|Selection of Dick Sheppards writing
|the root of the matter
© Peace Pledge Union
|There are institutions in the depths of the country, where men have lived for the last twenty years and will live until they die. Some of these men have no legs and arms, some of them have no faces: all of them have fought in the war of 1914-1918. And we rearm for the next war.
Where are we to see, in the vicious circle, anything but despair? We may turn to this or that in the attempt to forget, to the cinema, to novel-reading, to the making of money, to the dreaming of dreams, but in the end we must return to what actually is, and see it for chaos. We may rail against the system. We may say: 'The state of things is terrible, but communism will put it right', or we may put forward any theory or proposition that takes our fancy. But the system is of our making, the world is what we have made it. To say, now that we have brought it to this pass: 'I will now get it right by putting my favourite theory into operation' is nothing more nor less than consummate conceit, for it implies that we are apart from the system, instead of every day contributing to it. There is a beam in our own eye. It might be as well to reform ourselves before we begin to reform the world that our blindness has built. Reform, like charity, begins, surely, at home.
This applies, too, to our dealings with other countries. We resent the armaments of Germany and France, we resent other countries' claims to a right to exist, but we rearm ourselves as fast as they do, we insist on our right to exist. Are we, then, so superior to all other countries, does England contain better men than Germany, or is it a mistake that we are all equal in the eyes of God? Here again is the vicious circle. If you rearm, we'll rearm. If you manufacture gun-masks at the rate of thousands a day, so will we. If you threaten to attack us, we'll threaten to attack you. If you attack us, we'll attack you one minute sooner. An eye for an eye. Chemists prepare gas, district councils discuss bomb and gas-proof shelters. A chemist at a public meeting informs us that the effects of burning gases can be counteracted by taking a warm bath within minutes of making contact with them, and we feel momentarily comforted, forgetting that it may not be very easy to take a warm bath when a bomb has fallen through the bathroom roof and put the geyser out of commission.
But the chemist means well, and so do the arms manufacturer, the politician, the Fascist, the Communist, the economist, the man in the street. There lies the tragedy. Man is a peace-loving animal, ironic though that may seem, and a herd animal that does not deliberately cause his fellows hurt, and he always means well. But he does not mean well enough. We are the victims of the vicious circle. But we have created it, through centuries of blindness and well-meaning, and we are the victims of ourselves.
When we come to the consideration of wars and threats of wars and the efforts, so various, so sincere that are being made to prevent war, the same applies. We may find an effective antidote to poisonous gas but we have only applied a patch, and very soon the danger will break out once more in another direction. The root cause, something within us, the will to war, the will to hate and to fear, is not changed. That may sound as though, for all our efforts against it, we in reality want war. We do not want war, but we are not willing to attain the state of mind, and so the state of conduct, in which war becomes impossible. We are not willing to give up our acquisitiveness, our beliefs in national supremacy, our fear and hatred of other countries, any more than we are willing, really and fundamentally, to give up the hatred and fear that in private life separates us from our brother man. We want peace, honestly and truly enough, but we want it for nothing. The competitive conditions of life dictate that we shall always try to get something for nothing. Peace and love cannot be acquired on those terms. There is such a thing as sacrifice, and if we want a thing we must be prepared to give for it. We must be prepared to give, and to leave the taking to take care of itself. For it will take care of itself, as the bread cast upon the waters returns to us always at last.
Must we say, then, that the efforts we make for peace, our peace-ballots, our anti-war movements, our medical associations for the prevention of war, a hundred other activities directed against the outbreak of another war, are false and meaningless? We know that they are sincere, but is that enough? How easily they become patches applied to the outside of a state of inward and unrealised disruption, how easily we deceive ourselves into believing that to spend our time working on research into the means of preventing war is enough. It is not enough. By their fruits ye shall know them, and, in spite of these many activities, in spite of the well-wishing and hard work of thousands, the threat of war persists.
It is the same with many other kinds of activity for the betterment of the world. We work hard to improve the condition of the poor, housing, nutrition, employment, medical treatment and our hard work satisfies us that we are doing all we can. And much is accomplished. The patched garment can be worn again until a fresh rent appears. But there are still hungry children, families living in one room, mothers dying in childbirth through lack of nourishment or proper care, young men standing idle at street-corners because there is no work for them to do. Can we honestly say that we progress?
There will come, before many years are over, a point at which we may take one road or other, a cross-roads almost certainly labelled War and Peace. Enough prophets have told us what war would mean, unthinkable suffering and horror, plague, the extermination of a vast portion of civilised humanity, the end of civilisation the centuries have built up. Many, too, think this wholesale destruction inevitable, even 'right', a part of universal law, as it has seemed to be in the past. But this building up and destroying of civilisations is part of the law of the vicious circle, and we can break the law by breaking the circle before the destruction-point is reached. We can take the road labelled Peace when we come to the parting of the ways.
Movements made to abolish war should not, as they so often are, be called anti-war movements. That name implies war against war, the strife to cast out Satan by Satan. We must accept. We must accept a man when he takes up a belligerent attitude toward us, and love him in spite of it. For he is not always belligerent: in five minutes time he will be lending a friend a pound-note, or carrying home a tired child. We could love him doing those things. We can love him when he wants to hurt us, for those other actions of his are still just as real. Nor do we do any good if we hit back when he attacks us, or even get in our blow first. It only makes him more angry. We can refuse to fight with him, however. But the immediate supposition is that he will knock us down. Very well, why not? At least we shall not have contributed to the fight and put ourselves as much 'in the wrong' as we think him. But there is much more to turning the other cheek than that. Try it next time (if there is such a time) a man wants to hit you. He won't hit you, and there will be an end of it. Could you hit a man whom you knew to be virtually defenceless? We're often base, but seldom as base as that. That the man has not hit you may seem inexplicable, but it becomes less so if you put yourself in his position. How would you feel if you had threatened someone who had looked at you squarely and answered that he would not fight you? You would feel humiliated. You would feel that this spiritual courage was greater than your physical courage, and that you had made an ass of yourself. But you would not quite know why. You would only know that you were up against something you could not understand. You were up against forgiveness and love. For one must not use what is called passive resistance for one's own ends, to get one out of a nasty licking. One must use it for the sake of the man who threatened you, because you don't want him to let himself down, because you don't want him to be hurt, because you are sorry for his anger and understand it, and know that he is a human being like yourself, and to be loved instead of striven against.
But suppose he wants to fight you, as often happened when one was a schoolboy and still, in effect, happens now one is grown up, because you have something that he wants or because he thinks you have done him some injury. He may be right. The sensible and civilised thing to do is to give it to him. He wants it, and that is reason enough. Besides, it may make him happy to have it, and to make him happy will not make you unhappy: on the contrary. Nothing that we possess is comparable in value to the happiness we should have in being without it because we had given it to someone else. Man cannot live by bread alone.
All this applies, of course, to countries that go to war or want to go to war. There is only one way to cast out fear, which is hatred, which is war. Perfect love casteth out fear, and hatred and war. If we could learn to love, that war would be impossible, defences, bomb-proof shelters, anti-aircraft guns, armaments, treaties a ridiculous mockery, the paraphernalia of the fear we had outgrown. Suppose a nation were to see in time the cross-roads approaching, suppose it were to wrest itself away from the habit of centuries, the age-old fears, the habit of hatred, and to choose, because it had listened to its own conscience, the road marked Peace. And suppose it said to the world at large: We will never again join war with any other country. We renounce the madness, the shame and the sin of killing. We will make no more guns, and we will melt down those we have, using the metal of them for more civilised and humane purposes, the money we have hitherto spent on them to make the lives of our people easier. We have burnt the formulas for poison gas. We have demobilised our army and navy and airforce. We offer you peace, or if you will not accept peace, our lives to the glory of Peace.
And suppose that country were England.
There are men, perhaps, who could still find it in their hearts to take advantage of that demobilised, disarmed and defenceless country. There were men who crucified Jesus. It is possible that dictators, men so insane with the desire for power that they cannot be treated as ordinary beings, would order their armies to attack. But those armies would have to be reckoned with. They would be composed of men like the inhabitants of the country against whom they were sent out. They might be filled with the mass-hysteria that moves an army as one man. But would they be able, even so, to gas, to bomb, to shoot, to crush and conquer the men and women and children who had done them no harm and whom, before their dictator told them otherwise, they recognised for their brothers and sisters? It is impossible to believe. They would return to their dictators, and their dictators would be powerless.
England can be that disarmed, disarming country. The spirit of Christianity in England, together with our native tolerance and our native humanity and common sense, can make it so. Just as mass-feeling contributes towards the brutality of war, so it can contribute to the loving-kindness of peace. We have had the courage to make war, and to die in battle. We have had the courage to make peace, and if necessary to die in sacrifice. We have an example. What is the loss of our own life, even if we achieved nothing for the peace of the world but the preservation of the lives of our enemies, if we die because we believe in Christ? For, believing in Him, we should exchange life for eternal life.
It is with this decision that we shall sooner or later be faced, the decision between the roads marked War and Peace. Nor can we believe that we should ever be called upon to sacrifice our lives and those of those dear to us. To turn the other cheek disarms one's opponent. To be determined for peace creates peace. If one country will come to this determination, and it does not matter in the least whether it be England or any other, those others will follow suit. We are sick of the thought and the threat of war. No nation, as a congregation of individuals, wants war. But nations are afraid, and cannot overcome their fear. Let one lay down its arms, overcome its fear, look death and destruction in the face for the sake of humanity and for the sake of Jesus who died for humanity, and the others will find their fear vanished and lay down their arms with relief.
We know the difference between love and hatred, strife and peace, light and darkness. And we know how to become sane men, whole men who are God, who have the Kingdom of God within them. For we know, and need to know nothing more, that Jesus said before he died: 'One last commandment I give unto you: my little children, love one another.'
P E A C E P L E D G E U N I O N 1 Peace Passage London N7 0BT, Britain.