Is the rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem?

“. . . I came to understand the role some in the U.S. government have played to intentionally catalyze war, fueling arms sales globally, without regard for the consequences. The consequences are here!

“We are cartwheeling towards a massive East v. West war with religious and ethnic overtones. This seemingly inexorable March of (nuclear) Folly, will ultimately pit the United States militarily against China, Russia and their allies.”

These are the words of Dennis Kucinich, who during a recent interview quoted William Butler Yeats’ 1919 poem “The Second Coming,” written as the world lay shocked and bleeding from the unprecedented horror of World War I.

“. . . The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity. . . .”

A century later, perhaps the words are even more relevant, considering that nuclear weapons lurk in the background of virtually every conflict. “The consequences are here!” My sense is that these consequences go back thousands of years, during which humanity has organized itself around war and the accompanying dehumanization. Some people are simply evil and not only deserve to die, they must die, so that a different segment of humanity can have what it wants. Thus, consider this headline accompanying a recent New York Post editorial rant:

“Pray that Biden lets Israel finish the job and wipe out Hamas.”

Yeah, that’ll keep Israel secure. War is humanity’s geopolitical addiction, allowing the simple-minded to maintain control. And suddenly I hear George W. Bush speaking to us again: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

This was W, of course, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, hopping enthusiastically on his warhorse, launching the “global war on terror” — his war against evil itself, which bequeathed the world the invasion of Afghanistan, then the invasion of Iraq. The insanity of this simplistic mindset begins with the assumption that some people act sheerly on evil impulses, killing innocent people simply because they can, and in order to claim control over a portion of the planet. Those people are the terrorists, of course.

Uh . . . takes one to know one.

Speaking of U.S. involvement in Africa over the last two decades, Nick Turse notes: “In country after country on that continent, the U.S. has, indeed, faltered and its failures have been paid for by ordinary Africans killed, wounded, and displaced by the terror groups that Bush pledged to ‘defeat.’”

“The raw numbers alone speak to the depths of the disaster. As the United States was beginning its Forever Wars in 2002 and 2003, the State Department counted a total of just nine terrorist attacks in Africa. This year, militant Islamist groups on that continent have, according to the Pentagon, already conducted 6,756 attacks. In other words, since the United States ramped up its counterterrorism operations in Africa, terrorism has spiked 75,000%.”

War spews hell. It keeps making things worse. And most of humanity knows this. What we don’t seem to know — or refuse to know, at least as the geopolitical level — is how to organize and govern ourselves beyond war: how to deal with conflict in a way that solves the prevailing issues rather than obliterates them. “The crusades” never ended:  armed self-righteousness, aimed at worshippers of the wrong god. Defining and dehumanizing “the enemy,” then going to war and piling up the bodies, remains the way of global politics. But as Kucinich pointed out, the consequences of this are here. If World War III breaks out, life on Planet Earth could well be the ultimate loser.

And we all know this! Bombs fall, the corpses of children are pulled from the rubble. Nothing we’re fighting for is worth this, but . . . no matter. What other choice is there? Or rather, it’s the enemy’s fault.

At the level of individuals, we know ways of dealing with conflict other than by violence and conquest. Consider, for instance, these words of management consultant and social philosopher Mary Parker Follett. In a 1925 essay, she wrote (demonstrating that, the best do not lack all conviction):

“As conflict — difference — is here in the world, as we cannot avoid it, we should, I think, use it. Instead of condemning it, we should set it to work for us.”

She describes three ways of dealing with conflict: domination, compromise and what she refers to as integration. Domination is simplistic and impulse-driven. And such a “solution” is usually extraordinarily temporary, “as we can see from what has happened since the War,” she noted (referring, of course, to World War I). Compromise is the normal default setting for reasonable people: Both give up something; neither gets what he wants.

“Compromise,” Parker-Follett points out, “does not create, it deals with what already exists.” But integration — or what one might call transformation — is a solution achieved by creating something new: something that benefits everyone. Oh my God, can you imagine? But her transcendent point is that conflict is opportunity: the chance to evolve, to move beyond the ignorance of the moment.

“All polishing is done by friction,” she writes. “The music of the violin we get by friction.”

Could Israel and Palestine create something new, something that doesn’t simply “resolve” their hellish conflict but actually benefits both sides? What about Russia and Ukraine? The U.S. and . . . oh, Iran, let’s say? China?

I’m not suggesting there’s a simple answer here. My point is merely that the time has come for us — all of us — to transcend the suicidal stupidity of war. Step one is believing that it’s possible: turning global conflict into violin music.

Transcending war would be the largest project the human race has ever undertaken, and it would involve all of us. The time has come to start trying

What if?

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available. Contact him or visit his website at