Can we be at peace while creating war?

Sraddha Helfrich

I had to laugh the other day while watching CNN. In the tradition of grandiose American shamelessness and overt hypocrisy, George W. and Laura Bush on Thursday began the 2002 “Pageant of Peace” program before Christmas, during a time when White House activities are centered on aggression toward Iraq. “Peace” and “aggression” are mutually exclusive. My American Heritage dictionary states aggression is “the act of commencing hostilities or invasion; an assault; or the habit of doing so,” while peace is “the absence of war or other hostilities; freedom from quarrels and disagreements; harmonious relations.”

Our government is supposed to have separation of church and state, so it is inappropriate to focus solely on a Christian holiday calendar. I am more appalled, even as a non-Christian, at the blatant hypocrisy of holding this peace month in the Christian holiday month – one that is supposed to signify peace on earth and goodwill toward others – while the government is mobilizing for a war. This is truly shameless and barbaric. We want to put on a show, a public relations stunt, for the holiday season but not actually implement any of the positive teachings that can come from the season. As citizens, are we any better than our government?

Every December, I go through a process of reflection. I reflect on the ways in which I behaved during the past year. I also reflect on the way we have behaved as humans. This year, I have been thinking a great deal about peace. What does it mean? How can it exist? How can it be created? One realization is clear: The United States will never create peace. We are not a peaceful country, we never have been and we never will be. For the United States to be a peace-creating country, we must be peaceful within our own country. For this to occur, we need to come to terms with our violent, aggressive history. We need to come to terms with our holocaust-like past and our historical social and biological terrorism toward Africans, blacks, Asians and American Indians.

A history laden with kidnapping, thievery, broken treaties, abuse, exploitation, government schools, measles blankets, the Trail of Tears, lynching, eugenics and more failings of humanity such as the use of two atomic bombs on civilians cannot be the foundation for peace. Without actively seeking out forgiveness and creating harmonious relationships with those our government and so-called “pioneers” have trespassed against for centuries, we are left with a spiritual black hole that no number of “peace pageants” at the White House can fill. Because the history taught in our schools is the history of aggressors and invaders, we will continue to perpetuate a mentality of aggression and invasion in the minds of our young, further eluding them from understanding what peace is. We will continue to be complacent that we are the world’s largest producer of mass destruction weapons.

We as a nation will not create peace because we do not have it within our individual hearts and minds. Indeed, we are aggressive individualists. Part of peace is harmonious, nonaggressive relationships. Where do relationships have time in our hurried culture of selfishness and competition? It was very telling today when my friend, who is a foreign student at the University, had a classmate voluntarily stop by to help him work through a problem. He said, “That was so un-American for him to spend that time. It was really nice.” Our society has serious cultural issues in the way we treat each other. We have real shortcomings, and we must be mature enough to take honest stock of them and adjust our way of thinking. This change will not be done through government policy. This is our responsibility as individuals and as human beings.

We must not banish our honoring of peace to Sunday mornings or to social functions that make us look good in the eyes of others. You cannot undo six and one-half days of wrong with one morning of spiritual “acting.” Would you hand out food to the poor on the streets? Would you protect the rights of a prostitute being humiliated on the street and give her hope for a better life? Would you speak out against your friends who are making derisive comments toward a physically disabled person? Would you go out and preach in the streets against the bigotry and injustice that is perpetuated against so many human beings today? My guess is that 99.99 percent of us would not. But we go back safely to our houses of worship and sing to the heavens about how great our prophets are and keep acting like the very people they were fighting against on a spiritual level – those who are greedy for power, money and prestige and those who are not awakened to the issues of the world and our role in them.

The White House “peace pageant” makes one of Isaiah’s prophecies ring true: “This people honors me with lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching teachings which are men’s commands.” It is easier to go through the religious motions of a holiday than to think and reflect deeply on what the holiday actually means and the spiritual values it hopes to convey.

Think about the goods you are buying this season. Were they created through the oppression of other people? Is your consumption level an example of the wide gap between the rich and the poor? Money comes and goes but time never comes back. Have you given your time to those you care about and to those whom society ignores? Have you worked through any problems you might have in your relationships? Have your learned to be more patient this year? Have your learned to be less aggressive and more generous? The foundation for peace is laid down through these behavioral choices.

Let the White House go on practicing the shameless hypocrisies that it consistently inspires among its inhabitants. We as citizens are the true creators of peace. It has to come from us. This holiday, do not just sing about peace. Evaluate your daily choices and purchases for this year’s season.

Sraddha P. Helfrich’s columns appear monthly. Please send letters to the editor to [email protected]