THEOSOPHY, Vol. 35, No. 9, July, 1947
(Pages 393-397; Size: 16K)
(Number 45 of a 57-part series)

STUDIES IN KARMA

I: WAR -- PAST AND PRESENT

[Part 1 of 3 about war]

SINCE the turn of the century, the whole world has become a gigantic laboratory for perfecting the processes of war, "peace" being merely an interlude for partial recovery and re-armament. Morally, war is the violent precipitation on the physical plane of the many psychic maladjustments of this cycle. For the theosophist, therefore, it presents the most complete of all case-studies in collective Karma. With respect to the individual, war compels him to make important choices which are powerful determinants of his own future karma, as well as that of his nation and the world. In an area of great emotional pressure, he is confronted by the collective-karma problems of his age and by the responsibility of choosing for himself a course of constructive individual action.

Theosophy is a philosophy and not a religion. It has only one "commandment" to its students on the subject of war: that the individual shall do all in his power to fully understand the nature of the war situation, so that his conduct during the human storm shall be based on a perception of the underlying karmic relationships between the war and the evolution of the human soul.

In an effort to grasp the meaning of war, so that he may consciously fulfill the special duties it imposes, the Theosophical student is able to recognize a somewhat faltering parallel trend in the mind of the race. During the past thirty years, students of the humanities, historians and sociologists, reached a conscious determination to discover the causes of wars, so that man may move to eliminate or at least control them. The United States, less subject than other nations to external military threats, contributed greatly to such objective study of war. While the average high-school textbook still treats of ancient wars as simple events in military history -- modern wars, of which intensive study begins with first college year, are now considered in the framework of rudimentary sociological investigation. The underlying factors that make for war receive some attention, and this, for the race mind, provides a partial entry into the study of Karma. One of the first principles of historical truth thus begins to emerge: that all wars must be referred to the soil from which they grew -- to the economic, political, and psychological conditions which prepared the ground for the tread of marching men.

There are at least two reasons for the distinction between the old method of study used in "covering" a period of ancient or medieval conflict, and the sociological analysis applied to later wars. First, the modern war has become more obviously a sociological phenomenon, since all the processes of a society must be geared to co-operation for the production of armaments and the training and equipping of soldiers. To select an arbitrary point in history to indicate this trend, it might be said that the Napoleonic wars introduced "totalitarianism" for military purposes, after the Revolution had created the nationalist spirit which integrated political and military operations.

For the enlarged populations of post-medieval national states, whose specialized skills needed co-ordination in the event of war, it began to be increasingly necessary for governments to present the war as desirable from the standpoint of the interests of the citizen, not simply as demanded on the personal caprice of a ruler. War became, with this development, a complex social process, knit into unity by a popular ideology.

A second reason for the newer and more mature outlook on nationalist wars lies in the fact that practical students of the humanities rebelled at arid and uninteresting recitations of events. They grew interested in the social processes which linked the past with the life of their own times. It became the obligation of the historian to expose those implications of past events which were relevant to education for the needs of the present and the future. History passed from a descriptive to an explanatory phase. Not simply "what," but the how and why of human events, were now the field of history. Not events, but their influence, were studied: the causes of wars and changes of government were sought in the complexes of total societies. These pioneer historians manifested the same spirit of freedom which had once impelled Renaissance scholars to rise above the intellectual sterility resulting from centuries of Catholic "totalitarianism."

During the nineteenth century, the method of studying the processes of society received considerable impetus from a French historian, Michelet, as well as from Hegel and Karl Marx. The first notable evidence of the sociological approach to history was in the relatively unexplored field of economic forces as causes of political events. Discovery in this direction was inspired by the desire to extract the truth from history, and the resulting great emphasis on the economic interpretation merely indicated the appalling failure of earlier historians to consider this most obvious of factors in the problem of war and peace. Apparent to Theosophical students, however, is another reason for this enthusiasm for the economic interpretation of history: Materialism -- the characteristic bias of modern times. Economics played a part in inaugurating sociological study of modern history, but it was too limited to give a well-balanced understanding. For instance, Karl Marx, half-mystic and half-reformer, and angry champion of the oppressed proletariat of all nations, made the economic motive supremely important in his analysis of social change, while he, himself, failed entirely to be interested in either money or security. In the early twentieth century, the economic interpretation of history received more balanced attention from historians such as Charles Beard, Sidney Bradshaw Fay, Allan Nevins, and Carl Becker.

Some ten years after the Western front of 1918 had become quiet, college students in America were being taught that World War I was an economic war. International munitions makers were ruthlessly exposed by techniques similar to those employed by the "muckraking liberals" of the pre-war period. In England, 130,000 people signed a pledge never to bear arms or to produce munitions in another international conflict, while many German people responded similarly. But the true understanding of so sobering a phenomenon as World War I increased but little. Students who signed pledges never to support war had simply substituted "international munitions makers" for "Germans" in their lexicon of dislike. At least, for many thus "enlightened," the fundamental truth remained obscure. It was not realized that no single class, any more than any single individual or nation, makes possible a modern war. War is not, nor has it been for generations, so personal a matter. Neither the Germans nor the international munitions makers exclusively caused World War I. "Good" and "Bad" individuals and groups there certainly were, who contributed substantially to its occurrence, but the closest approximation to historical truth is probably to say that the social machinery of six great modern states left so many gears and moving parts unaligned that these parts eventually began to fly about, frightening the nations into becoming strongholds of militarism.

Versailles was a peace manifesting the desire of the victor nations to prove that there had been nothing wrong with their social machinery, but only with the machinery of the nations charged with war guilt. Yet the most eminent of all World War historians, Sidney B. Fay, has since declared, the scholarly world assenting, that Germany was less responsible, and two other nations much more to blame, for World War I than had been at first supposed. Versailles expressed the spirit of Decatur's phrase, "My country, right or wrong," which, as a partially articulate philosophy as well as an emotional attitude, found considerable formal approval during World War II.

Pacifistic Norman Angell wrote in 1935 a volume entitled Peace and the Plain Man, clearly indicating the author's opinion that the social conditions of the warring nations were all substantially the same, that the same techniques of propaganda had been used for conditioning the populations to co-operate in military effort. Books such as Angell's, and Petersen's Propaganda for War (1939), helped to overcome the naïve belief that the war-making process or political morality were fundamentally different among any of the nations whose millions had died on the battlefield. Mr. Angell also contended that the war was a farce from the standpoint of the preservation of genuine national interests, since every nation "lost the war."

In 1941, Mr. Angell, then a holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote Let the People Know. Here he asserted that Nazi Germany -- a considerably less democratic Germany than that of 1914 -- actually did threaten the national self-interest of both England and the United States. The waging of war itself, Mr. Angell had already said, was an act of injustice against humanity. Confronted by the Nazi menace, however, he felt compelled to argue that the war was necessary because national self-interest was threatened: "The first and last claim of a nation, as of every living thing, is to be able to do injustice in order to defend its existence." On this frank and unashamed basis, he urged that men of the democratic nations should fight their war -- realistically.

It is worth while to pause and to examine this justification of war, for Mr. Angell speaks for many who felt that going "all-out" for the late war was in conformity with the natural laws of man, simply on the basis he provides. He says that whenever self-interest and self-preservation are really threatened -- regardless of the degree of our own underlying responsibility for circumstances -- we are free to commit injustice, as a course preferable to being victims of it ourselves.

Here is the final, plausible and undoubtedly sincere outgrowth of the psychology of Materialism: man's morality can never, according to the fundamental order of things, avoid compromise with "reality." And if man is indeed an animal, a creature of physical, rather than a creator of moral, evolution, no other conclusion is tenable. Yet the Theosophist is unalterably opposed to this conclusion, both in principle and from an individual willingness to substitute self-sacrifice for self-preservation. Self-preservation, wrote H. P. Blavatsky, "is a 'pretended' law indeed, as far as the human family is concerned, and a fiction of the most dangerous kind. ... for it is a policy of mutual homicide, because men by descending to its practical application among themselves, merge more and more by a retrograde reinvolution into the animal kingdom." (THEOSOPHY I, 201.) [Note: This refers to a copy of H. P. Blavatsky's article entitled "The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and its Future", from which the quote was taken. A link to it has been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.]

Whether one accepts or rejects the military as a vehicle for expressing part of his obligation to humanity is of secondary importance. That he chooses his part consciously, as an individual, is imperative, if the results of moral inertia and the accompanying "decay into materialism" are finally to be overcome. The theosophist who fights in a modern war must have better reasons for fighting than most of his fellows -- who simply submit to the apparent necessity of following orders. And the theosophist who rejects war must reject it for better reasons than those of most pacifists. Transition out of Kali Yuga will come only with the awakening of the Buddhi-Manas of the race, and this, in turn, will take place only when individuals develop the courage of convictions that transcend the moral level of the time.

There can be no Theosophical dogmas regarding participation or non-participation in war. Theosophical principles are for individual application. They commit their devotee to one thing only -- finding the highest course of practical action possible to him in the prevailing social order, the most complete fulfillment of his duty to the whole of humanity. But, since the social environment changes constantly during the cycles of race evolution, it is imprudent for anyone to say that he would have refused to participate in every war which the government of his nation favors. The Theosophist can neither withdraw to an "ivory tower," forgetful of the bonds of duty which unite him with his fellows, nor can he fail to realize that he must often choose a unique way of fulfilling his highest duty to all humanity. He must, at least internally, stand out and be separate.


[Note: Here is the link to HPB's article, entitled "The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and its Future", that was quoted from by the Editors in the above article. --Compiler.]

Next article:
STUDIES IN KARMA
II: THE KSHATRIYA'S DHARMA
[Part 2 of 3 about war]
(Part 46 of a 57-part series)

Back to the
"STUDIES IN KARMA"
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.