*Transcript of talk presented by Rich Hayes Oct. 2009 at The Unitarian Universalist Church, Pittsfield, MA

Awhile back I sat with a man I’ve been visiting for a while. His name is John and he’s 91 years old. Like a lot of the guys from his generation he’d been in the war. But he’d gone in before it was on. Back in 1940 he’d enlisted in the U.S. Calvary. Well that enlistment led him places he never imagined for himself. When war came he was shipped to the Pacific. At that time an unheard of place called Guadalcanal was his destination.
He hadn’t really talked about those times with me… until that day.

He told me how he’d visited his son’s house a little while ago and his son had rented “Saving Private Ryan” because he thought his dad would like it. His son had a big screen TV and a surround sound system, and John told me that when the scene of the landing began to unfold and all the chaos and bombs began going off, he had to get up and leave the room. He said he just couldn’t take it.

That story opened the door for a question that had been bothering me, one that I wasn’t planning to address in today’s talk.

But Johns telling me this story allowed me to broach the subject that had been bothering me.

I deeply, DEEPLY believe in peace. I believe that war can no more lead to peace than an orange seed can grow an apple tree.

But then I think of World War Two....

And here I was with a guy who’d been there and he’d for no apparent reason told me about this experience at his son’s house.

So an issue I’d hoped to avoid was here, staring me in the face.

WWII is often called the necessary war – the “good” war.
So I asked John what he thought. Is there such a thing as a “good war” ?
He paused for a long time. As a matter of fact I was about to repeat myself because I thought he hadn’t heard me. Then he said, “There’s no good in war, but sometimes you have no choice, you have to defend yourself”

Then he said to me that while there is no good war, he thought there was good that can come out of war.

He then told me that he’d seen something on the history channel- a reunion of soldiers who had been on Iwo Jima and traveled back there 50 years later. According to John, while it hadn’t been planned, and the Americans knew nothing about it, a few Japanese soldiers learned of this reunion and showed up. He said that the men wound up acting like long lost friends, bowing, hugging, laughing.

John said when he saw this he began to cry, and once he started he couldn’t stop. Memories flooded back in on him: Old friends, comrades; scenes of horror.

As I left for another appointment I thought about all those millions of men-and woman who’d gone to war. I thought of all these human beings coming back home afterward, trying to return to a “normal” life.

All the marriages and the families that got started, the jobs and careers, the businesses and industries that went forward to build our country during the following decades

And it struck me as I drove along Rte 41 on my way to Great Barrington that all of these people carried whatever this experience had been for them-
Whatever it had done to them-
they carried it within them, much like a seed. And this impacted all that they touched in their lives, their wives, husbands, children communities, governments.

It has built our world today.

I’ve heard some people say that war is really another word for failure.

My own struggle regarding World War Two was that had we not fought, what would have happened? And the picture I got was not pretty.

But the world of the past 64 years is also not so great to look at either. How many smaller wars have there been? Too many to count: some we can name, like Korea and Viet Nam, or the most recent “good” war: the 1st Gulf war.
And here we are again, getting ready to escalate in Afghanistan as we prepare to withdraw from Iraq.
Will it ever change?
Can it ever change?

Yes. I believe it can.

A few months ago I gave a talk called “Peace is not the Answer”. That talk was primarily about the individual’s journey and what may be gained by going through the very difficult challenges that life hands us. That by experiencing the pain and the loss, we are often enriched and expanded;
that it’s sometimes the awful and terrible things that get our attention, wake us up and allow us to see what we’ve been doing.
And with that seeing we are able to change.

I went down this same path a few weeks ago when I spoke of Barack Obama’s election, sighting the past 8 awful years as a time when we as a country got to see our own “shadow” and because of this we’ve chosen a different path.

Let me share with you some of what I see as very hopeful: A world that is connected in ways that where never possible before: Communication that is almost instantaneous from anywhere on the globe. When things are happening there are millions of us seeing it as it happens. Atrocities are getting harder to hide; human rights violations and genocide are there for us to see as they are happening. There is an awareness that is happening-a consciousness that is expanding!
Just think of what happened around the world right before we launched preemptive war on Iraq: Millions of people demonstrated simultaneously around the world. There was a coordinated effort by millions of people! This had never happened before in the entire history of the world.

And it all began when just a few people somewhere started talking to a few other people somewhere else, and like wildfire it spread across the globe thanks to the Internet.
We now have a President who is plugged in to that Internet and making himself available to we the people. This also has never happened before.

I believe that we as a species are changing. Maybe it’s us “growing up”-evolving. Whatever it is, I see it as a possibility for true hope, because it is only through changing that we can move beyond war as solution.
But with all growth there are growing pains.

There are major shifts happening at this moment all around the world: Ecological and climate crisis, financial turmoil-systems breaking down.

I heard someone once say that when everything is breaking down, something else is breaking through.

Our country has done much good in this world. We have stood for great ideals like democracy and freedom. And even when we’ve fallen short, and we have many times, we have continued to pick ourselves up and try again. This has been a big part of what has made us a great nation.

But for many, many years the US has been largest manufacturer and exporter of weapons in the world. Our defense industry, which really began in the 2nd world war, and helped to lead us out of the great depression, has continually grown year after year. As of last year the defense budget of the United States makes up almost 50% of the entire worlds defense spending!! Fifty percent!!
That is a staggering amount of money!!
It takes ALL the rest of the countries of the world combined to equal the money we spend!!!!
For far too many, war and weapons mean profits.
For others it’s simply a job-nothing personal. After all, there are bills to pay and families to support.

How many jobs in our country are tied to making weapons, either directly or indirectly?
How much of our middle class prosperity was created by this?
Right here in Pittsfield?

How many very good and decent people, going about the business of living their life and raising their families and contributing to their communities have also been part of this vast interconnected web that has created weapons of war and death?

There are no easy answers here. And truthfully, a good reason I hadn’t planned to talk about this is because it is very uncomfortable and brings up many questions that certainly make me squirm a bit.

But if we are willing to look at this and
see it, then we can begin to change it. And I believe that with all my heart.
It may take a long time – but it’s taken us a long time to build this system.
And what has been built can be unbuilt.

The last time we had an economic calamity, it took a world war that created millions of jobs and a new industry to make weapons to finally lead us out of
that depression.

What will we choose to lead us out this time? Might we finally scrap this notion of waging war in order to build wealth, and instead develop a whole new basis for economic growth based in technologies promoting life and well-being? Can we finally allow peace to produce a living wage?

Many scientists say that we need to mobilize in a way that we haven’t seen since WWII in order to avoid the climate disaster that we are facing. Many say we need to approach it as we did the Manhattan project or landing a man on the moon.

I believe that President Obama “gets” this. But he is going to need our encouragement and support. The system that has grown since WWII, the one President Eisenhower warned us of in his farewell address, is firmly entrenched and connected. And not unlike a cancer that has metastasized, its roots are deep. And they run underneath the very ground we all stand on.

Like any living system, this system is exerting great force to maintain itself, and I’m sure Obama’s feeling the pressure.
I suspect some of the decisions made regarding Afghanistan may be due to this pressure.
But we can speak out! He gets email!

We may need to put our bodies on the line, so to speak. And truthfully they really are on the line. What we are facing,
we are all facing together.

We are being called to wake up. I believe that is part of what is happening all over the world right now. And with this waking up comes new responsibilities as well as new possibilities, and maybe, just maybe an ending to the nightmare that has been war.

My patient, John said that there are no good wars, but that good can come out of war.

I agree.

Good often comes out of places we could never imagine, and that speaks to the strength of the human spirit.

We are capable of so much, both individually and as a species!

We must all become willing to take action and to make hard choices when needed. We must look at how we live and what supports that, and if it doesn’t align with our values, or if it contributes to the suffering of another human being,
we need to begin to change it. And ultimately we must stop it all together!

I know that many of you here are already aware of this. The good news is that more and more of us are becoming aware. The fact that the system has been so shaken may be one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given!

We have a president who is promising transparency, and I believe him. I think he will do all he can to fulfill this promise. I think we need to aspire for the same in our own lives. I also believe in congruency: alignment of thought, word, and action. If any one of these are out of alignment you are off balance, and it shows in your life.

Our society has been off balance for some time.
We are our society!

I’d like to hope that in a hundred years or so from now people will look back at this time and see it as “The Great Turning”-the time when humanity began to wake up and walk a different path. A time when we learned to not practice war anymore. It is possible. We may not live to see it come to fruition, but wouldn’t it be something to be a part of?