This I Believe

E. James - Potomac, Maryland
Entered on July 12, 2006
Age Group: 65+
Themes: peace, war

Peace is the Way

Ten years old in 1944, I fought World War II vicariously, through movies on Saturday afternoons: Bataan and Corregidor and lots of anti-Nazi films. I drew pictures of warplanes and destroyers—some were printed in the kids pages of the Oakland Tribune. Confirmed in a reform synagogue, I became an agnostic in college. The University of California had been at the center of a loyalty oath controversy that led to the resignation of at least a dozen conscientious professors; Joe McCarthy was at the zenith of his anti-Communist crusade. I woke up to politics while focusing on pre-med courses, including German. A chance to spend the summer of 1954 in Europe grabbed me. I had invitations to visit several men with whom I had been playing postal chess. My opponent in Germany was both enthusiastic and penitent: a family man of 40, he surmised that I was Jewish, admitting apologetically that he had fought in Hitler’s army and that he had respect for people of all nations and faiths. My wish to accept his invitation caused consternation but my parents allowed me to make the decision.

Though the war had ended nine years earlier, there were still piles of rubble in cities and towns of England, France and Germany, craters from shells and bombs in the countryside, many amputees. Paul and his family welcomed me for three days near the end of my train and bicycle tour. It was total immersion in language and common humanity. I was the oldest child. On a walk near his home Paul pointed to some ruins saying, “Wir sind Kriegm-de [we are war-weary].”

I returned directly to medical school where death came close, in the anatomy lab: not just one cadaver but a whole platoon. Death, common to us all, is a great equalizer, an even greater stimulus to find a consoling belief. Each story is different but the endings look alike. I was reminded that bombs of the allies and the axis had similar results on the ground. I read Gandhi and Lincoln Steffens, listened to KPFA-FM, went to some Quaker meetings. “There is no way to peace; peace is the way” expresses what I came to believe then and still do, 52 years later. The American pacifist A. J. Muste said it.

I did more than my national service obligation with seven years at NIMH, leaving disappointed at the demise of the mental health center program started by John F. Kennedy only to be decimated by our War in Vietnam. Having practiced and taught psychotherapy since 1970, I see it as the opposite of “Shoot first and ask questions later.” If you ask the right questions in the right way, you should never have to shoot. You make peace by being a peacemaker. Anger is no sin, but killing is. There are peace-enhancing ways to deal with anger—ours and the other guys’. Gandhi, Freud, and A. J. Muste taught me, and this I believe.