by whosoever imposed upon an Asian nation.  And ‘Asia for Asians’ is the only principle they can understand because most of them are still suffering from the effects of the colonialism that first deprived them of the blessings of freedom a couple of centuries ago.”   In 1969, he envisioned Asian nations having mutual relations which could expand into a network of multi-lateral collaborations. “It will produce a truly united Asian bloc of nations which can be an effective force for peace and render valuable assistance to people who are still struggling for their freedom from foreign control.”

Given, however, the realities of the contemporary world, it is almost impossible not to be caught up in the overstretched and overwhelming power of the wealthy nations.  Still, some have a different way of looking at world realities and for them, peace resulting from the existence of a few powerful nations and of the many that are poor and weak is not real.  For them, a real one can come if these wealthy nations are toppled down.  Which is why, a new reality emerged: the phenomenon of international terrorism.  The fall of the twin towers in New York on Sept 11, 2001 was so far the loudest expression of that protest against the kind of peace defended by the powerful.  Unable to fight their enemy face to face, they resort to terrorism in retaliation for what they perceive as injustices done to the poorer nations.  Why most organized terrorists come from Arab countries may be an indication that for them the imperialist countries have for decades done them great injustice that has to be corrected if the world is going to experience authentic peace.

But others have recourse to another way to gain leverage with the powerful countries: go nuclear.  For possessing nuclear weapons, a nation may be hated, but she is definitely feared.  All know that a nuclear war would be devastating.  It will destroy not only military installations, but will kill millions through spread of radiation and contaminate large areas.  Since no one in his right mind would allow that to happen, as it result in the obliteration of this immoral civilization, no nation would ever wage a large scale war with a small that has nuclear weapons.  Thus, peace is assured. No wonder, less powerful nations like Iran, Iraq, North Korea and others lust after possession of weapons of mass destruction, thinking that once they acquire them, they would gain the respect of powerful nations.  (The only problem would be—what if an outlaw gets the nuclear bomb?  That would drive everybody scared, including the powerful!)

Anyway, such is the politics of peace that obtains in the present world.  But, in reality, it is merely the absence of a large scale war.  All over the world, there is war engaged in by two or three countries or war within the same country, but still a war that owes its origin to the unjust world order and, as a consequence, to the unjust order within the nation itself where there is no peace, because the needs of the many who are poor are not really addressed.   This is true of the Philippines.  As Time puts it in his cover story, “The War with No End,” “What is beyond dispute is that the government is in seemingly perpetual conflict with a significant portion of its population.  The NPA should be a cold war relict, a forgotten insurgency rotting away in the Southeast Asian jungle.  Instead—and despite its bloody purges, its ‘sparrow unit’ death squads, and its defunct ideology—it remains an enduring symbol of the failure of successive governments to improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos.”

Is Real World Peace Possible?

            Small wonder, then, that many people believe world peace is scarcely possible to achieve?   The British Philosopher, Bertrand Russell, is not alone in his skepticism of world peace: “After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it has generated Neros, Genghis Khans, and Hitlers.  This, however, I believe is a passing nightmare; in time, the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peace will return.”  Reinhold Niebuhr is similarly skeptic.  He thought that while individuals may be converted to peace, yet, the “immoral society” would never rid itself from the curse of war.  Indeed, the road to peace is complex and difficult, but because peace—not sword—is in the heart of man, it is possible and plausible.  Some scientists have observed that there is now a growing consciousness in the current generation that, unlike centuries before, does not accept war as a necessity or source of glory.
The Fundamental Principle: Humanity is One Family

            But where do we start?  As can be seen from the foregoing, the fundamental defect of the politics of peace in our time is that it is premised on greed, selfishness and self-interest—there is peace if my own country prevails and lives in peace, if my country reigns supreme, is sufficient in all its needs, and has access to the sources of what it wants, without having to be concerned that this entails domination, exploitation, destruction of other nations.  For this reason, the fundamental basis for real world peace is to think and act in terms of the whole humanity.

            Says John Paul II in one of his messages for World Day of Peace: “This seeking of peace must be based on the awareness that humanity, however much marred by sin, hatred, and violence, is called by God to be a single family.  This divine plan needs to be recognized and carried out through the search for harmonious relationships between individuals and peoples, in a culture where openness to the Transcendent, the promotion of the human person, and respect for the world of nature is shared by all.”  He continues: “There will be peace only to the extent that humanity as a whole rediscovers its fundamental calling to be one family, a family in which the dignity and rights of individuals—whatever their status, race, or religion—are accepted as prior and superior to any kind of difference or distinction. 

            He goes on: “For this to happen, a complete change of perspective will be needed: it is no longer the well-being of any one political, racial, or cultural community that must prevail, but rather the good of humanity, expressed in the recognition and respect for human rights, sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.  It is necessary, then, to abandon ideas and practices—often determined by powerful economic interests—the political, cultural, and institutional divisions and distinctions by which humanity is ordered and organized are legitimate insofar as they are compatible with membership in the one human family, and with the ethical and legal requirements which stem from this.”

            From a Buddhist perspective, the same fundamental basis of real world peace is echoed by the Dalai Lama in his article, “A Human Approach to World Peace”: “A universal humanitarian approach to world problems seems to be the only sound basis for world peace.  What does this mean?  We begin from the recognition… that all beings cherish happiness and do not want suffering.  It then becomes both morally wrong and pragmatically unwise to pursue one’s own happiness oblivious to the feelings and aspirations of all others who surround us as members of the same human family.  The wise course is to think of others also when pursuing our own happiness…. We are facing problems because people are concentrating only on their short-term, selfish interests, not thinking of the entire human family.  They are not thinking of the earth and the long term effects on universal life as a whole.”

            This principle is enormously important, and its significance cannot be overestimated.  If this fundamental basis is recognized, it will become clear why, for instance, an offense against human rights is an offense against humanity itself, why earth resources have a universal destination, why real peace is intertwined with the integral development of the poor and disadvantaged countries and why these countries have the right to share in the enjoyment of material goods, why disarmament is in accord with human solidarity, why the poor must be the agents of their own development, to mention a few.  Of course, an understanding of the consequences of this principle requires a change in our perspective.  But it will definitely imply a tectonic shift in the way we do the politics of world peace, if such peace is to satisfy the longings of man’s heart.*

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