In 1961 the Trappist Monk, Fr. Thomas Merton, wrote an article entitled “The Root of War is Fear.” He wrote this article against the background of the Cold War with Russia, the Middle East conflict, and the beginning of the Vietnam War.
The fundamental truths of this article are still applicable today.
He starts the article by saying, “The present war crisis is something we have made entirely for and by ourselves. There is not the slightest logical reason for war, and yet the whole world is plunging headlong into frightful destruction, and doing so with the purpose of avoiding war and preserving peace! This is a true war-madness, an illness of the mind and the spirit that is spreading with a furious and subtle contagion all over the world.”
Then he asked the question, “What are we to do?”
His answer, “The duty of the Christians in this crisis is to strive with all their power and intelligence, with their faith, hope in Christ, and love for God and humanity, to do the one task that God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war. Unless we abolish war, the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation.”
I think we have seen this play out in our world today.
The Bush Administration told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. (We know now that this was not true.)
We went to war to prevent war from spreading. Just the opposite happened. Terrorism increased, a civil war has broken out between the Shiites and Sunnis, the Middle East is still unstable, and the Kurds and Turkey are about to go to war. Are we safer than we were 40 years ago?
What is Merton’s answer to war?
“Peace is to be preached, nonviolence is to be explained as a practical method, and not left to be mocked as an outlet for crackpots who want to make a show of themselves. Prayer and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like any weapons they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and against war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We may never succeed in this campaign but this is the great Christian task of our time.”
Merton goes on to say, “At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear people have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another: they do not even trust themselves. They cannot trust anything because they have ceased to believe in God. It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves. For it is this, which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.
“We make the situation much worse by building up an obsession with evil, both in ourselves and in others, that we waste all our mental energy trying to account for this evil, to punish it, to exorcize it, or to get rid of it in any way we can.
We drive ourselves mad with our preoccupation and in the end there is no outlet left but violence. We have to destroy something or someone. By that time, we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world.”
Wow! What a prophet!