I was born in 1941 in New York City. World War II had started in Europe, and the U.S. was soon to be in it. I did not experience that war, or any war, directly. But the war was all around me – in every room of our house. My parents were worried. My cousins and uncles fought in the war. My father had a glass eye and a bad heart, so he did civil defense. We never, ever talked about the war or the Holocaust. Not one word! Oh, and we were Jews!
I was deeply confused when I figured out at age 8 or 10 that the Nazi regime killed approximately 6 million European Jews. I couldn’t figure out how they did that. I didn’t know how much 6 million was. I think that at some point I thought that 6 million Nazis must each have shot a Jew. I had no idea of death camps, gas chambers, or crematoria. Now I know, having visited Auschwitz/Birkenau 15 times.
Although I never experienced war directly I have been deeply affected by war. I think every human is deeply affected by war. How could we not be? The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that the world spends approximately 1.7 trillion U.S. Dollars annually on military expenditures. That includes salaries, military research and development, and military infrastructure spending, but does not include the damage done to the environment or civilian infrastructure. It does not include the cost of providing for displaced people or the emotional damage done to them and all humans, especially those who lose family members in war. And that figure is based on data that governments make public.
Some people think war is inevitable – that there is a genetic cause of war. I don’t think so. Human beings can end war. Even if there is a genetic pull to violence, there is also a genetic pull to cooperation. Look at how often humans have cooperated over our long history and how much we have accomplished. Human beings are intelligent enough to end war! War does enough damage to our and other life forms that it is worth the effort necessary to end it.
So, what will it take to end war? My short answer is: emotional healing from the devastation of war and thoughtful, persistent, organized action. My long answer will be the subject of future blog posts. I will write about what I have learned from working in this area over the past 15 years, listening to dozens of stories, leading workshops on healing from war with people from many different countries, and from exploring my own memories and emotions. Please remember that when I use the word war, I consider genocide to be a form of war. More about that in a future post.
I will often include a link to an anti-war folk song. I have found that songs can help me feel my emotions about war. My song for today is Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream written by Ed McCurdy and sung by Joan Baez.
Also, at the end of each post I will suggest one or two questions for you to reflect on with a friend or write about in a journal.
Reflection: Pair up with a friend and each take a turn (roughly equal amount of time) to talk without interruption about: How were you and your ancestors affected by war and genocide?
It would be helpful to interview any of your family who are alive about their experiences with and feelings about war.