My father was a decorated U.S. Marine who had fought his way through the entire island chain of the Pacific in World War II. He was wounded in Iwo Jima, sent to a hospital in Hawaii, and then begged to be sent back to his unit. "My guys need me," he said. So although he was cleared for discharge (with a large steel plate inserted in his scull), an exception was made, and he returned to his guys fighting on the islands. He received medals and commendations for his bravery and exploits in those battles.
After the war, he married and had a family, but he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences. He had a drawer full of medals, but he took them out only one or two times as I grew up, and never wanted to speak of those battles. Except one day, when a bully beat me up at school. I told my dad in tears, "Dad, you were a Marine, teach me how to fight." He sat down with me and said, "Yes Ben, I know how to fight. The things that I have done and seen haunt me in my dreams every night. What I want to teach you is something very important. I have seen my best friend's head blown off while he stood beside me. I have seen men's body parts cut off while they were alive and stuffed into their mouths. I have watched a buddy and helped hold his intestines in trying to keep him from bleeding to death, and watched him die as he looked into my eyes. I have seen men crawl out of caves and burned alive in napalm flames as they ran toward me. So I tell you son, fighting, wanting to hurt the other guy, is not a pleasant thing you need to learn or desire."
"Killing another in war is not nearly as important as knowing how to make that person someone that you can live with, tolerate, even work together with. Learn that, and you have really done something. So this is what I am going to teach you. Use your good mind, use your personality and your heart and learn how to treat people with respect, how to persuade them, how to make them like you and want to follow you. Learn how to make friends and how to make enemies your friends. Learn how to do it without fighting."
Then he pulled something out of his pocket, an old letter, and showed it to me. It was written in Japanese and had a photo of a young pretty Japanese girl paper-clipped to it.
"I was in battle one day, and we had Japanese men charging us, screaming 'BONSAI.' It was horrifying. I found this letter on a Japanese soldier who I had just killed with my bayonet."
He hesitated a second, and then gained his composure. "This was his young wife. I had a photo in my pocket just like it, of your mother. I have always thought that one day I would go back to Japan and give this to her, if I can find her, and apologize for taking the life of her man."
That day my father taught me a lot. He did teach me how to shoot, how to hunt, how to box, how to wrestle and even a little judo to defend myself. But always with the message. "It is easy to fight and kill. It is easy to go to war. It is hard, to learn to persuade people without violence. What takes skill is learning how to live in peace."
He gave me that bayonet, which hangs on my office wall wall even as I write this article for you.
My father was a great man, a Marine warrior and then a successful businessman who ultimately became a millionaire through hard work and smart dealings. He was admired and adored by people in his community. He was elected to the local school board, he helped hundreds of families in need, loaned out money, and gave many people jobs. He was a good father. And he lived in peace. When he died, his Marine buddies came in from all over the country and said things like. "Your dad saved our lives." "Your dad led us to defeat the enemy." "Your dad came back to fight at our sides when he could have gone home." But most of all, they said, "Your dad was a good man, he was a heck of a soldier, but he preferred to make peace over war."
Our political leaders, at every level need to learn the lessons my dad taught. Machismo is not the best quality in leadership.
Yes, there are always "unhappy campers," despots, greed mongers, impulsive men eager to pull a trigger, fire off a rocket, or drop a bomb in this world. I grieve about those children and families killed in their homes or in bombed hospitals. War is an evil, and we cannot excuse "collateral damage" and try to pretend that it is not a form of murder. But greatness is not measured by the ability to fight, or destroy another. True greatness is defined by how well we can earn their respect, lead, or influence others peacefully to work and live together well. No doubt there are millions of people in Russia, Korea, China, Syria, Iraq, and Iran who could be won over with a true effort. If we made the right effort, we would find millions of them, just like you and I, eager for peace, respect, love and mutual trust.
Political leaders with despicable or questionable ethics often have the ability to persuade people to kill and destroy other people in the name of politics or religion. Often time the only way some political leaders can maintain their office or position is to start a war. Polls and support for politicians almost always increases when there is a new war. We need to be wise and observe what goes on, in the name of politics or religion. We need to look deeper and not just accept what's on the "surface."
Remember my father's hat. He knew how to wear a uniform and how to use his skills to kill. But he mastered the more powerful ability to influence people peacefully with his mind.
The real power is learning how to bring peace and win over your fellow men with your mind and without killing.