The Global Peace Index for 2015 points, among other conclusions, to some increasing gaps between the least and most peaceful countries, an eight year downward trend in worldwide peacefulness, and a dramatic deterioration of peace in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Being of late middle age, or something like that, I have felt that the world has become far less peaceful in my time, but I’ve often wondered if that’s just my women’s intuition. Alas, it is not. The Global Peace Index looks at a range of qualitative and quantitative factors like the level of security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict, and degrees of militarization in society. And, in those contexts, the United States isn’t doing so great. We are awash in weapons, for one thing.
Although many factors hamper peace, one that appears consistently throughout the Baha’i writings is the danger associated with a preponderance of weapons of war. If society’s energies focus on a culture of violence versus a culture of cooperation, technology will advance quickly along an extremely destructive path. Prior to World War I, Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, warned against the use of rapidly-advancing war technologies. His point–gruesomely illustrated by the bloodiness of the terrible war that ensued—still remains true today:
…shouldst thou turn thine eye to the discovery of destructive and infernal machines, to the development of forces of demolition and the invention of fiery implements, which uproot the tree of life, it would become evident and manifest unto thee that civilization is conjoined with barbarism. Progress and barbarism go hand in hand, unless material civilization be confirmed by Divine Guidance, by the revelations of the All-Merciful and by godly virtues, and be reinforced by spiritual conduct ….
Consider now, that the most advanced and civilized countries of the world have been turned into arsenals of explosives, that the continents of the globe have been transformed into huge camps and battlefields, that the peoples of the world have formed themselves into armed nations, and that the governments of the world are vying with each other as to who will first step into the field of carnage and bloodshed, thus subjecting mankind to the utmost degree of affliction. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 284.
The Baha’i Faith’s leaders addressed the importance of maintaining forces for internal security as well advocating the eventual development of an international police force—but they also addressed the dangers that ensue from promoting a war industry. The Baha’i teachings consistently address the crushing financial burdens being imposed upon “hapless citizens” by excessive military expenditures:
There is the well-known case of the ruler who is fostering peace and tranquility and at the same time devoting more energy than the warmongers to the accumulation of weapons and the building up of a larger army, on the grounds that peace and harmony can only be brought about by force. Peace is the pretext, and night and day they are all straining every nerve to pile up more weapons of war, and to pay for this their wretched people must sacrifice most of whatever they are able to earn by their sweat and toil. How many thousands have given up their work in useful industries and are laboring day and night to produce new and deadlier weapons which would spill out the blood of the race more copiously than before. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 61.
Many of the Baha’i Faith’s directives on these topics came just before and after World War I, but the burdens on society arising from war are no less applicable today, especially with advances in increasingly sophisticated and incredibly expensive weapons systems. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute annually publishes a Military Expenditures Database that records these expenditures by country and region. Such outlays in North America alone amounted to $705 billion in 2014. Military expenditures in the same period for Europe amounted to $386 billion, $439 billion for Asia and Oceania, close to $200 billion for the Middle East, and some $50 billion for the whole continent of Africa. Given the many crying needs of a suffering humanity, the sheer amount of resources going to this sector boggles the mind. If my math is correct, $705 billion is equivalent to over $80 million being spent per hour—just in North America! The Baha’i teachings call for an end to such wasteful, harmful burdens:
By a general agreement all the governments of the world must disarm simultaneously. It will not do if one lays down its arms and the others refuse to do so. The nations of the world must concur with each other concerning this supremely important subject, so that they may abandon together the deadly weapons of human slaughter. As long as one nation increases her military and naval budget, other nations will be forced into this crazed competition through their natural and supposed interests. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 116.
Universal disarmament seems naïve, perhaps, unless and until humanity is faced with the consequences an arms race that increasingly spins out-of-control. Ultimately one hopes that, after yet another World War perhaps, humanity will finally sicken of it:
“…destruction of humanity is not a glorious achievement.” Rather, “the upbuilding of a home, the bringing of joy and comfort into human hearts are truly glories of mankind. Let not a man glory in this, that he can kill his fellow creatures; nay, rather, let him glory in this, that he can love them.” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 75.