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What Did Gita Tell Us About War?

It tells us that sometime war is necessary. It also explains when it is necessary and why. It goes further and tells us what would happen when we choose not to fight at times when we should. It also tells us something shocking even troubling. One might even say horrifying. It tells us that in some cases what we value the most, or hold dearest to our heart must be sacrificed to defend, protect against the spread of evil and to fight to stop it.
Promoting and advocating peace may seem like it is always the wiser, smarter or better option even the grander more respectable or civilized one but the Bhagavad Gita tells us that it is not always so.
We may know by now that if there’s one thing that is constant in life it is that nothing is ‘always’. There are exceptions to the rules. Situations need to be assessed and treated differently for best results.
Indeed, when all attempts to negotiate and come to a peaceful and reasonable solution fail, standing up to defend and protect ourselves, our dignity, those we cherish and love, what we believe is right and fighting back become the proper choice.
Gita’s lessons are shocking. Shocking because not everyone is ready or able to apply them. It takes courage, even faith – one might even say a sort of religious determination with overtones of fanaticism – to accept letting go of what we love, the comforts of our lives, our material possessions, our pride, status, beliefs, accomplishments, our loved ones, all for the purpose of doing the right thing: defend and fight against evil.

This year 2022 we either have faced or had a glimpse of this moral dilemma. As countries went to war, contemplated war or got involved in it, some wielding nuclear weapons, we had an opportunity to think and picture the scenarios and  the possible doom ahead. Some have thought about peace and peaceful solutions, negotiations, compromises, or concessions.

Yet, in such a situation what are the dangers of a peaceful solution, of conceding, compromising?

The world is faced with choices: choosing dictatorship or democracy, allowing bullying, genocide, war crimes, accepting authoritarian rule, fascism or in other words, evil. Conceding to evil, compromising with evil should not be an option any less than selling your soul.

The price to pay may become steep but it is worth it for the betterment of the entire humanity. And this is what the Gita tells us.

Let’s pause here as I tell you a story. It’s a story that involves you. You are going to school. One day, you see one of your classmates – let’s call him Umberto – being bullied by another classmate – let’s call him Ron.

Umberto is much smaller than Ron and although he’s taking a beating, he fights back but is unable to protect his little sister and brother who are getting hurt. Ron sees you and warns you not to intervene threatening to use a knife he has been hiding under his shirt if you do.

It turns out that you are Just as big as Ron and are quite skilled at fighting yourself. Since you are returning from baseball practice you are even carrying a few baseball bats. However, Umberto is not exactly your friend even though you have been chatting with him lately. In fact, you just heard Ron accusing Umberto of seeking your friendship in order for you to protect him. But you stay back because you had decided awhile ago not to get involved in fights unless it is to protect your friends or family as you prefer not to get hurt yourself.
Even though Umberto is asking you to help and at least protect his little sister and brother, you don’t budge, and stand there watching. However, you pass one of your baseball bat to Umberto as Ron threatens you. Umberto seems to be doing a little bit better in the fight. However, his siblings are very hurt. A few of your friends gather around offering moral support but do nothing otherwise. In a show of support for Umberto, you agree with your friends not to interact with Ron anymore and together you tell him that from now on everyone will avoid him. Another bully friend of Ron shows up seemingly ready to intervene. A few much smaller kids, gather around to watch too. They also learn from this brutal interaction that bullies can assault people, injure children, possibly kill them and crowds would just gather around and watch, barely intervening.
Those kids, as they grow up, some of them will become fearful, disillusioned, angry. A few will even be bullies too. Ron will continue to bully other people. Other bullies around will continue as well. They will move on to possibly become career criminals, corrupt leaders, thieves, blackmailers, extortionists, murderers… just to name a few of the type of individual that display very low moral standards, or consideration towards other people around them.
Our actions and interactions build this world. Our decisions to allow bullying, brutality, crime, abuse, atrocities, genocide, in favour of our immediate interests or in other words to allow evil to continue… all such decisions have consequences and repercussions on our world around us.
In this scenario, when Ron was bullying Umberto, you should have recognized evil at work and helped positively shape the world you live in. You had the skills and the means to help. Yet, because of the possible threat to you, because of your fears, you chose to barely intervene, and let two small children get badly injured. You chose to protect your personal interests while at the same time sending a message on the kind of person you are. You did not help the world become a better place.

Let’s now change this scenario a little bit. Let’s go back to the moment you see Umberto getting bullied and he asks your help. Brandishing a baseball bat, you hand over another one to Umberto. You step forward, pulling away the two small children in order to shield them from the onslaught and launch your own assault on Ron. Although he threatens you with his weapon, you also have yours and are ready to counter. You are aware of the risks of injury but you also know your chances and abilities. You know you are fighting the right fight. You cannot back down now. That would be wrong and it would send the wrong message to the bullies, to your friends, to the small children, to the community, to the world at large. This is a situation where you know that you have to take a stand.

               You may have figured out by now, that these scenarios are not just about imaginary Umberto, Ron or you, but about Ukraine, Russia and the potential intervention that did not occur yet from the world super powers including the NATO led by America as well as the many other countries of the world who could have intervened too. It is also about your own response as an individual, your stance, your choice and personal actions.

               Let’s take another look at the current world situation. Without the actual intervention of other military superpowers, this war will drag on, resulting in more destruction and loss of life, until eventually a ceasefire is agreed upon, while part of the Ukrainian territories are occupied by Russia. At that point, Ukraine ravaged and devastated will start rebuilding under constant threat of renewed aggression.

               On the other hand, a massive intervention and military support from the world superpowers, could have led to a major showdown, a show of force as well as a convincing demonstration of the resolve and unity of the democratic forces of the world when facing totalitarian regimes engaging in  acts of abuse, bullying, unjustified aggression, committing war crimes, rapes, murdering civilians including women, elderlies and children, and genocide. A strong forceful response would have demonstrated a joint front and commitment to defending and protecting a better world, a world where criminal regimes led by immoral tyrants are fought back and neutralized.

               Defending such ideals and values despite the risks and costs involved is of the utmost importance, because ultimately that involves building a better world for ourselves, for our children and for the future generations that will follow.

               This is a similar resolves and commitment that drew the Allied forces in the previous century to fight against a coalition of powers driven by evil goals of subjugating, murdering, looting and enslaving other nations. The major conflagration that had ignited between the world superpowers of the time was then followed by almost eighty years where only limited or isolated conflicts took place. Although armed conflicts never stopped around the world, peace to a certain extent allows nations to thrive and prosper, especially when they benefit from democracy, freedom of speech, protection from violence, abuse, or corruption.

               Whenever evil raises its ugly head, we must be courageous and find ways to fight it back despite the costs that it may entail. This is what we must do in order to protect this world now, as well for the future generations that will follow. Every compromise, every concession we make is a loss for our vision of this better world, which eventually will need to be recouped at various costs whether by us, or by those future generations, which include our children or our grand-children.

Manes L.

July 2022

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