In 2005 I produced a documentary film, Voices in Wartime, which uses poetry to explore war’s trauma. Since then, at film screenings in classrooms, church basements, and libraries, I have discovered that almost everybody has a story about war’s impact on our lives. We have been to war ourselves or we know a friend or coworker who has been to war or we have a family member who witnessed war.
I met a Vietnam veteran named Bill who told me about losing fourteen young men from his helicopter battalion on one afternoon in 1967. He told me about his nightmares on each of the next 14,000 nights of his life. I met Bill’s daughter, who said she never really had a father after he returned from Viet Nam, yet she never knew what had happened to him there.
I met John who joined the army and went off to the war in Iraq partly because Jesus had said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,” and he wanted to be a peacemaker. John described the terrors of combat on a crowded street in Mosul, the faces of dying children, explosions and cracks of automatic gunfire, pink mists that appeared when bullets hit their targets. He also spoke of nightmares.
I spoke with Rachel, whose father died an angry, mean and bitter recluse with no friends left. She carried in her heart such rage against him. After his funeral, she and her mother found an old photograph in an album — her dad just before World War II. His face was alive with happiness and love. Her mother said, “Ah, that’s who he was before he went off to war. But he never talked about what he saw there.”
I believe all of us are touched by war in ways that none of us fully understand. I believe that war may sometimes be necessary, and war may call forth reserves of courage and selfless sacrifice. However, I also believe that no war is good, and that any war opens the door to the deepest depravity and insanity that humanity is capable of.
I believe that our collective survival, our capacity to deal with environmental disaster, poverty, injustice, acts of terror, estrangement, starvation, and manifold misery, depends on knowing how to pursue alternatives to war as a method of resolving our conflicts and contradictions.
I believe that the trauma of one war, so long as it remains unacknowledged and unhealed, helps to lay the basis for future and further wars, for terrible retribution and an unholy reliance upon violence.
I believe that developing the seeds of compassion in our children and in ourselves is the most immensely practical and necessary project of our century. I believe that we will only save ourselves through the intense and conscious practice of love as a method of personal engagement and public policy.
Along with Gandhi, I believe that “It is possible to live in peace.”
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