Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
Ed Curdy — folksinger, songwriter, Vaudevillian, disc jockey, radio and TV personality — is best remembered for a song he wrote in 1950 that The Weavers recorded ten years later. It was a song for the times, and the Chad Mitchell Trio, Simon &Garfunkel, and many more followed suit. Click here or on the image above for the Johnny Cash version.
The song’s portrayal of how war ends is a period piece:
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They’d never fight again
And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands end bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed
A much earlier version of the dream goes back a few thousand years:
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2: 4 NKJV
The prophecy was given for “the latter days.” Until then, it seems that war — like the poor — will always be with us. Like a lot of people, I wish it weren’t so. When Ed Curdy’s song was making the rounds, I sang along — we really believed it was possible. Now, I’m convinced it’s impossible. It’s just something we seem wired to do. (More on that next time.)
“Even violence on a small scale is not inevitable, but the incredibly difficult task of ending violence is a million miles past the simpler, if still challenging, task of ending organized mass slaughter. War is not something created by the heat of passion. It takes years of preparation and indoctrination, weapons production and training.
“Developing ways to avoid generating conflicts is part of the answer, but some occurrence of conflict (or major disagreement) is inevitable, which is why we must use more effective and less destructive tools to resolve conflicts and to achieve security.”
According to cultural critic Chris Hedges, people like those at World Beyond War are beset by a fatal blind spot that prevents them from seeing the dark side of human nature that makes utopian visions run off the rails.
“If we see ourselves as the culmination of a long, historical process toward perfectibility, rather than a tragic reflection of what went before, then we are likely to think the ends justify the means. … Fascists and communists combined violent, revolutionary fervor with the Christian millenarian dream of a heaven on earth. They adopted the pseudoscientific doctrine that it was possible to have complete knowledge and complete mastery of the human species. It was that fusion of utopian violence and industrial and bureaucratic power that marked the birth of totalitarianism.
“The totalitarians were aided by the well-meaning but naïve pacifists who appeared in large numbers throughout Europe and the United States following the First World War. The pacifists argued that human beings could be educated and molded to reject war and live in universal harmony. These pacifists, while not succumbing to the disease of militarism, were just as deluded as the militarists were by a utopian belief in human perfectibility. They failed to build an ethic from the stark limitations of human nature. In the ensuing crisis and war they became ineffectual and impotent. These pacifists rejected all acts of violence, even those that could have stopped a resurgent Nazi Germany. They kept their hands clean. This was moral abdication. They, too, divided the world into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ those who were pure and those who were impure. They, too, sought to convert others to their higher moral state. And by their passivity they aided the forces they hoped to defeat.
“Pacifism, in times of war, falls swiftly out of favor — indeed, it is often branded as a form or treason — but the central myth championed by the pacifists, the myth of human advancement, remains the dominant ideology. Pacifists, although they do not fuel the lust for violence, keep alive the myth that the human species can attain a state of moral perfection. This myth feeds the aggressiveness and cruelty of those who demand the use of violence to cleanse the world
“The danger is not pacifism or militarism. It is the poisonous belief in human perfectibility and the failure to accept our own sinfulness, our own limitations and moral corruption. This belief in our innate goodness becomes dangerous in a crisis, a moment when human beings feel threatened. It enlarges our capacity for aggression, violence, and mass slaughter.”
I Don’t Believe in Atheists: The Dangerous Rise of the Secular Fundamentalist, Chris Hedges (2008)
Interesting that both Hedges and the World Beyond War website use the term “mass slaughter” for war — which is what it is, despite the ways we try to clean it up. More on that coming up.
 Matthew 26: 11