The insanity of war

Tayseer Barakat, Gaza/Palestine, 1959
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

This totally asymmetrical war raises the big question: why do human beings kill each other or murder each other?

The devastating and lethal attack on the Anglican-supported Al-Ahli Baptist hospital in central Gaza is a clear war crime under international law. There is a war of versions about who caused it. What actually matters are the hundreds of human lives (471?) criminally taken. The fact and the scenes filled us with horror, indignation and solidarity with those affected and with the Palestinian people, victims of collective punishment.

In the painful history of Palestinians in search of a homeland, there have been numerous mass murders in Hebron (1929), Dier Yassin (1948), Kufer Qassem (1956), Hebron (1994) and the March of Return massacre (2018). Hamas' wicked terrorist act in Israel on October 7, randomly murdering more than a thousand Israelis, including children and two hundred hostages, must never be forgotten or condemned.

The retaliation by the State of Israel, with the scandalous unconditional support of the USA, is being cruel and merciless, affecting thousands of civilians, 50% of the population being children and young people. The total siege with the cut off of water, food and energy by Israel constitutes a humanitarian crime.

This totally asymmetrical war raises the big question: why do human beings kill each other or murder each other? What are the roots of this perversity? Is peace between humans and nature possible?

It would take a long time to reflect on the various interpretations of the demented and warlike character of human beings, something we try to do in previous article, posted on the website the earth is round. Here we summarize the issue in the exchange of letters between Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.

On July 30, 1932, Einstein asked Freud: “Is there a way to free human beings from the fatality of war? There is the possibility of directing psychic evolution to the point of making human beings more capable of resisting the psychosis of hatred and destruction” (Einstein on Peace, 98).

Freud resorts to these two drives that he sustained throughout his life and work: we have the death drive within us (Thanatos) and the life drive (Eros). Both coexist in every human being. The death drive is responsible for all types of violence and wars that mark the personal and collective history of humanity. The life drive is expressed through love, friendship, solidarity, compassion, also coexisting in each human being.

Freud responded realistically to Einstein: “There is no hope of being able to directly suppress the aggressiveness of human beings. However, indirect ways can be resorted to, reinforcing Eros, the principle of life, against Thanatos, the principle of death. Everything that gives rise to emotional bonds between human beings works against war; everything that civilizes human beings works against war” (Complete Works, III:3, 215).

But he warns us that these two drives face each other and seek to balance each other, but we do not know what will be the predominance of one over the other. He ends with a mysterious and resigned sentence: “hungry we think of the mill that grinds so slowly that we can die of hunger before receiving the flour”. Here appears a certain pessimism of Freud regarding the course of our history. Now we are, horrified, watching what the great psychoanalyst intuited.

Nevertheless, we continue to stubbornly seek peace and will never give up. If it cannot be as a permanent state, at least as a spirit that makes us prefer dialogue to confrontation, the cordial search for common ground over bellicose confrontation.

The basic premise for peace consists of affirming humanity in each and every human being, regardless of their ethnic, cultural, religious and gender condition. We should all treat each other humanely. This, unfortunately, does not happen. There are racial (white) supremacists, religious supremacists and all types of exclusivism. For example, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in a typically supremacist attitude, declared in an interview with international journalists: “we are fighting animals and acting accordingly… using all military power to reduce Gaza City to rubble”. This is only possible by denying humanity to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, made non-human and, worse, reduced to animals.

In this way, every submission of a people to violence and war leaves a trail of bitterness, hatred and desire for revenge, which will give rise to violent reactions, attacks and new conflicts. It must be considered that Israel killed around 15 times more civilians than Palestinians during the last decade, as stated by Oren Yiftachel, an Israeli Jew from Ben Gurion University of Negev Urban Studies University.

We must seek a trusting and cordial meeting between all different peoples. A fine example is given by the orchestra conductor, the Jew Daniel Barenboim, who in his orchestra and school in Israel coexist and cultivate music among Israelis, Palestinians and Jews. He states: “This reinforces my conviction that there can only be one solution to the conflict: based on humanism, justice and equality and without armed force and occupation.” Peace is the result and consequence of this type of attitude, well expressed in Earth Charter when “recognizes that peace is the plenitude that results from correct relationships with oneself, with other people, with other cultures, with other lives, with the Earth and with the greater Whole of which we are part” (IV, 16f).

It is sad to note that in the land of the Prince of Peace, Jesus of Nazareth, such brutal violence and devastating wars occur, the victims of which are mostly civilians and innocent mothers and children.

In the end it is up to us to proclaim Shalom, Salam, Pax et Bonum, Peace and good.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Fundamentalism, terrorism, religion and peace (Vozes).


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