This past Saturday, May 7, was the day when Nazi Germany signed its official surrender to the Allies. The following day, May 8, was declared as Victory Day in Europe. The Soviet Union declared the following day, May 9, as Victory Day, but either way, the war continued until Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, following the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If there has ever been a sad victory, it is the victory of the Allies in World War II. Not only was this war the worst of all the wars, we have not learned a thing from it, other than to build the worst ever weapon. Given the chance, I have no doubt that another world war will break out, and it is certain to be nuclear.
The only country that may have learned a good lesson from the war is Japan. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes. It was enacted on May 3, 1947, following World War II, and states that explicitly offensive weapons, such as ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, are prohibited. Although the constitution was imposed by the occupying United States in the post-World War II period, Japan maintains its army as a defensive force and refrains from using offensive weapons like ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons to this day.
Regrettably, I do not see the Japanese approach to war taking root anywhere outside Japan. In fact, even Japan’s lesson is only partial since avoidance is not a correction. Correction, which is the only way to prevent war in the long run, must incorporate a radical shift in our relationships, and not only a commitment to refrain from using offensive weapons and weapons of mass destruction.
It is not only World War II that makes me pessimistic. For thousands of years, humanity has lived by the sword. As soon as nations conclude one campaign, they begin to develop deadlier and more sinister weapons for their future conflicts. There is not even a thought in the direction of peace, but only in the direction of winning more decisively.
In the previous century, humanity experienced the most horrendous forms of mass killing, indeed of extermination of human beings. In World War I, chemical warfare was introduced, and in World War II, nuclear warfare became a tool in the arsenal of armies. Yet, despite the horrific consequences of using such weapons, not only were they not banned, they were proliferated and their power grew hundreds of times worse than the already monstrous potential that was displayed in Japan. It seems as though no agony, however dreadful, will make humanity turn away from mutual destruction.
When I came to learn with my teacher, RABASH, he taught me what his father, the great kabbalist and thinker Baal HaSulam, had taught him: Nature pushes humanity forward “in two ways—the ‘path of light,’ and the ‘path of suffering’—in a way that guarantees humanity’s continuous development and progress.”
In truth, however, the path of suffering does not teach us anything, as is evidently clear. All it does is convince us to look for a better, or at least less painful way forward.
Conversely, the path of light consists of developing the core values that make a society prosperous and strong: solidarity, cohesion, and mutual concern. At their highest level, they are called “love of others.” Nevertheless, even before a society achieves the final degree of caring, the positive emotions among its members solidify it and ensure peace and prosperity for all its members.
In the 1930s, long before anyone imagined the possibility of a nuclear bomb, Baal HaSulam wrote these astounding words in order to prove to humanity that we must take the path of light: “Do not be surprised if I mix together the well-being of a particular collective with the well-being of the whole world, because indeed we have already come to such a degree where the whole world is considered one collective and one society. That is, …each person in the world draws his life’s marrow and his livelihood from all the people in the world.”
If he wrote this in the 1930s, what can we say today, when our interdependence has increased many times over? And if we are indeed so dependent on each other, how can we dare contemplate using nuclear arms against each other?
Yet, we do dare, and we are careless as though our fates do not affect each other. Therefore, until we acknowledge that peace is our only way to survive, physically, we are doomed to live by the sword, or as Baal HaSulam described it, “Thus, humanity is being fried in a heinous turmoil, and strife and famine and their consequences have not ceased thus far.” Worse yet, “We can see that to the extent that humankind develops, the pains and torments obtaining our sustenance and existence also multiply.” This is the proof, says Baal HaSulam, that nature “has commanded us to observe with all our might … bestowal upon others… in such a way that no member from among us would work any less than the measure required to secure the happiness of society and its success.”