I recently received a shipment of several issues of Haldeman-Julius Monthly wrapped in some pages torn from an old Look magazine. (Young persons: Look was a competitor with Life and was one of those big weekly magazines we had around the house in the 1950s and ‘60s, along with the Saturday Evening Post.)
The first thing to catch my eye was, yes, a Norman Rockwell painting. This one is titled “Uneasy Christmas in the Birthplace of Peace” and has a timelessness that was surely never intended by the artist.
What also caught my eye were several pages from an essay by Look editor William B. Arthur (d. 1997) titled “Whatever Happened to Mankind’s Dream of Peace?” At the time, the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam and antiwar protests were on the rise.
Here’s the conclusion to Arthur’s Dec. 29, 1970, essay, courtesy of the OCR software on the DM scanner. Are they enduring words, or merely scrap paper good for nothing but padding in packages?
My flight soared on, too, and my thoughts, and at last I came again to the question that nagged me at the outset. Has peace eluded mankind? I sensed that the answer is this: No, mankind has eluded peace. I think mankind flees it still. But why? Perhaps the answer becomes plain if we can lift the curtain of our vanity.
Man flees peace, I suspect, because it threatens his identity, threatens to undermine what he believes himself to be. He believes he is strong, just and powerful and must prevail over those who oppose him, over those who are wrong. Such is his self-image, and he fatally acts it out.
Who would deny this? Who would say: “No, we are peaceful.” Such a one must speak from vain illusion. But this illusion prevails, of course, around the world. As an American will say, “We are peaceful, they are warlike,” so will a Russian. So will we all in our national roles. “Others are bestial, I am the exception.”
This is more, in the last analysis, than vain illusion. It is fatal delusion, with bloody consequences. One consequence is that it lends to the warriors of all nations the fury of self-righteousness. A consequence more broad and more tragic is that our illusion entraps us in a paradox that must thwart all efforts toward peace.
A nation hungry for peace must fear war from others. So it arms, and appears belligerent, menacing; and so the others, though knowing kindred hunger, arm themselves out of kindred fear. The cycle is self-feeding. With the vain illusion of pacific righteousness prevailing everywhere in mankind’s little neighborhoods, mankind goes on and on, trying to vindicate its vision of itself, fulfilling its own bloody prophecy, war after war after war.
How do we turn about? How do we stop fleeing from peace and pursue it instead? I would not presume to know for sure. I suspect, however, that mankind must somehow escape its ancient self-image; and nations, their self-righteous illusions. This must come slowly, I know, slowly when time is so short. If it comes at all, I suspect it must come from mere men, individuals, members of mankind, those who through an act of conscience and consciousness will lead the rest of us to self-realization, and through that knowledge, to peace.
Only when men turn about will governments follow suit. Perhaps we stand now at a moment for turning, knowing–as individuals–that the fate of mankind hangs in that grisly nuclear balance. Perhaps, indeed, such a turnabout has already begun with this new generation of young people, who reject crusades and glory and conquest, who search for justice and for peace, who are sick of being asked to die, who would rather live to make men free.
There is, in Hanoi, what must have once been one of the loveliest of Christmas trees. It stands on a shelf in a corner of the lobby of a hotel. It is artificial, about 18 inches high, dusty, moth-eaten. Long ago, its ornaments lost their luster. It simply has been forgotten. No one bothers to put it away, not in June, or July, or December. As woebegone as it is, it seems still to me to be a symbol, a symbol of joy, of life, of love, which is, of course, what the dream is all about.
“On earth peace….”