By Donella Meadows
–February 21, 1991–
January 16, 1991, was a day that divided time in ways we are only beginning to realize. In the Middle East it marked the time before which there was ominous quiet, after which there were alarms, the roar of airplanes, the blast of bombs. For the rest of the world it marked the boundary between dread waiting and astonished witnessing. January 16 was the day the media stopped questioning the purpose of war and started admiring its technology.
For those of us who see no morality in any war, especially this one, January 16 was the day before which we could express ourselves openly, after which we had to be careful what we said and to whom.
Any nation that has been plunged into war will stifle opposition to that war. Each side must believe in its own righteousness — otherwise its people would not stand for the sacrifice, the expense, the horror they are called upon to endure. I expected the national mood to shift from doubt into intolerance for doubt. But I am amazed at how rapidly and virulently it has happened.
Blind loyalty and patriotism are getting confused again. Despite the best efforts of the peace movement, opposition to the war is becoming tangled up with “support for the troops.” Margot Kidder describes in the March 4 Nation how her public opposition to the war has brought her threats on the street, enraged letters and phone calls, and job cancellations.
“Two things weigh upon me,” she says. “The deep-felt grieving for a world gone mad with slaughter, and the irritating, twittering yearning for approbation, for superficial pats on the head…. Does it all boil down to a desire to conform, to be seen as correct in our public response to war? And why, for God’s sake, does the press feel the need … to make it appear as if every sane person in the land is lined up … in support of the war?”
Every sane person does not support the war. The sanest people I know have just become quiet, appalled not only by the senselessness of war, but by the hatred they meet when they try to discuss that senselessness. I hear that not only in conversations with friends, but in letters from all over the country — letters that tell me I am not the only one who is mourning every day this war goes on, but finding it necessary to do so more and more silently.
* * * *
“Thank you for writing on the fact that this war is unnecessary. I had begun to feel so lonely.
“I was once a safety officer for engineering at a university. I worked so hard on preventing deaths and injuries. I thought everyone was aware of the importance of protecting each other from harm. If we all were, there just couldn’t be people out there INTENTIONALLY killing folks.”
* * * *
“Having spent a thousand days overseas in World War II, I can tell you about destroyed cities and decimated populations. I know the smell of death, the innocence of silent seconds before a big bomb or heavy artillery shell explodes overhead. I’m well aware of how some men exploit the fortunes of war, or are obsessed by violence. I know the meaning of war firsthand. I am tired of running through sad statistics that do nothing to look inside ourselves, to ask why we tolerate war. War has never worked in solving differences and never will.”
* * * *
“I hope you will find a more helpful conclusion than ‘chronicling war for the sake of future generations who may be tempted to decide that war is a rational way of settling difference.’
“When will such a generation come to be? Why wasn’t it spawned after the horrors of World War I, after the even worse horrors of World War II, after the insanities of Vietnam, all graphically chronicled, over and over and over? Aren’t WE the future generations of those wars (At 70 I am) Why didn’t WE decide that war is not a rational way of settling differences?”
* * * *
“Oh God, I fear the images, the fantasies, the posturing, the self-righteousness that bring us to wars. Are we just savages, ego-centered, with only a thin veneer of humanity, compassion, and mutual respect? Have we learned nothing but efficiency in weaponry over tens of thousands of years?
“Something more than governments, national or world, is needed to deal with this technologically escalating madness. Some new way of looking at the world and each other! Will we ever find it? What is there in which a rational, empathetic person may find encouragement?”
* * * *
There is encouragement in the fact that the nation is full of people who write letters like these. There is hope that, as it becomes more difficult to talk this way, they, and I, will find the courage to do so anyway, out loud, in public. As one of my correspondents says: “Every person who believes in peaceful solutions better stand up and be heard now. I don’t mean just shout, I mean get up and start WORKING toward peace through every possible avenue — through peace groups, through political candidates who look for peaceful pathways. Only when all of us become actively involved will war become the outmoded thing of the past it deserves to be.”
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1991