TO WAR OR NOT TO WAR
I protested the Viet Nam War–even helped transport some money across the Canadian border. Assuming the statute of limitations on that crime has run out. At least willing to confess it now. Before I converted to Judaism, I was a member of the Burlington, Vt. aka Quakers. The Rabbi who converted me, ended my conversion ceremony with this sentence. “I have taught you the law; how you obey it is between you and G-d.” Because at that time, I saw no difference between the two sets of religious beliefs and felt I was only taking on more laws by converting, I did not resign from Quaker meeting. The Rabbi might not have approved, but as he said that was between me and G-d.
Then came the Yom Kippur War, and I knew with all my heart, my pacifism ended where others sought to kill me or those I loved. I immediately sent my letter of recommendation to the Clerk of the Burlington Meeting.
This post is a long debate on when to appease and when to take up arms. Social Issues and Torah: Appeasement. I follow it with my own long debate about the same issues. Some of you know me as a Cranky Old Lady. Rightfully so, but also I claim to think about what matters and to look toward many sources for helping me decide what matters.
It is interesting to think as I write this post about the differences between the first religion I chose when I realized I did not want to identify as a Christian and where my heart now lies. The main belief of the Quakers is that “the light lives in every person.” The light being f G-d. However, there is a realization that relying on your voice alone is dangerous. For another core belief is that “When two or three are gathered in G-d’s name, s/he/it will be there.”
The Quakers decide issues by consensus, and gaining consensus on issues of importance is no easy matter. There is a saying about Rabbis when you get two or three in the same room, you will get eight or nine opinions. Try sitting with thirty people each convinced they know what G-d wants in addressing important issues. You get ninty opinions. The danger of consensus lies in the human tendency for the most passionate among the gathered throng to drive decisions. I watched that happen in the OWS movement. Let me elaborate.
Quakers believe in non-violent resistance (Think Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.). The key word is non-violent and I think most of those in the OWS crowd had no wish to provoke violence or to act violently. I saw on one tape, a young man modeling the ideal of non-violent resistance. He sat in the lotus position meditating. He did not move when asked to, but did not cooperate and continued to meditate while being carted away by the police. Then there were the others–the name callers, hate-spewers, those bent on provoking and succeeding some of the time. Interesting to me that the Seattle Washington Police broke, hence the great photo op of the 84 year old who ending up being pepper sprayed. I did not see the NYC police being violent, forceful but not violent. Of course, I could have missed something. I also am biased, as I am a former NYer who ran a crisis team. I know much effort as gone into training its police force to deal with provocation. Doesn’t always hold, but seemed to this time around.
wherever the police were goaded into acting, most of the crowds tried to flee. Very basic human instinct. A fewer number fought back. Another basic instinct. The people with the most passion often become people willing to act violently to get their way. The ones wanting only to flee often became collateral damage. The police are then labeled the bad guys when it is clearly a dance between the police and violent prone-protesters.
I read recently a definition of evil as beginning in a Hebrew word meaning alone. From the sociopaths portrayed brilliantly in the movie Silence of the Lambs; to Stalin, Hitler, Esau, the despots of today, the Arabs who wish to annihilate the Jews; and to those of the 1% ers who either abuse others to obtain wealth or hoard their wealth; evil is ruling out the needs and rights of the other. Hannibel lechter made humans food; the man he was helping to capture, turned women into leather for his creations. When Jacob tried to appease and humble himself before Esau, he did so not for himself, but for his community, for the others.
I am a history buff–was one of my minors in college. One of the satisfactions I found in converting was a joining a 5000 year history.
I recently did a Cranky Old Lady post that ended with a crank about the dismissal of past wisdom by today’s youth. It covers some of the ground covered in this post. One of the few radio talking heads I will listen to is Dennis Prager. He is a man of much tolerance. His recent broadcasts have been about the wisdom of the Bible. Do understand that when I converted a number of my Christian friends were most unhappy and began throwing bible verses at me. They rarely mined the wisdom, but were trying to save my soul. I was righteously offended, but have now accepted their good intent.
To me one of the stark differences between a few of my bible thumping real life friends and the bible thumping I see all over the internet is whether those thumping are also thinking about what matters. Seeing both the wisdom and the lack of wisdom in the bible. As Prager notes, it does have more wisdom than not.
So back to the issue of appeasement and doing what you have to do to stay alive. My quarrel with the radical Quakers was not their willingness to die for their beliefs, but that their actions meant many others would die. When I resigned my membership I realized I believed in just wars and believed equally that “all was fair” when waging a just war. T.H. White put that into words in his wonderfully wise book The Once and Future King. Please read it if you haven’t. Here is part of his quote about a just war:There is one fairly good reason for fighting – and that is, if the other man starts it. You see, wars are a great wickedness, perhaps the greatest wickedness of a wicked species. They are so wicked that they must not be allowed. When you can be perfectly certain that the other man started them, then is the time when you might have a sort of duty to stop them.
He goes on to say it is enough to fight first if an enemy has gathered on your borders, is shaking their spears, and vowing to kill you. Sounds to me like what the Israelis are facing. Also sounds to me like what many Christians are facing trying to live their religion in lands controlled by another religion. Yes, I think Jacob did the right thing to try appeasement, but believe with all my heart, there is also a time to fight and fight to win, collateral damage and all. And it is complicated.
Another of T.H. White’s quotes comes to mind:“We find that at present the human race is divided into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become ‘politicians’; the wise man stands out, because he knows himself to be hopelessly outnumbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics, or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off under the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice and warfare. It is pleasant to have command, observes Sancho Panza, even over a flock of sheep, and that is why the politicians raise their banners. It is, moreover, the same thing for the sheep whatever the banner. If it is democracy, then the nine knaves will become members of parliament; if fascism, they will become party leaders; if communism, commissars. Nothing will be different, except the name. The fools will be still fools, the knaves still leaders, the results still exploitation. As for the wise man, his lot will be much the same under any ideology. Under democracy he will be encouraged to starve to death in a garret, under fascism he will be put in a concentration camp, under communism he will be liquidated.”
Merlin speaking for White could definitely be called a cranky old man. That didn’t mean he was wrong or one of the fools. He saw more clearly than most. He was writing as the winds of World War II were gathering. It is my opinion that today World War III has already started. Israel is the main battle ground, but those who think we are exempt, need to remember 9/11, the Cole, all other acts of terrorism. So far we have not had the will to recognize we are at war, and definitely in our few excursions to fight back those attacking us, we have not had the will to win.
Did not expect this to turn into a Cranky Old Lady rant–no humor as you have noted if you even managed to read this far. Sometimes I need to just crank to stay emotionally alive.
Thank any of you who stayed with me and if Word Press continues to limit the number of posts they allow on post-a-day “Good Shabbat.”