In Part 1 of Healing the Addiction to War, I commented on Britain’s ceaseless waging of war all over the world, and the polluting and corrosive impact of this not only on the troops sent into combat, but on us all. Now I want to look at how we might receive these fighters back into our communities in a way that restores both them and us, so that collectively we might heal from war’s poisons. And in doing so, perhaps we might each outgrow our own willingness to be complicit in these horrors.
Warriors seem to have featured in most societies: in some they have been a distinct group, while in others all members have been trained for war. Sometimes the role has belonged to men, at others to both genders. But in every case, it seems, the people have understood the purpose of the warrior as being not to initiate needless aggression against others, but to protect the community from outside attack. This belief in the purely protective role of the warrior seems to run so deep in our consciousness that politicians adopt the most illogical contortions in order to convince us that other nations, or factions within nations, wish to attack and destroy us. In so doing, they create this hostility. However blatant the evidence to the contrary, and however clumsy their constructed scenarios of aggression against us, our rulers clearly understand that we will only go, or let our loved ones go, to war if we believe we are in real danger. The people don’t want war, and I believe we never have done. We are taught to want it, or at least to accept it, in the manner of children who know no better than to accept what the grown-ups tell them. Unfortunately, our rulers don’t seem to be grown-ups, and the most positive interpretation of their actions is to say that they have no idea what they are doing.
Most soldiers still set off to war with the belief that they will be fighting to protect their country and their people. Often this belief is proven wrong by their experiences. Many return with post-traumatic stress, depressed, fearful, and at the mercy of horrifying flashbacks. They often feel worthless, lost and isolated within the country they wanted to serve. Mental health problems, alcoholism, crime, violence, homelessness and road accidents due to dangerous driving are all much more common among returning veterans than in the general population. These suffering people are still at war, and they bring the energies of war into our society with them. Traditional cultures, such as many Native American, African and old European peoples, required warriors returning from battle to undergo cleansing rituals before rejoining their communities. The ceremony of the sweat lodge, with its purification by fasting, fire, water, sacred herbs, confession and prayer, is a powerful ritual encompassing all the needed elements for such a cleansing.
We have all been brutalised by war, by virtue of belonging to a globalised culture that uses war as its food and fuel. For Britain and its allies, war seems almost to have become an end in itself. This is a shocking thought, but one that it’s hard to avoid. What can we do?
I suggest there are two aspects to the answer. Firstly, we need to revive the ancient understanding that returning combat troops must be given rituals of cleansing, purification and atonement; these must then be followed by ceremonies in which they are received back into the community with welcome and honour. Secondly, we need to understand that what is done in our name is done by us. Individuality will take us only so far. Of course, our personal integrity and choice are vital – but if that choice is overridden by those who rule us, we can’t then wash our hands of all responsibility. The individual level is permeated by the collective level, and we can’t avoid that however much we want to. So we must also devise ceremonies of cleansing for ourselves, the peaceable bystanders, the ones who mean well and whose votes count for nothing.
We really are capable of cleansing ourselves, our children and our land of the pain and pollution of war. We needn’t accept the numbing fear that is shaping our lives and our realities. Alone, in families, among friends, in small groups and large groups and worldwide, we can create rituals of power and beauty that will bring deep healing to our people and to the earth. I would really love to know what you feel and think about all this, and I’d love to hear your own suggestions.