Pursuing Peace in a Time of Peace

And a Time of War

Rabbi Fred Morgan AM

University of Otago, Dunedin.   9th  September  2015

I feel honoured to deliver the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group and Otago Tertiary Chaplaincy Annual Peace Lecture for 2015.  I’ve read several of the previous lectures, and they are very impressive.  They present me with a hard act to follow.  I hope what I have to share with you this evening is worthy of their company.

I’d like to begin with a personal vignette.  Earlier this year I was privileged to lead a tour to the Balkans, and this being the centenary year of the landings at ANZAC Cove and the assault on Lone Pine, we included Gallipoli on our itinerary.   I don’t know how many of you have had an opportunity to visit Gallipoli and see the Peninsula for yourselves.  We began our visit from the sea, then continued on land so we could get the full impact of what the ANZACs experienced. 

Before the visit I was sceptical about what I might feel there.  Not being born an Australian and not being raised on the narrative of Gallipoli, I didn’t expect much.  It’s not part of what the sociologist Robert Bellah called my “civil religion” – it’s not embedded in my sense of the national mythos.  So, I was quite surprised and, indeed, overwhelmed by the impact the visit made on me. 

One of the reasons for this was a new understanding of the physical layout of the place.  ANZAC Cove is hardly a beach; more like a small funnel running from the sea into the hills.  Through this funnel had to pass all the troops who arrived by boat to attack the Turkish forces stationed in the low woods above them.  The miracle is that the ANZACs were able to establish a beach-head and dig trenches in the terrain below the hills at all.  We were told that it was possible only because the Turkish forces weren’t yet properly in place when the ANZACs arrived.  The ANZACs had been blown off course from their original landing site by about a mile.

This new appreciation for the physical terrain affected all of us, but there was another reason why I was overwhelmed by the experience.  Standing at ANZAC Cove and later at Lone Pine, I couldn’t help but admire the beauty and serenity of the Gallipoli Peninsula.  It’s not only a place of striking scenery, it is also tranquil and peaceful.  There is today no hint of the violence that mutilated that place.  The contrast between the peacefulness of the Peninsula as we experienced it and the hellish violence that the soldiers, both ANZACs and Turks, experienced 100 years ago was almost too much to comprehend.  The dissonance between what I was viewing and what I knew about the history of the place was deeply disorientating and disturbing. 

As a kind of punctuation to this sense of disturbance, just outside the ANZAC cemetery we came across a large stone monument, engraved with a long inscription.  It was a message attributed to Kemal Ataturk, who had commanded the 19th Division of the Turkish Army at Gallipoli and later became President of Turkey, addressed to the mothers of the Australians and New Zealanders who had died here.   This is what it says:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives …

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours.

You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears.

Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

These words are also inscribed on a memorial in Canberra.

There is now a strong body of evidence attesting that it was Shukru Kaya, Ataturk’s Interior Minister and political ally, who spoke these words in an address in the early 1930s, in Ataturk’s name.   The main difference in wording is that it refers to the “Mehmets” but not the “Johnnies.”[1] 

Whatever the intellectual property issues surrounding the comment, its power to disturb even as it comforts the reader is unarguable.  Within 20 years a scene of unimaginable horror in warfare had been turned into an oasis of peace.  I have never felt the wrench from violence and strife to peace and tranquillity as powerfully as while standing at Gallipoli.

The experience raises the question for me: how is it, in relation to this place, that a time that was once so insistently a time of war is now, equally insistently, a time of peace?  What is it that has changed, in terms of the pursuit of peace?

I ask this question not in historical, economic or geo-political terms.  I know that there are various social scientific reasons that can be offered to explain why war is waged at a certain time and place.  Not long ago in Australia there was screened on TV a fascinating series on Queen Victoria’s children.  Part of the thrust of the series was to show how the diverse relationships that developed among Victoria’s offspring and the royal dynasties of Europe that they inhabited contributed to the outbreak of the First World War.  This provided us with a sort of psycho-social explanation for the War.  Others would explain the War in terms of national alliances, or the conquest of territory, or political opportunism, or economic expansion.  But it is not my concern to pin down the causes of war in this manner, still less to opt for one over the others.

Rather, my concern is, if I may put it this way, more dialogical.  Bracketing aside the plethora of pragmatic factors, I am trying to understand what there might be in us and our sense of relationship that contributes to bringing about war in one instance and peace in another.   In asking the question, I believe there is an answer, or at least the hint of an answer.   It has to do with what we honestly hope to achieve in pursuing peace; whether our avowed aims are consonant with our actions.  It also is bound up with the question of how we view peace, as a goal or a process or a strategy or an attitude.   It is connected to how we view other people, those with whom we may disagree.  Finally, it is linked with how we see the times in which we live: as a time of peace, or a time of war.

Let me take up this last aspect first.  The idea that there is “a time of war, and a time of peace” is famously declared in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…. a time of war, and a time of peace (shalom)” (Eccles.3: 1, 8).   Perhaps contrary to the popular understanding, this reference is intended very specifically.  The “time of war” is the season in the year when kings and their armies go out to do battle. 

We learn this from the story of King David.  David had subdued Israel’s greatest enemy, the Philistines, as well as the Arameans (Syrians).  The Syrians were supporting the Ammonites, who were considered of no account by David.  Then we are told (II Samuel 11:1), “And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still in Jerusalem.”  This is Ecclesiastes’ “time of war” – the time when kings “go forth to battle” – and the fact that David does not accompany his commander and troops but remains at home in Jerusalem has disastrous consequences.  At a loose end, David goes for a stroll on the roof of his palace; and who should he see bathing herself in a neighbouring dwelling but Bathsheba, who was “of very beautiful appearance”?  We know the rest of the story: how David, smitten by Bathsheba’s charms, arranges to have her husband Uriah the Hittite placed in the vanguard of battle to be killed, so David can be free to marry her.  David would have done better to go to war, as he was expected to do.  By pursuing peace when he should have been pursuing war, he falls prey to his passions; he replaces social duty with self-interest, as the prophet Nathan makes clear in his denunciation of the King.

If we read the tale in this way, we see that the Bible does not condemn war.  Quite the contrary, war is an essential and natural feature of the king’s obligations.  This understanding is intrinsic to the rules of war spelled out in Deuteronomy,[2]  and it drives much of the Biblical history.  Many cultures define special martial roles for warriors and monarchs; Hinduism immediately comes to mind with its Kshatriya class; there is the Samurai culture in Japan, and in the culture of medieval European the figure of the knight.   The raison d’etre of these characters is to wage war, rarely on behalf of the downtrodden or the needy[3], much more often in the interests of one or another deity or quasi-divine ruler. 

The political scientist Michael Walzer has argued that the Bible, despite all its narratives of battle and statecraft, does not have a coherent theory of war or peace.[4]  This is true, but by incorporating war and peace into the framework of life it paves the way for later theorists who are concerned to codify Biblical teachings, even where they are irrelevant to daily lives of ordinary people.  Both Christianity and Judaism gave rise in the 11th century onwards to thinkers who dealt with matters of legitimate and illegitimate warfare.  This made sense in the case of Christianity, which was an imperial religious power, but it made little sense in the case of Judaism, since the Jewish people lived only under the favour of the king and had virtually no political clout.[5]  There were a few notable exceptions, for example, Samuel Hanagid ibn Naghrilla, who was commander to the sultan in Granada; and Isaac Abravanel, advisor to kings in Spain, Portugal and Italy. But Abravanel was expelled from his first two domiciles in the 1490s, so his personal political ability was inhibited in the end by his religious identity.

In tandem with each other, Judaism and Christianity came up with classifications of warfare that to a greater or lesser extent mirrored Biblical thinking.  In Judaism, there was the commanded (mitzvah) war, the obligatory war (a war of self-defence, for example), and the discretionary (reshut) war. [6] Though there are scholastic arguments about what exactly constitutes each category, this list gives a good indication of Jewish thinking on the matter.   Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas included the “just war” in their system.  The notion of a “just war” opened up the possibility of much more widely-scaled warfare in the interests of Christian expansion. 

In effect, the Jewish scholars were more restrictive in their interpretations than Christian scholars.  Mitzvah wars, which would be carried out against the original Canaanite nations and the evil Amalekites, were restricted entirely to the wars waged in the Bible.[7]  Since these nations are no longer in existence there is no arguable basis for waging such wars.  In keeping with the rabbinic ruling that self-defence in life-threatening situations is always permitted, obligatory wars are in the main understood to be defensive wars, that is, military actions which defend life.[8]  Even discretionary, or permissible, wars are hedged with requirements that make them difficult to carry out, since the requisite checks and balances – having the agreement of the Sanhedrin, checking the oracular urim and tummim – have long since disappeared.

What does this mean for the correlate to the “time of war”, that is, the “time of peace”?   In reality, until recent times Thomas Hobbes’ characterisation of life in his Leviathan was, according to the evidence available to us, fairly accurate.  Life according to Hobbes was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  A literary work such as George R.R. Martin’s wildly successful  A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as Game of Thrones, is based less on the imagination and more on a Hobbesian sense of realism than we might wish.  This is Ecclesiastes’ “time of war” taken to its extreme: all times become potentially a “time of war”.   When, then, is a “time of peace”?

Though the word “peace” (in Hebrew, shalom) occurs often in the Bible, as Michael Walzer says the concept is not systematised.  It can connote many things: rest, good health, serenity, prosperity, calmness, wholeness, amity.  It is used as a greeting or a farewell.  It is also the expression or actualisation of a blessing, more specifically of God’s blessing, as in the priestly benediction: “The Lord bless you and protect you; the Lord make the light of His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His face to you and give you shalom.”[9]   The use of the term in Ecclesiastes seems to indicate a period of relative tranquillity and the absence of the violence associated with warfare.  The violence of war includes not only physical brutality but also the deprivation of life’s basic necessities such as food and shelter.  We can adduce this function of war from a verse in Deuteronomy.  In the course of discussing rules of warfare, the text says, “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy (lo tashchit) its trees, wielding the axe against them.  You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down….   Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed….” (Deut.20:19-20).  This rule forbids the felling of fruit trees to build siege engines, because their fruit provides food, and – the rabbinic understanding goes - if they are destroyed it will take a generation to reproduce them.[10]  This sort of restriction bears on the Biblical understanding of war and peace: there is a time for each, and we need to maintain fruit trees even in a time of war, since there will come a time of peace when we shall rely on them.

Throughout modern history there have been periods in different parts of the globe when violence has been at a low ebb and food supplies have been relatively abundant, and these periods could justifiably be called “a time of peace.”   Certainly this is the case for us in 21st century New Zealand and Australia. 

We live in societies which are far from being at war in the pre-modern sense.  As a result we do not suffer overtly from the violence of war, nor are we deprived of basic necessities such as food and shelter because of war.  However, there are other forms of suffering and deprivation that are not accounted for in this reading of war and peace.  For example, according to the Biblical understanding the amelioration of poverty or slavery is not a feature of peace-making.  The notion of waging war in order to ameliorate human sufferings of this kind is not part of the traditional characterisation of war.    

With the raising of human rights consciousness over the period of the past 230 years or so, we now consider the scope of war more broadly to include perceived threats to civic well-being such as poverty, civil rights, racism, refugees, terrorism against civilian targets and more.  So, we now use the rhetoric of war in a variety of ways that, in earlier ages, would have sounded incomprehensible.  We speak of a “War on Want,” a “war on terror,” the “Cold War,” a “war on drugs,” the atheists’ “war on religion,” and so forth.  By using such terminology, we open the object of warfare, whatever it may be, to exceptional forms of resistance.   We often use aggressive strategies to wage these metaphorical wars.  As a result, we remain in a state of war, even though we appear to live in societies of peace.

Some may argue that it is possible to be a pacifist and practice a peaceful form of resistance such as non-violent non-cooperation, to avoid being drawn into “a time of war”.  I do not believe that pacifism or non-violent resistance of the Gandhian variety is an effective way to avoid the problem of warfare.  I recently attended a lecture at Monash University that showed through a careful and extensive analysis of Gandhi’s writings and letters that Gandhi unquestionably saw his non-violent resistance, or Satyagraha, as a form of warfare against the British occupiers of India.[11]  He felt that non-violent non-cooperation stood more chance of success against the British than violent confrontation, and that is one of the reasons why he adopted it.  The goal was to free India from the British.  At the same time, he saw himself in the model of the Kshatriya (he was from Kshatriya background), the warrior who despised cowardice; he said on a number of occasions that he preferred to see the coward use violence than not engage with the enemy at all.  His Satyagraha, then, was a weapon that Gandhi felt was more appropriate to this modern goal of warfare than traditional weapons.  That is not to say that it did not play a number of other roles in Gandhi’s philosophy, as well.   But whatever else it was, non-violent resistance was intended to defeat a system of government.

Gandhi managed to defeat the British with non-violence, but it is almost certain that he would not have been able with his technique of Satyagraha to defeat Hitler and the Nazis.  We have Hitler’s own testimony on that.  Like any technique of war, it was limited by its context.

In the light of these observations, I would argue that, if warfare requires an “us and them” mentality, two opponents on a field of honour, then peace involves approaching the other, not as the “other” or the opponent, but as a potential partner in peace.  The aim of pursuing peace is to create a “we” out of an “us and them.”  In this kind of scenario we move from pursuing peace in “a time of war” to pursuing peace in “a time of peace”.  This is an extremely difficult step to take, and for most of the time and in the great majority of situations we are not able to accomplish it.  It is, then, an approach that has limited application, but I believe we could apply it more often than we do.

If this approach is so difficult, why would we attempt it at all?  From my Jewish perspective, it is necessary because of the way in which my tradition views human nature.  According to the Book of Genesis, each of us is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  This is a complicated idea, but it is generally taken to mean that I am bound to treat every other human being with dignity and respect, not for any special qualities or features that he or she possesses, but simply by virtue of the fact that he or she is created in the divine image.  In other words, the simple humanity – the otherness - of another person is sufficient reason for them to be accorded respect and honour.  Qualities such as race, religious affiliation, ethnic origin, country of citizenship, gender, sexual preference or social status are irrelevant in this regard.  Many Jewish thinkers have developed this idea through the centuries, up to Franz Rosenszweig, Martin Buber and Emanuel Levinas in the 20th century.  It is the basis for what is sometimes called dialogical philosophy.  To treat another human being with anything less than dignity, or to treat them in a strictly utilitarian fashion, is to dehumanise them, to render them less than human.  This is what happens in war; the other person becomes an object, the object of my attack. 

Taking interpersonal dialogue as my model, I would say further that pursuing peace in a peaceful manner involves deliberately not trying to defeat or overcome the other by convincing them of the superiority of our position.  Rather, putting it in positive terms, the peace approach involves allowing the other to be themselves, not for any personal gain or ulterior motive on our part, but simply because the other person is created “in the divine image”.   In any negotiation, then, we approach the interaction with a particular attitude that is directed towards friendship rather than enmity. We make ourselves vulnerable to the other.  We may call this attitude a “peaceful” attitude.  In this approach, peace is not understood to be the goal or object of an interaction (whether it is a violent or a non-violent interaction).  It is not a method, process or strategy. It is an attitude, a frame of mind, the manner in which we walk into an interaction; that is, we enter it with the intention of “pursuing peace”.[12] 

Such an approach turns what is potentially a “time of war” into a “time of peace” by defining the time as such through our behaviour and outlook.  We want nothing from the interaction apart from experiencing what it is like to share a peaceful frame of mind with the other.  It is true that if our interlocutor is not interested in peace, that is, if he or she enters the interaction with a confrontational attitude, we may be forced into a more combative position.  This is the reality of living in a Hobbesian world.  We cannot win over IS or terrorists of any persuasion by engaging them in peaceful dialogue.  But there are others, currently seen as “enemies”, who may be more amenable to this kind of approach.  Our peaceful attitude carries with it the possibility of winning over the other, whereas a warlike attitude, even a non-violent one, will never win over the other, though it may overcome the other.  In a combative clash, there is always a winner and a loser; in a peaceful interaction, both parties are potential winners.

I would suggest that the difference between Gallipoli 100 years ago and today is this: that whatever the goals of the two forces in battle 100 years ago, even though they may have claimed to be pursuing peace, they were pursuing peace in a time of war, that is, in the context of warfare, confrontation and superiority.  They were acting in accordance with models derived from warrior traditions, even as we do today in declaring war on everything from poverty to drugs to boat people to terrorism.  Since there are indeed “times of war”, it is often necessary and inevitable to do this.  But in our relations with Turkey today, more often than not we speak with an attitude of peace, and that creates a “time of peace”- a context of peaceful peace-seeking – within which we will do whatever we can in order to avoid having recourse to war.  Peaceful relations are what we want, so we make peace happen.  Some might say that this is more directly the result of international diplomacy.  Yet, it is striking how, if that is the case, it has percolated down to the crowds of ordinary Turks, New Zealanders and Australians standing together at Gallipoli.  Just as we share our experience of sorrow at the events that took place in that spot, so we share our sense of common humanity, our understanding that we are all creatures of God, created in the divine image.

There remains the question of what all this has to do with realpolitik and the situation in the world in which we find ourselves.  Living in New Zealand and Australia, two countries historically distant from open warfare yet perennially living on the edge of war, many of us are inclined to take strong positions on the wars being waged elsewhere.  An example of this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Often our positions are based on admirable ethical considerations, but they are weakened by our inability to engage with the actual human beings who are caught up in events in distant lands.  It is easy for us to make judgments and adopt confrontational attitudes towards people we’ve never met and have never tried to understand. 

Some of us, focussing on Israel’s need for security, defend her position at all costs; and others use militant non-violent means such as the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign to defend the Palestinian cause and defeat the Israelis.  According to my understanding of peace as presented in this paper, neither of these sides, though they may be totally sincere and driven by the highest ideals, has any hope of achieving peace.  This is because neither side is interested in the humanity of the other; consciously or not, they are carrying on a surrogate conflict on foreign soil.

Unless the people we are addressing know that we respect and care about them as human beings, they are unlikely to react to our words or actions as peaceful ones; and it is unlikely that they are, in reality, pursuing peace.  Ultimately, though our aim may ostensibly be peace, our techniques are too often employed as acts of war and are seen as such by those whom we are trying to manipulate.  I am hoping that the model developed in this talk helps us to see this, and to appreciate with greater sensitivity the effects of our actions as we pursue peace.

In our day can any wars be termed legitimate?  The war on terror?  The war on drugs?  Even the war on want?  The answer probably depends on which side each of us is fighting.  But one thing is clear: all wars are just that – wars.  They are not peace.  Ultimately peace depends on human association, respect and, as the philosopher Raimond Gaita puts it, a recognition of our common humanity.

[1] For a full account, see Paul Daley, The Guardian 20 April 2015, www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/20/ataturks-johnnies-and-mehmets-words-about-the-anzacs-are-shrouded-in-doubt, accessed 20 August 2015.  Ironically, Kaya is accused by some of being the perpetrator of the Armenian genocide.

[2]  See the description of the rules of war in Deut.20.

[3] If 20th century cinema is to be believed, and some of the more chivalric stories of medieval romance; but it is almost always members of the aristocracy who are aided, not the peasantry.

[4] Michael Walzer, “War and Peace in Jewish Tradition”, in Terry Nardin, ed, The Ethics of War and Peace, Princeton University Press, p.95; accessed on line 20 August 2015.

[5] The Jewish people were under certain historical circumstances able to influence royal courts and lords of the manor, but they did not wield power; see David Biale, Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History, Schocken Books 1986.

[6] For these categories of war, see Walzer’s article; also, on the whole area of war and peace in Judaism, Michael J. Broyde, “Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition”, on the Jewish Law website at www.jlaw.com/Articles/war1.html, accessed 20 August 2015.

[7] Principally in the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel.  The implication is that no-one today can claim to wage a mitzvah war, that is, a war commanded by God.

[8] The categories are not always clear in the sources, but see Elliott Dorff, who states, “The rabbis do establish a duty for each individual to defend himself or herself from attack on the basis of Exodus 22:1; as the Talmud puts it, “if someone comes to kill you, get up early in the morning to kill him first.” [Berakhot 58a; Yoma 85b; Sanhedrin 72a]  Because each individual has both the right and the obligation of self‑defense, one might reasonably infer that the community does likewise.”  Dorff, To Do the Right and the Good: A Jewish Approach to Modern Social Ethics, Jewish Publication Society, 2002, p.168f.

[9] Numbers 6:24-26.

[10] The Torah commentary (Humash) Etz Hayim of the Rabbinical Assembly includes this comment on the verse: ”you must not destroy its trees  We are not to be so carried away in time of war that we forget the war will be over one day and people will have to live and feed their families in the place where battles are now raging.”  Another Torah commentary edited by Gunther Plaut describes this verse as deliberately rejecting the practices of deforestation and defoliation, a feature of warfare in ancient times and even in modern warfare, in Vietnam, for example; see Plaut, The Torah, comment on Deut.20:19-20.

[11] Scott Dunbar, “A Dent in his Saintly Halo? Unveiling Mahatma Gandhi’s Intolerance towards Cowards”, delivered at Monash University, August 3, 2015Newstbolton.  A typical quote from Gandhi on Satyagraha: “Non-violence does not mean making peace. On the other hand, it means fighting bravely and sincerely for truth and doing what is just. Like all fights, there will be a terrible loss and pain. But a satyagrahi (soldier of civil disobedience) must go on.  My success with civil disobedience in South Africa and in India has not come easy. A large number of people sacrificed a great deal, including their lives while fighting for truth and justice.  The doctrine of Satyagraha works on the principle that you make the so called enemy see and realize the injustice he is engaged in. It can work only when you believe in God and the goodness of the people to see that they are wrong. As a satyagrahi, I  do believe that non-violence is a potent weapon against all evils. I warn you however, that the victory will not come easy- just like it will not come easy with violent methods such as fighting with weaponry.”  Accessed online 20 August 2015.

[12] The theoretical basis of this approach to peace is found in an extended midrashic treatment of the theme of peace in the collection Vayikra Rabbah 9:9, as analysed in Fred Morgan, “’Great is Peace’: a rabbinic midrash on peace”, in the journal Gesher vol.4 no.3 November 2012, published by the Council of Christians and Jews, Victoria, pp.21-24, available online at the website www.ccjvic.org.au, under the Gesher tab.