A hundred years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, peace broke out for a moment. After nearly 40 million total casualties, the world was sick of feeding the dogs of war, sick of rigid alliances, inflexible leaders, and immutable hatred. World leaders signed the Armistice of Compiègne to end World War I. Bells rang out to celebrate peace and perhaps to rouse the better angels of our nature. On November 11, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing to honor veterans that have faced the dogs of war.
Our better angels seem to go through phases of going to the gym, getting fit and strong before they slack off and get fat and lazy. When our better angels forget to exercise, the dogs of war feed on armies of patriotic youth. A mere 20 years after, the Armistice World War II caused between 60 and 80 million casualties, including 6 million Jews exterminated by Nazis, and the first victims of nuclear weapons. After World War II, the US fought major wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and minor wars on about every continent except Antarctica. The rest of the world has endured a century of minor wars, episodes of outright genocide, ethnic cleansing, and totalitarian regimes.
Still, our better angels are getting some exercise. Since World War II, we haven’t unleashed another nuclear weapon, have allowed very few countries to assert their rights to acquire territory outright through force, and the numbers of combat casualties continues to decline.
There’s also been an uptick of movements for peace. The League of Nations was formed. The Kellogg-Briand Pact idealistically (but not particularly effectively) outlawed war. Organizations like the defunct League of Nations, the United Nations, and current nuclear non-proliferation treaties may seem like failures to some. Not to me. The fact they exist at all speaks to the possibility that, somehow, exercising our better angels can keep the dogs of war at bay.
October seemed to confound my optimism. We finished another hate-filled campaign season. (Next one starts Monday.) Last month alone, the “MAGA Bomber” targeted the hated political opposition. A racist shooter targeted hated blacks in Kentucky. Another shooter gunned down a hated Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh. In each case, ideological rigidity fueled conflict and violence.
Nearly unnoticed in October’s domestic terrorism was National Security Advisor John Bolton’s announcement the US was withdrawing from a nuclear non-proliferation pact with Russia. He’s a big “peace through strength” guy. He doesn’t mind rebooting a nuclear arms race. We’ll ensure peace by outgunning the world.
As we ring the bells to celebrate the end of World War I and honor our veterans, it’s clear the little pups and large dogs of war are still hungry.
OK. Maybe our better angels need to work out a little more, do more cardio, some yoga.
An old hymn begins, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” Waging peace is a very active, dynamic and heartfelt personal process. Cultivating personal peace requires intention, mindful awareness, and flexibility. It’s a process that will take a lot more than thinking.
In the spirit of exercising the better angels of our nature, two friends and I will join forces to share with veterans and the public a yoga workshop to cultivate personal peace, honor veterans, and benefit the Veterans Yoga Project. Yoga, meditation and other calming practices are becoming powerful ways to exercise our better angels, connect the head and heart, heal the wounds of war, and wage peace.
Terra Sol Sanctuary will graciously host the event on November 11 from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. Yoga teacher and Marine veteran Jennifer Brier will lead a creativity-based intention setting exercise and explore practical and contemplative strategies to bring more compassion and peace to ourselves and our world. I will stretch into a gentle flow class. Rebecca Gellman will teach a calming iRest, or yoga sleep class to conclude the event.
“Peace through strength” is fine to a point. But any athlete will tell you, strength without flexibility is a recipe for harm. “Peace through flexibility” might help reduce injuries to bodies and souls.
Join us on November 11. If not, ring the bells to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Armistice, honor our veterans, and remember, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”