It was a time when nations were armed to the teeth and motivated by economic, political, religious and social rivalries with a dark malignancy of a very virulent blood lust in which ancient enmities would be settled with one a victor and the other, the defeated.
Rather than build their societies to withstand the natural challenges that face any country, any people and any economy, leaders prided themselves on the advanced arms of death and mayhem that they purchased with their respective peoples’ treasuries.
As the war drums drummed louder, more nations made threatening statements, more leaders flexed their military muscle with troop movements, threats and an appeal to nationalism as opposed to a sane and rational patriotism.
No more would “the other” be tolerated. It was a time of choose or be chosen. A time to be victorious or defeated. There was little time, if any, for reason. Calls for peace were drowned out by the bellicose newspapers and speakers’ increasingly fevered calls to fight for the Motherland or Fatherland. Such calls were bereft of any inkling of discernment to understand that the entire world is not made up of races, but of the human race.
Alliances were made; alliances were broken. No matter, the world remained armed to the teeth and anxious for war.
Conflicts throughout the world preceded the match that lit the powder keg. Despite their lethality, they were mere runners-up to to future horrors unleashed in a grotesque orgy of murder and mayhem.
To say humanity faced a powder keg ready to blow should have been apparent to most educated observers of the time. All that was needed was a match, and the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand lit that match on June 28, 1914, when the slow death march to war began.
The year? Why it was 1914. The Great War would last four years and introduce humanity to industrialized warfare the likes the world had never seen. The carnage was vast. It claimed 9,911,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen who were were slaughtered; about seven million civilians were blown to bits and cut into shards; and 21,219,500 servicemen, servicewomen and civilians were wounded. Among the dead, 7,750,000 were never recovered by their families and were simply listed as “missing.”
What became The War To End All Wars, as World War I was also called by many, including my Grandma Hill, was actually a prelude to World War II and a violent legacy of more than 100 years of wars, conflicts, civil wars, police actions and more.
Today, the world appears to be facing what could become a full-fledged third world war in the Middle East. The similarities to the lead-up to World War I are disturbing. The lethality of today’s weapons are exponentially more.
Humanity has never been better equipped to unleash its carnage upon one another.
In Syria alone, you have the world’s two greatest military powers, The Russian Federation and the United States of America, allied and at odds. There is a witch’s brew of terrorist organizations fighting.
Add to that the complexity of other allegiances and alliances and you have a recipe for disaster; a recipe for world war.
The complexities of alliances and allegiances in Syria seems to defy logic, but they do point to the very real possibility of an event and/or a series of events that could lead to a cataclysmic war. It’s a powder keg like the world has never seen.
War, famine, prejudice, racism, religious intolerance and fanaticism, and economic warfare might make some throw up their hands in despair. People can be forgiven for thinking there is no hope and that there is no way out of perpetual war, but there is an alternative path ~ a way out of this quagmire of war following war and it involves religion ~ something many in the world have lost hope for and openly mock.
“No serious attempt to set human affairs aright, to achieve world peace, can ignore religion,” states The Universal House of Justice in “The Promise of World Peace.”
“Man’s perception and practice of it are largely the stuff of history. An eminent historian described religion as a ‘faculty of human nature’. That the perversion of this faculty has contributed to much of the confusion in society and the conflicts in and between individuals can hardly be denied.
“But neither can any fair-minded observer discount the preponderating influence exerted by religion on the vital expressions of civilization. Furthermore, its indispensability to social order has repeatedly been demonstrated by its direct effect on laws and morality.”
The Universal House of Justice published “The Promise of World Peace” in 1985.
Coincidentally, shortly thereafter, there was an effort on the part of the then-Soviet Union and the United States of America to bridge the divides that had separated them.
While leaders in the East and West may have favored rapprochement at that time, it seems to me that this spirit was not followed up by subsequent administrations in many countries.
It seems as if humanity lost a chance, but all is not lost ~ although we may be running out of time before more cataclysmic events batter humanity.
“It is out of a deep sense of spiritual and moral duty that we are impelled at this opportune moment to invite your attention to the penetrating insights first communicated to the rulers of mankind more than a century ago by Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, of which we are the Trustees.
“’The winds of despair’”, Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “’are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective.’”
“This prophetic judgement has been amply confirmed by the common experience of humanity. Flaws in the prevailing order are conspicuous in the inability of sovereign states organized as United Nations to exorcize the spectre of war, the threatened collapse of the international economic order, the spread of anarchy and terrorism, and the intense suffering which these and other afflictions are causing to increasing millions.
“Indeed, so much have aggression and conflict come to characterize our social, economic and religious systems, that many have succumbed to the view that such behaviour is intrinsic to human nature and therefore ineradicable.”
Syria, Yemen and Central Africa are the hot spots at this writing, but there are ugly reminders throughout Europe and Asia that old hostilities, enmities and hatred still smolder. All that needs to occur are winds of discord that will again fan the flames into raging fires.
“With the entrenchment of this view, a paralyzing contradiction has developed in human affairs,” The Universal House of Justice Stated.
“On the one hand, people of all nations proclaim not only their readiness but their longing for peace and harmony, for an end to the harrowing apprehensions tormenting their daily lives.
“On the other, uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious, a system giving free play to individual creativity and initiative but based on co-operation and reciprocity.”
Bahá’u’lláh’s address the establishment of world peace.
“The principle of collective security was propounded by Him in statements addressed to the rulers of the world,” The Universal House of Justice noted.
“Shoghi Effendi commented on his meaning: ‘What else could these weighty words signify,” he wrote, “if they did not point to the inevitable curtailment of unfettered national sovereignty as an indispensable preliminary to the formation of the future Commonwealth of all the nations of the world? Some form of a world super-state must needs be evolved, in whose favour all the nations of the world will have willingly ceded every claim to make war, certain rights to impose taxation and all rights to maintain armaments, except for purposes of maintaining internal order within their respective dominions. Such a state will have to include within its orbit an International Executive adequate to enforce supreme and unchallengeable authority on every recalcitrant member of the commonwealth; a World Parliament whose members shall be elected by the people in their respective countries and whose election shall be confirmed by their respective governments; and a Supreme Tribunal whose judgement will have a binding effect even in such cases where the parties concerned did not voluntarily agree to submit their case to its consideration.
“’A world community in which all economic barriers will have been permanently demolished and the interdependence of capital and labour definitely recognized; in which the clamour of religious fanaticism and strife will have been forever stilled; in which the flame of racial animosity will have been finally extinguished; in which a single code of international law—the product of the considered judgement of the world’s federated representatives—shall have as its sanction the instant and coercive intervention of the combined forces of the federated units; and finally a world community in which the fury of a capricious and militant nationalism will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship—such indeed, appears, in its broadest outline, the Order anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh, an Order that shall come to be regarded as the fairest fruit of a slowly maturing age.’”
The House of Justice also noted that the implementation of such measures was noted by Bahá’u’lláh:
“The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace amongst men.”
One can be forgiven if they question the reality of such an all-embracing vision can be championed by the world’s leaders and populations.
However, that prompts further questions: how many more world wars can humanity survive? How many more famines? How many mass migrations causing an infinite number of issues?
How many more regional wars will make millions more homeless, claim hundreds of thousands of lives, including countless individuals who are crippled for life by their wounds.
In light of the religious-themed art I create, such art has been criticized by some as nothing more than “over-used slogans” and “boring bromides” from a believer in Utopian dreams.
Although Utopia on earth is not possible because as humans we are imperfect, world peace can be a reality. Furthermore, isn’t it more unrealistic to assume humanity can continue making war on one another forever?
“The courage, the resolution, the pure motive, the selfless love of one people for another—all the spiritual and moral qualities required for effecting this momentous step towards peace are focused on the will to act,” The Universal House of Justice states.
“And it is towards arousing the necessary volition that earnest consideration must be given to the reality of man, namely, his thought. To understand the relevance of this potent reality is also to appreciate the social necessity of actualizing its unique value through candid, dispassionate and cordial consultation, and of acting upon the results of this process.
“Bahá’u’lláh insistently drew attention to the virtues and indispensability of consultation for ordering human affairs. He said: ‘Consultation bestows greater awareness and transmutes conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leads the way and guides. For everything there is and will continue to be a station of perfection and maturity. The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation.’”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh and authorized interpreter of his teachings, offered his insights on this world gathering’s proceedings:
“They must make the Cause of Peace the object of general consultation,” he said, “and seek by every means in their power to establish a Union of the nations of the world.
“They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant, the provisions of which shall be sound, inviolable and definite. They must proclaim it to all the world and obtain for it the sanction of all the human race.”
It is not an ordinary or simplistic effort to champion the cause of peace. It is something the entire world should aspire to; that said, one can be forgiven again if, looking at the wars of the world today, doubts the possibility of well-being and peace.
Yet it is a possible and a noble aspiration.
“This supreme and noble undertaking—the real source of the peace and well-being of all the world—should be regarded as sacred by all that dwell on earth,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said. “All the forces of humanity must be mobilized to ensure the stability and permanence of this Most Great Covenant.
“In this all-embracing Pact the limits and frontiers of each and every nation should be clearly fixed, the principles underlying the relations of governments towards one another definitely laid down, and all international agreements and obligations ascertained.
“In like manner, the size of the armaments of every government should be strictly limited, for if the preparations for war and the military forces of any nation should be allowed to increase, they will arouse the suspicion of others. The fundamental principle underlying this solemn Pact should be so fixed that if any government later violate any one of its provisions, all the governments on earth should arise to reduce it to utter submission, nay the human race as a whole should resolve, with every power at its disposal, to destroy that government. Should this greatest of all remedies be applied to the sick body of the world, it will assuredly recover from its ills and will remain eternally safe and secure.”
In noting the significance of a world gathering, The Universal House of Justice said in 1985 that “the holding of this mighty convocation is long overdue.”
Indeed it is. How much more suffering must the people of the earth endure before humanity awakens to this practical and essential call to peace and a world gathering to implement a lasting global peace?
Source for all quotes: “The Promise of World Peace”, which is copyrighted by The Universal House of Justice.
(Editor’s note: This column is not intended to imply support of it by The Universal House of Justice and/or any Bahá’í institution and/or individual. Opinions in it are those of the author only. Please visit the Bahá’í International Community’s Web site for official Bahá’í Faith information.)