This essay was inspired by a bumper sticker which read:
What if they gave a war, and nobody came?
And by a poster which read:
War is not healthy for children and other living things.
Both of these were from – where else? The sixties…
Several months ago I was having a conversation with a Vietnamese gentleman who is very kind, and very happy to be living in the United States. He came here from Vietnam as one of the “boat people.”
At one point in the conversation he surprised me by saying, “Well, the United States won the war in Vietnam.” I was pretty shocked at this, given that the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam without anything that could be called a victory. The Vietnamese people would not be defeated.
I told him that we didn’t win the war, and asked him how he had come to that conclusion. He said, “The United States killed more Vietnamese than the Vietnamese killed Americans.”
I stared at him, stunned. This is a very kind, gentle man, a healer. His analysis chilled me a bit. And of course, he was correct. A little over 58,000 American soldiers were killed in the war, as opposed to about 2,000,000 Vietnamese. But he was not correct about the victory.
I stared at him. Then I quietly said, “That is a terrible way to ‘keep score.’ No one wins a war. No one.” I continued to stare into his eyes.
He stared back at me for a long time. Then he sighed, nodded his head, and said, “Okay.”
Then I mentioned how the United States helped to build post-war Europe after WWII.
The U.S. had a major interest in helping Western Europe to recover and stand on its own. Secretary of State George C. Marshall said that our policy was not directed against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. He stated that the purpose of the aid should be the revival of a working economy in order to permit political and social conditions conducive to free institutions to emerge.
And while America’s post-war commitment to Western Europe demonstrated the better aspect of our nation’s character, it also advanced our own economic pursuits. We definitely had our own interests in mind.
Not only post-war Europe, but also Japan, benefitted from post-WWII aid and investments. This is because the United States also understood the strategic importance of using foreign assistance to aid and rebuild post-war Japan. Washington invested billions of dollars in Japan’s reconstruction effort. The amounts spent are about one-third of the $65 billion in goods that the United States exported to Japan in 2013. Now the world’s third largest economy, Japan is a mature democracy, and one of the United States’ most important allies in the Asia-Pacific region. *
So after the war, Americans went in and helped to rebuild what they had destroyed. And the result was a win for everyone.
So here’s a suggestion. Why don’t we decide NOT to invade any countries, and instead total up all the money we could spend on war, and on defense. Then figure out where to spend that money to upgrade a country. No war – no “against” anything. Just money well spent to create thriving economies all around the world. A win-win proposition. After all, why should someone have to lose for someone else to win? What a stupid way to run a planet!
As to aid – we could start with the U.S. and set up educational institutions to explain the principles of civility, sanity, decent behavior and honesty in media and government. (Just kidding??)
And here’s another suggestion: forget wars. Start where you are. If you are involved in any kind of disagreement, any conflict that is not going away, or there is someone whose behavior just drives you up a wall – why don’t you just put aside your feelings, and let go of your grievances, whatever they might be. In fact, you don’t even have to talk to the other person; just let it go from your end. Forgive them. Release the hostility – it doesn’t hurt anyone more than it hurts you. It’s a burden you can do without.
You can also try to get into communication to find out what’s going on with the person you have a problem with. You might be surprised that you are able to come to some deeper understanding between you, and that you can, if not really like the person, at least be comfortable with him or her. The worst that can happen is that nothing changes.
But really – is it better to be right than to be happy? Are you so unwilling to try to see any conflict in your life as a chance for redemption, for forgiveness, for peace? Would you really rather sit – righteous and angry – than reach out and build a bridge instead of a wall?
There is no reason why any conflict cannot end well, with resolution and peace.
And to all of you, I wish peace and joy. And forgiveness for anything you won’t forgive yourself for. You deserve it.
*Information from U.S. News and World Report – June 6, 2014