By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
Thomas Hardy from: The Man he Killed
No-one in their right mind would go to war! Everyone knows that. It is a simple and beautiful fact. Most people would fight to protect their family, friends and loved ones, or even fight for a cause or a country, but this is different from being warlike and wanting to kill others. Yet, because we see war in the news all the time we start to innocently believe that the maxim that humans are warlike must be true.
To actually want to kill another person we have to either be mad (in other words, deeply lost in our personal thinking), and that is why most murderers are incarcerated, to keep them from further killings and to protect the rest of society. Or we could be temporarily extremely angry, or alternatively there has to be a perceived enemy. In other words we have been led to believe, through our conditioning that the people we must kill are bad or evil in some way, and thus deserve to die, in order for us to protect what is good and right in our world. Without the enemy there is no war, just other human beings that are different from us in some way.
So we are told that humanity is warlike, it always has been, and probably always will be, and that it is just ‘human nature’, and therefore unstoppable. Yet, there is so much evidence that points in the opposite direction.
Ask yourself this simple question: How many times in your life have your really felt like killing someone? I would hazard a guess not often! One interesting question to ponder is: How do most civilians respond in a war zone? Initially fear sets in, this is perfectly natural because we all want to live and keep our loved ones safe. Yet soon most people go out of their way to do all that they can to help save lives, not take them. Pulling people out from under rubble, working tirelessly, giving all they can, even in the presence of danger to themselves.
In the face of adversity we pull together and give of ourselves, because I would argue, this is natural to us; this is how we are hardwired; to do good and to help others. This is not the warlike humans we hear so much about! Neither are these people the exception to the rule, they are you and I, they are most people. Of course there are exceptions because we can all become lost from time to time but these not as common as we were perhaps led to believe.
If we look back in history, there are many examples of where our true human nature came to the surface, despite the circumstances people found themselves in. During the First World War, while British troops felt certain that the war would be swift and that they would be home by Christmas of 1914, the truth was the war was just beginning. On Christmas Eve on the front line, a number of soldiers decided that there was no way they were going to kill anyone on Christmas day, a day that was supposed to be peace for all mankind. So they decided to send a signal to the German lines and told them, tomorrow we will not fight, tomorrow we are going to play football, would any of you like to join us? The answer was ‘Yes’. So on Christmas day 1914 a number of British and German soldiers got up on to no-mans land and played football together. This is a perfect example of human nature; that we all of us desire to live out our lives in peace and enjoy it all while we can, and that we don’t really want to kill anyone.
The British troops that were involved were taken off the front line the very next day. The military establishment well knew that people who had experienced that level of humanity would not wish to resume killing the very people they had seen as just like them; human beings doing the best they could and caught up in a fight that was not necessarily theirs.
My grandfather was invalided out of the Second World War, after getting double pneumonia during the military and civilian led evacuation of Dunkirk. A prime example of people rallying in the aid of saving life; the British Government asked anyone with a boat big enough to cross the English Channel to get involved in the rescue mission.
It is not news to anyone that the effects of war often traumatise both military men and women that return from active battle service; many suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My grandmother told me the story of my own grandfather leaving for war in 1939, she said he jumped over the garden gate and shouted back: “Don’t worry love, I will be back soon.” When he did finally return home, she said he was a broken man. I remember well how he would never talk about his time in the war, and remained a quiet man all his days.
I also remember seeing news footage during one of the Middle Eastern conflicts where a number of allied troops admitted on national television that they had no desire to kill anyone! This must tell us something of our natural capacity for goodness, when we are given the chance to be honest I think most people would admit to this simple truth.
I believe that all humans have the same desire for a good life. That no-one in their nature really wants to fight and kill anyone. That in our essence we are naturally compassionate; peaceful, resourceful, creative, and productive and have no natural desires to hurt, harm or kill anyone at all. Only perhaps in life threatening or other extreme circumstances might we be driven to lose our humanity, temporarily and hurt or kill another, and even then most of us would be left with some sense of the enormity of a wrong doing, an act that takes away the greatest gift we are given in this world of beauty: Life itself. Enjoy it while it lasts and have the best life ever.