“A growing register of calamities

Is the past’s account, the future’s book of Fate:

The centuries pile man’s follies and man’s crimes

Upon the countless crowd of Nature’s ills”

– from Savitri, by Sri Aurobindo

Can there be a day when war becomes impossible?
For all our dislike of war, and its consequences, is it even conceivable that nations and ideologies would one day just stop warring?

A perfected society?

Sri Aurobindo starts opens his brilliant essay “The Passing of War” on this very note of idealism –

Man’s illusions are of all sorts and kinds. The greatest of them are all those which cluster round the hope of a perfected society, a perfected race, a terrestrial millenium. One of the illusions incidental to this great hope is the expectation of the passing of war. This grand event in human progress is always being confidently expected and since we are now all scientific minds and rational beings, we no longer expect it by a divine intervention, but assign sound physical and economic reasons for the faith that is in us.

Commercialism should do the trick

The first form taken by this new gospel was the expectation and the prophecy that the extension of commerce would be the extinction of war. Commercialism[1] was the natural enemy of militarism and would drive it from the face of the earth. The growing and universal lust of gold and the habit of comfort and the necessities of increased production and intricate interchange would crush out the lust of power and dominion and glory and battle.. The ironic reply of the gods has not been long in coming. Actually this very reign of commercialism, this increase of production and interchange, this desire for commodities and markets and this piling up of a huge burden of unnecessary necessities has been the cause of half the wars that have since afflicted the human race. And now we see militarism and commercialism united in a loving clasp, coalescing into a sacred biune[2] duality of national life and patriotic aspiration and causing and driving by their force the most irrational, the most monstrous and nearly cataclysmic, the hugest war of modern and indeed of all historic times.

Or maybe the growth of democracy ?

Another illusion was that the growth of democracy would mean the growth of pacifism and the end of war. It was fondly thought that wars are in their nature dynastic and aristocratic; greedy kings and martial nobles driven by earth-hunger and battle-hunger, diplomatists playing at chess with the lives of men and the fortunes of nations, these were the guilty causes of war who drove the unfortunate peoples to the battle-field like sheep to the shambles. Man refuses to learn from that history of whose lessons the wise prate to us; otherwise the story of old democracies ought to have been enough to prevent this particular illusion. In any case the answer of the gods has been, here too, sufficiently ironic. Bewildered pacifists who still cling to their principles and illusions, find themselves howled down by the people and, what is piquant enough, by their own recent comrades and leaders.

But why this ideal at all ?

The elimination of war is one of the cherished ideals and expectations of the age. But what lies at the root of this desire? A greater unity of heart, sympathy, understanding between men and nations, a settled will to get rid of national hatreds, greeds, ambitions, all the fertile seeds of strife and war?

For the masses of men the idea is rather to labour and produce and amass at ease and in security without the disturbance of war; for the statesmen and governing classes the idea is to have peace and security for the maintenance of past acquisitions and an untroubled domination and exploitation of the world by the great highly organised imperial and industrial nations without the perturbing appearance of new unsatisfied hungers and the peril of violent unrests, revolts, revolutions. War, it was hoped at one time, would eliminate itself by becoming impossible, but that delightfully easy solution no longer commands credit.

Shouldn’t war be prevented?

In fact on the subject of prevention, and for the safeguarding of civilization, Sri Aurobindo goes on to say that

..the prevention of war must be one of the first preoccupations of a new ordering of international life”.

He continues on to ask a little later

“But how is war to be entirely prevented if the old state of commercial rivalry between politically separate nations is to be perpetuated? If peace is still to be a covert war, an organisation of strife and rivalry, how is the physical shock to be prevented?[3]

These are hard questions, but can it happen? It is to this that we turn our attention to in to in the article to follow.



Related links

I     Can we ever reconcile War ?

III  Heraclitus and Nietzsche on war, and the Upanishadic view

IV  Peace, Force and the Psychological basis of war

V   The Imperative before us

VI  Non-violence, Gandhi’s Ahimsa and Pacifism

[1] I don’t have the exact connotation for this word, but a wiki entry described it as “the tendency within capitalism to turn everything into objects and services sold for the purpose of generating profit”.
[2] Combining two in one
[3] From the essay “The Passing of War”, [Book_2, pp 606-609]

[Book_2] Sri Aurobindo, “The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, War and Self-Determination”. In The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo traces the evolution of human society and suggests where it is headed. In The Ideal of Human Unity, he examines the possibility of the unification of the human race. In War and Self-Determination, he discusses the sovereignty of nations in the aftermath of the First World War. These works were first serialised in the monthly review Arya between 1916 and 1920; later Sri Aurobindo revised them for publication.