The Root of War is Fear

Except for an endnote and disclaimer, I offer without commentary these thoughts on war written in 1961 by Thomas Merton.

“At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear humans have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill they, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God. “ [112]

“When the whole word is in moral confusion, when no one knows any longer what to think, and when, in fact, everybody is running away from the responsibility of thinking, when humans[i] make rational thought about moral issues absurd by exiling themselves entirely from realities into the realm of fictions, and when they expend all their efforts in constructing more fictions with which to account for their ethical failures, then it becomes clear that the world cannot be saved from global war and global destruction by the mere efforts and good intentions of peacemakers. “ [114]

“Is it then because we have so much trust in the power of God that we are intent upon utterly destroying these people before they can destroy us? Even at the risk of destroying ourselves at the same time?” [119]

“It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who took the sword would perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions of civilians and soldiers, men, women and children without discrimination, even with the almost infallible certainty of inviting the same annihilation for ourselves!” [120]

“When I pray for peace I pray God to pacify not only the Russians and the Chinese but above all my own nation and myself. When I pray for peace I pray to be protected not only from the Reds but also from the folly and blindness of my own country. When I pray for peace, I pray not only that the enemies of my country may cease to want war, but above all that my own country will cease to do the things that make war inevitable. In other words, when I pray for peace I am not just praying that the Russians will give up without a struggle and let us have our own way. I am praying that both we and the Russians may somehow be restored to sanity and learn how to work out our problems, as best as we can, together, instead of preparing for global suicide.” [121]

“If people really wanted peace they would sincerely ask God for it and God would give it to them. But why should God give the world a peace which it does not really desire? The peace the world pretends to desire is really no peace at all.” [121]

“To some, peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob others without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the good s of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everyone peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure.” [122]

“So instead of loving what you think is peace, love others and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” [122]

________________________________________

Merton, Thomas. The Root of War is Fear in New Seeds of Contemplation. Reissue of ©1961 by the Abbey of Gehsemani, Inc. New York: New Directions, 2007. 112, 114, 119, 120, 121, 121, 122

[i] Merton’s use of the pronoun “he” and designation of “man” to mean “humans” is a reflection of the era in which he wrote. It is my opinion that retaining the original masculine language dilutes the timelessness of his writing, therefore I have substituted inclusive pronouns in each instance.

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