Introduction: Human Nature and War
Dating back five thousand years, Hinduism does not object to armed conflict if it is carried out in the name of protecting property and people from evil and injustice. Hinduism as well as Buddhism as an offshoot after the 6th century BC adamantly oppose war for the purpose oppressing people and causing violence against them. More so with Buddhism, non-violence is essential for spiritual transcendence and salvation possible only through meditation and wisdom.
Like most religions, Hinduism condemns war on moral grounds but also insist it is a matter of honor and duty, while cowardice is infamy. Hindus throughout their history conducted warfare, despite the taming influence of some pacifist voices against it. In a conversation regarding the morality of war between Ajuna and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu “Bible”), the following passages reveal the contradictions. “I do not see how any good can come from killing my own kinsmen in battle, nor can I desire any subsequent victory…I would consider it better for the sons of Dhrtarastra to kill me than to fight with them. … Consider your specific duty, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting for religious principles. If however, you do not fight this religious war, you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter.”
While Hinduism like all religions respects all life, this does not mean that the followers and especially the leaders who espouse religious doctrines and a body of ethics rooted in pacifism follow such a path. On the contrary, religion is invariably used to justify mass violence. A power-rooted if not crusader mentality takes precedence in those who rule because the ethics of pacifism entails weakness, if not manipulation or some type of subjugation by the strong. The great warrior king Ashoka (269-232 BC) is a good example in ancient Indian history as one of the bloodiest rulers who in embracing Buddhism realized that there is no glory, victory or justice in war.
Pacifism was an underlying pacifist trend among all religions, but most pronounced about the oneness of humanity so characteristic of Indian religions can be found in Guru Nanak (1469-1534), the first Sikh Guru who wrote a hymn regarding the sacredness of life and peace.
‘No one is my enemy
No one is a foreigner
With all I am at peace
God within us renders us
Incapable of hate and prejudice.’
The importance of non-violence and the equality of all humans is a belief that decries war while promoting the spiritual reverence of humans and their creativity that wars obviously destroy. If human beings are special because of their creative potential, then war is their enemy.
Some scholars contend that China’s history is not militaristic, like that of the West. However, China had its share of wars, especially from the 10th to the 13th century, an era that coincides with the zenith of Arab civilization. Wars also characterize Chinese history during the Ming dynasty from the mid-14th to the mid-17th century, an era when Europe experiences its Commercial Revolution and expands outward in search of colonies. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu outlines various aspects of warfare that influenced the Chinese from ancient times to the present. China’s wars focused on its internal politics and internal colonization similar to Russia, and mostly of defensive mode against Japan and the West. This is unlike the West where the object was to take trade routes and conquer colonies.
War can be a god-like experience because killing other people that the soldier has never met and has no motive other than ideological, entails constructing animosity inside the human mind that fills the void with a sense of high purpose.
War is the ultimate sense of adventure to feel like an animal hunted down and at the same time a hunter doing the hunting against the other to be killed. This reveals a sense of self-hatred and self-destruction as well as a sense of daring or trying to defy death thus testing finiteness of life.
On the other side, there is the rationalist camp beginning with John Locke as a precursor of the Age of Reason that denies human beings are innately evil and wish to cause harm to the other because reason dictates that leads to self-destruction. In this camp, there are those who maintain that human nature is subject to conditioning by society, its culture and institutions. If this is so, war is symptomatic of any given social and political structure. The only area of agreement between the rationalist school of thought and that of the Hobbes=Freud line is the pessimism about the end result, which is war is inevitable.
Written in the 1860s, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace romanticizes the innocent common people and demonizes the elites for causing wars that plague the innocent. Representing a long-standing tradition among Russian intellectuals that deplored violence in any form and longed for harmony in society, Tolstoy believed that the way to change society was through a cultural revolution rather than a political one, that is to say, society can change through education the arts, and culture in general. As much as I find this solution desirable, I am pessimistic that anything but the solution Jean-Jacques Rousseau offers in dictating that people must be forced to be free makes sense. In other words, there is only a political solution to war and it cannot be subject to an open debate. There is always a segment in society that profits from the war-machine industry, a segment that glorifies war for ideological reasons, a segment that is nationalistic, etc. Therefore, peace must be imposed upon a reluctant humanity that may choose otherwise.