THEOSOPHY, Vol. 35, No. 10, August, 1947
(Pages 441-445; Size: 15K)
(Number 46 of a 57-part series)



[Part 2 of 3 about war]

WORLD WAR II was waged with a variety of motives, depending upon the ideals of the individuals and groups participating. Many men poured their energies into the crucible of destruction, with a sincere desire to sacrifice both wealth and blood for the relief of the victims of brutal tyranny. Conscientious men worked for intervention in Ethiopia, China, and fought for the Spanish loyalists, when there was no immediate threat to their own country. Few believed that war is a good means, or that it is, in itself, anything but evil, yet many were convinced of the necessity for military violence because they conceived it to be the lesser of two evils -- not merely for themselves, but for humanity at large. Such thinking comprised the idealism of World War II, and had there been more of it, the "peace" would perforce be a better peace. Yet it is necessary to note that the vast majority did not fight this war because they wanted to save oppressed people elsewhere. The vast majority did not volunteer for service in any army, even that of Japan or that of Germany -- whose peoples are often called "naturally bloodthirsty." The majority went to war because they were told that the self-interest of their nation was threatened, and because they accepted conscription for military service in the name of national emergency -- and because they were ordered to. When Germany first entered upon her program of intensified militarization, Adolf Hitler had but recently risen to power, campaigning, paradoxically, on an "I will keep you out of war" platform. A large army was urged upon the somewhat hesitant general German population as a means of avoiding war. But the determining factor in the militarizing process was not conviction of its need, but the concentration of power in a centralized state which it had become extremely dangerous to oppose.

The pattern is familiar. All over the world, the "common man" has for years been ordered to conform to "military necessity" in the name of national self-interest. In some lands, opposition to this requirement is almost unthinkable. The demands of the State are accepted as though they were laws of Nature, never to be questioned.

The real problem for the student of Theosophical history is simply this: What has happened to the individual and his awareness of himself as a free moral agent? Perhaps it is simply that the roots of the Catholic totalitarianism of the Middle Ages have never been completely removed, for the modern man has much in common with his medieval forebears. The medieval man prostrated himself in fear before the conventional pattern woven around a religion teaching that the individual has no intrinsic promise or dignity as a self-moving unit. The modern man tends to prostrate himself before a pattern which is not basically different. The concept of man's evolution as an individual moral being has little philosophical or psychological support from the leading ideas of modern civilization. He is not taught to live, to choose and learn as an individual, but to subordinate himself to the cleverly-propagandized conscription of systems of economics, of nationalism, and of animalistic psychology, which comprise the structure of our society. All of these, translated into the terms of political philosophy, became bases for totalitarianism.

This, clearly enough, is part of the working of the "Karma of Israel" -- a result of the personal-God psychology. "Good" men worship at the proper altars; evil men are known to be evil because they worship elsewhere -- not because their motives and actions are judged according to the broad principles of justice.

Western man did not invent war, but the religious war is predominantly a Western institution. No torture was too horrible for Torquemada, no butchery too extensive for Simon de Montfort, for these men conceived themselves to be serving the passions of a God who hated those who did not fear him. The entrenchment of anthropomorphism in the psychology of Christendom has made war habitual; the example of a "jealous God" enabled men to hate strongly enough to justify the inhumanities which war entails.

Without the religious sanction, we of the West find it difficult to prosecute a war. This need for moral rationalization is perhaps a good sign, but hate-producing Jehovistic thinking is stronger than the leaven of Christian ethics, which become the pliant tool of propagandists rather than a moral restraint. War clouds continue to gather in the skies of humanity because there is something for them to gather around. And the morally wavering "common man" stands on shifting sands, affected both internally and externally by totalitarian storms. Against the obstacles to his real freedom he can offer a resistance which is only personal and petty.

Actually, the reasons for his partial rebellion may run deeper. The unwillingness of the individual to submit to loss of freedom for the cause of "national defense" is to be marked everywhere. In Germany, many ingenious techniques were worked out for avoidance of conscription, including the faking or even creation of ailments, the making of false claims, etc. The "draft dodger" and the IV F aspirant in the United States indicated the presence of the same desire to escape the process. Half a million violators of the Selective Service Act of 1940 were investigated by the F.B.I. Most of these recalcitrants had purely personal objections to their loss of freedom; few made conscious individual efforts to evaluate their duty to their nation or to humanity -- they simply sought escape from social processes they disliked, or toward which they felt no responsibility. How natural, according to the "ethic" of Self-preservation -- held supreme at the expense of all other values -- is such behavior! And yet what are men to do? Are they to say that they are Good and that war is Bad, and on this basis refuse to participate?

Many of the pacifists and other war-resisters sought for abstraction from society on the latter ground. Theosophists sympathetic to the efforts of Thomas Paine in soliciting the co-operation of certain Quakers in the War of Independence will recognize that Paine sought to overcome their lethargy -- the lack of social responsibility evidenced by men who, while they wished to see the independence of the colonies, were unwilling to compromise their own "spiritual cleanliness" by fighting for it. Paine, it might be argued, was not objecting to their pacifist position, but to their reasons for holding that position. A severe critic of the social irresponsibility of many pacifists, Milton Mayer, himself a conscientious objector, has remarked that the religious pacifist claims war to be a matter between himself and his God, "ignoring a third party to the deal, namely the community." Such a pacifist, Mayer says, "is tolling the bell for himself alone."

In a somewhat similar moral state are those who actually "like" war, who thrive on its activities; who, far from working to eradicate the roots of war in the modern world, make emotional capital of the war experience. There were many in this category in Germany, many in Japan, and a few military leaders among the United Nations hosts who gave evidence of this attitude. It may seem strange to liken a famous General or two, who like war, to pacifists who simply dislike it personally, yet when men act in a social situation simply from emotional preference, their moral situations are similar.

One area of common ground must certainly be shared by all Theosophists, regarding the karmic forces brought into focus by war -- and this regardless of opinions as to specific applications of principle to international affairs. The height of Kali Yuga is the height of moral inertia. Inertia, that "greatest of occult forces," may be understood in relation to war in two ways: first, as indifference to other peoples' suffering and oppression; second, in the attitude of those who aid in some degree the struggles against oppression, but who tend to accept the easiest salve of conscience, adopting the view that military effort can alone restore justice by punishment of the "wicked." The Theosophist who engages in war has a special obligation to the conscience of the government he serves -- he is fighting for an ideal which must transcend the common one of self-preservation, and strive to rise above the common emotional level. He must fight for the ideal of a common humanity, inclusive even of those who are -- for the time -- his "enemies." He must oppose oppression wherever he sees it, even if it be that committed by his own country, and justified popularly by "cunningly made-up history." If, on the other hand, the individual Theosophist happens to oppose the many known retrograde influences of militarism and refuses to serve the war-making power of the modern state under conscription, he must remember that he himself is a part of the bloody warfare on the physical plane, even though he is not on the battlefield. It is his war to the degree that he shares moral responsibility for it, and none there are, perhaps, who do not.

Fighting and killing, evil though they must be in many of their consequences, must be judged primarily by the motives, by the consecration and the willingness to self-sacrifice which accompanies them. The man who volunteered to fight Fascist oppression in Spain during the revolution was not a contributor to moral inertia. He was seeking his own fulfillment of responsibility in the face of the inertia which characterizes the majority of moderns. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands, millions, who have played their parts in the military machines of the various nations only because they knew no way to avoid it, and because the price of dissociating themselves from a military cause in which they did not believe was more than they were willing to pay. Here is inertia again -- the same sort of inertia which led so many Germans into total conscription, submission of even the mind -- and finally to sodden acceptance of the mechanized brutality of the Belsens and Maidaneks.

Recent history discloses many extremes between emotional pacifism and emotional war-making, while the true causes of war have been neglected. Extremists -- those who, on an emotional basis, either accept war too readily, or reject it completely -- cannot help in a solution of the problem. Only the man who understands both the evil of war as a means, and, at the same time, the need for self-sacrifice for the establishment of righteousness, will be able to benefit society by individual application of Theosophical teachings to the needs of his time.

Fundamentally, the man concerned with applying Theosophical principles will find himself fighting for the right and the obligation of the individual, as an individual, to play a conscious part in soul evolution -- in opposition to the pattern of Kali Yuga.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


Beethoven is a complete artist. If the term is rightly understood, he is one of the completest that ever lived. I intend to use the term without pedantic scruples as to technical details. And, while admitting that "the style is the man," I refuse to involve the reader in vulgar entanglements between the art and the artist's private or official life. Beethoven was of all men the last to tolerate the belief that the artist has a temperament which sets him above the standards of ordinary citizenship, or excuses his failure to reach them. Whatever his sins may have been (and on this subject the evidence is doubtful) he was eminently a man who held himself responsible. Joachim once remarked of a clever French musical critic that "this Parisian shows no sense for the great penitent that there was in Beethoven."

Beethoven was far too busy to torment himself, but Joachim was profoundly right about penitence. It was a quality that was, if possible, more out of fashion in Beethoven's time than it is now. But it will always be inseparable from responsibility so long as human beings have ideals and fail to reach them. I do not know if a modern teacher of auto-suggestion could have shortened John Bunyan's agonies and brought him sooner to his land of Beulah; I am quite certain that no modern psychologist could have found anything more to shake in Beethoven than he could in Browning, or in any other person who has made up his mind about his responsibilities. 


Next article:
[Part 3 of 3 about war]
(Part 47 of a 57-part series)

Back to the
series complete list of articles.

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".

Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.