Educational reforms are urgently needed, particularly in the teaching of history. As it is taught today, history is a chronicle of power struggles and war, told from a biased national standpoint. Our own race or religion is superior; our own country is always heroic and in the right.
We urgently need to replace this indoctrination in chauvinism by a reformed view of history, where the slow development of human culture is described, giving adequate credit to all those who have contributed. Our modern civilization is built on the achievements of ancient cultures. China, India, Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and Jewish intellectual traditions all have contributed. Potatoes, corn and squash are gifts from the American Indians. Human culture, gradually built up over thousands of years by the patient work of millions of hands and minds, should be presented to students of history as a precious heritage – far too precious to be risked in a thermonuclear war.
In the teaching of science too, reforms are needed. Graduates in science and technology should be conscious of their responsibilities. They must resolve never to use their education in the service of war, or in any way which might be harmful to society or to the environment.
In modern societies, mass media play an extremely important role in determining behavior and attitudes. This role can be a negative one when the media show violence and enemy images, but if used constructively, the mass media can offer a powerful means for creating international understanding. If it is indeed true that tribalism is part of human nature, it is extremely important that the mass media be used to the utmost to overcome the barriers between nations and cultures. Through increased communication, the world’s peoples can learn to accept each other as members of a single family.
Finally, let us turn to religion, with its enormous influence on human thought and behavior. Christianity, for example, offers a strongly stated ethic, which, if practiced, would make war impossible. In Mathew, the following passage occurs:
“Ye have heard it said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say unto you: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that spitefully use you and persecute you.”
This seemingly impractical advice – that we should love our enemies – is in fact of the greatest practicality, since acts of unilateral kindness and generosity can stop escalatory cycles of revenge and counter-revenge such as those which characterize the present conflict in the Middle East and the recent troubles of Northern Ireland. However, Christian nations, while claiming to adhere to the ethic of love and forgiveness, have adopted a policy of “massive retaliation”, involving systems of thermonuclear missiles whose purpose is to destroy as much as possible of the country at which the retaliation is aimed. It is planned that entire populations shall be killed in a “massive retaliation”, innocent children along with the guilty politicians. The startling contradiction between what the Christian nations profess and what they do was obvious even before the advent of nuclear weapons, at the time when Leo Tolstoy, during his last years, was exchanging letters with a young Indian lawyer in South Africa. In one of his letters to Gandhi, Tolstoy wrote:
“… The whole life of the Christian peoples is a continuous contradiction between that which they profess and the principles on which they order their lives – a contradiction between love accepted as the law of life, and violence, which is recognized and praised, acknowledged even as a necessity …”
“This year, in the spring, at a Scripture examination at a girls’ high school in Moscow, the teacher and the bishop present asked the girls questions on the Commandments, and especially on the sixth. After a correct answer, the bishop generally put another question, whether murder was always in all cases forbidden by God’s law; and the unhappy young ladies were forced by previous instruction to answer ‘Not always’ – that murder was permitted in war and in the execution of criminals. Still, when one of these unfortunate young ladies (what I am telling is not an invention but a fact told to me by an eye witness) after her first answer, was asked the usual question, if killing was always sinful, she, agitated and blushing, decisively answered ‘Always’, and to the usual sophisms of the bishop, she answered with decided conviction that killing was always forbidden in the Old Testament and forbidden by Christ, not only killing but every wrong against a brother. Notwithstanding all his grandeur and arts of speech, the bishop became silent and the girl remained victorious.”
As everyone knows, Gandhi successfully applied the principle of non-violence to the civil rights struggle in South Africa, and later to the political movement, which gave India its freedom and independence. The principle of non-violence was also successfully applied by Martin Luther King, and by Nelson Mandela. It is perhaps worthwhile to consider Gandhi’s comment on the question of whether the end justifies the means: “The means may be likened to a seed”, Gandhi wrote, “and the end to a tree; and there is the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.” In other words, a dirty method produces a dirty result; killing produces more killing; hate leads to more hate. Everyone who reads the newspapers knows that this is true. But there are positive feedback loops as well as negative ones. A kind act produces a kind response; a generous gesture is returned; hospitality results in reflected hospitality. Buddhists call this principle of reciprocity “the law of karma”.