Volume 16 Number 3
What Follows War?
01 June 2003
Having lost a son in World War I, the great German artist Kathe Kollwitz was avowedly anti-war but equally committed to what she called 'a new idea-that of the brotherhood of man'. In his book, All Saints: daily reflections on saints, prophets and witnesses for our time (Crossroad, 1997), Robert Ellsberg writes that Kollwitz worked for many years on the statue, Mourning Parents, modelled after her and her husband, Karl. Commissioned for the Soldiers Cemetery near Dixmuden, it was finally unveiled in 1932, and, in Ellsberg's words 'remains a devastating image of sorrow over the waste of life'.
Some wars may be just, some unavoidable, but every war summons us to work all the harder for that 'brotherhood of man'. That's why the United Nations was born from World War II.
The trouble is, we forget so soon. One reason generals are often the most reluctant warriors is that they, more than most, know war's horror and don't forget. From knowing that horror, General and later US Secretary of State George C Marshall, whom I once interviewed, surely fought all the harder for that 'brotherhood of man'. He gave his name to the post-World War II European reconstruction plan. Similarly, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired general, was one of the most reluctant to agree to the war in Iraq.
That war, with all its horror and merciful brevity, calls on us, once again, to work all the harder for peace coupled with justice.
Of course, many people in and out of government work for peace in many ways. One is Radwan Masmoudi, the Tunisian founder and head of the Washington, DC-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. He believes strongly that Islam, democracy and peace are compatible. He carries that message wherever he goes. A few months ago he conducted workshops in Egypt, Yemen and Morocco with participants from a wide spectrum of religious and secular philosophies. His lengthy report reveals an equally wide spectrum of opinions. But there are rays of hope for freedom and democracy in areas where they are sharply limited today.
It has been well said that peace is 'people becoming different'. We become different by trying to understand and even care for those who oppose us. We become different by taking a hard and honest look at where we ourselves need to change. For me, born and reared in the racially segregated Deep South of America, that meant finding love for those of another colour, for those of different religious and ethnic backgrounds. It means making restitution as best I can for things I've done wrong. An American Muslim businessman I met some months ago agreed this was the secret to peace in the world.
As a boy scout in World War II, I was frequently asked, along with fellow scouts, to help direct traffic and otherwise assist at military funerals. At one point I was asked to take a two-hour turn as honour guard of an Eagle Scout killed in air-cadet training. I'll never forget the sorrow symbolized by the bugler's 'Taps' and the pain of mourning parents. Most of us have lost relatives and friends in wars-wars we should never forget even as we strive to understand, and even love, those who differ from us.
Perhaps the most rewarding, though demanding, work for anyone is turning enemies into friends. Were she still alive, Kathe Kollwitz would surely agree.
Robert Webb is a former columnist and editorial writer for the 'Cincinnati Enquirer'. He lives in Alexandria, Va, USA.