Monday, March 31, 2003

This War

In 1954 or so, Carl Jung was asked if he thought there would be nuclear holocaust. His reply: "I think it depends on how many people can stand the tension of the opposites in themselves."

What we are seeing is war. The consequences of releasing the dogs of war. We are seeing the havoc.

What we are seeing is all wars. The state of the art violence, death, heroism, blunders, unforeseen consequences, adaptations, lies, crimes,hysteria, back-biting, glorifying, vilifying, relentless unfolding of havoc. People become their group, because they are attacked and because they are attacking. Most do what they must do, to stay alive, which at times is the same as winning, the same as killing, and at other times and places is the same as escaping, surrendering. Many do what they must do as captives of their allegiance in a particular situation, which is to kill and die, to glorify and vilify. There are always those seeking personal advantage from death-dealing and dying, while in lofty safety elsewhere.

War evokes love and unleashes hate. It dictates behaviors that generate hate and liberate love. War is not necessary but when we will not understand ourselves, war will happen to provide us with object lessons. As this war began, it seemed to make sense that the best chronicles of World War II were the works of absurdity, of black humor or gallows humor: Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five. But they were written two decades after the war. The absurdities of the moment are much too grim. They are cause for shock and awe.

War unleashes and liberates everything inside us, especially from the unconscious. We act with emotional certainty that appears even to us to be rational deliberation, and react with rage, fear and impulse, whether fighting the war, fighting against the war, reporting the war, running the war. We are immersed in events. The events matter, but they will control us until we understand ourselves.

Everything soon becomes the good guys against the evil ones. And so at the moment every war begins, it is lost. It doesn't have to be that way, even as a consequence of defending against the evil that men do. But until we can understand that this tension exists, of the opposites within ourselves, every war will do what every war has done, which is to prepare the ground for the next war.

Living with this tension is essential. Acknowledging it is basic to taking effective action. Sometimes taking a step back is to take a step forward. In our world taking a step back is to look more deeply in the mirror.

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