Wars in our lives

Opinion Oskar Wermter SJ

MOST of us who are close to 80 years survived the Second World War, including the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and countless other wars in Korea, Vietnam, on the Indian subcontinent, in Central America, in the Middle East and last, but not least, in our beloved Africa.

Even the younger generation has heard about the wars of liberation in southern Africa, the genocide in Rwanda and the civil wars in Sudan and Congo. The list is endless. Which
Zimbabwean family has not lost a member or members to our “Chimurenga” and “Gukurahundi”?

My earliest childhood memories go back to the end of World War 2. There were more wars to come. I cannot forget the helicopter gunships rising into the sky over Zimbabwe, the “protected villages” and the ex-combatants in their “assembly points” who we met in the bush, desperate to get home for a new life.

Proudly, they raised their guns, though no longer pointing at enemies. Laughing, they wanted me to “shoot” them, if only with my camera. I still have those snapshots.

I remember the joking and laughter of “veterans” looking forward to another round of fighting. How strange that ex-soldiers look back with apparent nostalgia to the days when blood was
spilled and comrades buried.

I have seen enough of it and I am not keen to see more, not even the TV wars shot in Hollywood merely for entertainment in our living rooms.

Some famous professors of education tell us that young people who get their daily dose of violence and bloodshed for mere entertainment are not infected by the gunplay of cowboys and
the heaps of corpses on their screens.

Pedagogues of distinction do not see that their pupils would be addicted to guns and war games, and end up as drive-by killers and acquire other habits of destroying life, “merely for
fun”.

Those “experts” think that children and young adults will be able to tell the difference between screenplay and actual corpses, blood and gore.

The world in the latter part of the 20th Century has been able to avoid a Third World War, substituted by a “Cold War”, the arms race between the superpowers, booming arms trade and the mutual deterrence between nuclear powers.

Now there is only one super-super-power, but the “industrial military complex” is as productive as ever before.
The media super-power, the United States, keeps the fire burning. History and tradition have created a gun-culture, which is not being abolished by men brought up playing with guns and
automatic rifles, who feel happy by proving to be the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of cowboys.

The “right of an American citizen to bear arms” cannot be questioned. No candidate in the race for election as the next US President can start an argument with the powerful “rifle
association” where grown men, plus their wives, play with guns like little boys (and girls?) playing with toy guns.

This enthusiasm for lethal weapons is an epidemic no one can stop. There is no drug to kill this addiction off. Anyone can go and buy his “toy-gun” in a gun shop.

And once you have deadly weapons in your cupboard, the temptation to go and kill foreigners, aliens and migrants in a fit of xenophobia and assault unpopular neighbours, is
insurmountable.

While walls are being erected to protect your paranoid gun-toting population from uncontrollable foreign refugees, the lethal infection that turns you into a terrorist and compulsive
killer crosses borders easily.

The “American way of life” has become the American (or Russian or Chinese) way of killing and dying.

Power is the power to kill, plain and simple. A war may end, but the guns, machetes, battle axes, bombs, landmines, and rockets remain, and there is a market for them.

A gun once put up for sale on some African market will not be buried in the bush and vanish.

If there is some civil war brewing, those who know will want to be part of it. The heroes of the last war are dead, but their tools needed for the next mass slaughter of human beings
can be dug up and be made ready for action.

On the first pages of the Bible, we come across the first murder. Our God and Creator, the Giver of Life, contradicts Cain’s word: “I must avoid your presence and become a restless
wanderer on the earth, anyone might kill me at sight”.

Revenge is not tolerated by the Lord. He “put a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight”. Countless times, this word has been ignored, blood has been spilled since those days
until today.

The law, as given by nature, protects the killer and does not tolerate “a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye” scenario.

We need a complete turn-around. We must do away with war as a political option. We must do away with revenge. When insulted, we must not return the insult. When suffering, we must not
threaten (cf. 1 Peter 2:23).

We must work for a peace never experienced before, and face up to the truth on the way towards reconciliation. This requires a moral somersault and a spiritual rebirth.

Once this spirit enters our hearts and allows us to be “born again” in our conscience, we may be able to listen to the voice of our conscience and opt for life, and no longer for warmongering and destruction.

The Church and many human rights defenders protect such “conscientious objectors”, as long as they are prepared to “serve the human community in some other way” (Catechism, 2311).

The old heroes of past wars are dead and buried. Long live the heroes and heroines of peace!

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