Sunday, December 13, 2009


On Thursday, President Obama gave a powerful and eloquent speech when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.  Much like the extraordinary speech on race in America that he delivered during the presidential campaign, this one looked at the issue of war and peace wisely, intelligently and compassionately, from all sides.  At the core of Obama’s address was the idea that peace should always be the ultimate goal, but that war is sometimes not just “necessary” but “morally justified.”

I voted for Barack Obama and I have the greatest respect for him.  He’s spoken to the world, both our allies and those who oppose us, with a respect and compassion rare in an American president.  I applaud his dedication to healing global rifts (especially those with the Muslim world), to eliminating nuclear weapons.  If there was a new election held tomorrow, I’d vote for him again.

And yet...

“Necessary”  “Morally justified”?  When I listen to the president—when I listen to any political leader—talk about “just” and “necessary” wars, my hackles go up.  To me, this thinking reflects an incredibly limited mind-set; one locked in the past.  “We must begin,” Obama stated, “by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.”  Hard to argue with that when you view life through the lens of what I call the CNN Reality.  If we focus exclusively on the way things have always been, if we lock ourselves into the vision of a world where hideous violence is an acceptable form of problem solving, then that’s the world we’re going to get.  But experience has shown me that there is a deeper, a truer, reality beneath the skin of the world.  One that has the potential to transform both the individual soul and the entire planet.

Looking through the lens of that Deeper Reality has shown me that the universe begins inside our own heads, hearts and souls; that we’re all living in a dream, projected from both the personal and collective unconscious.  (In the end, I don’t think there’s any difference between the personal and the collective, but that’s another discussion for another time.)  The microcosm, as they say, is the macrocosm:  The smallest acts of kindness and compassion can act as a bridge between those inner and outer universes, rippling out and transforming the world.  The old model—the one that clings to the concept of war as just and necessary—can collapse in the time it takes us to change our minds.  To change our dreams.

Compassion, it seems to  me, is the key:  seeing people—however despicable their actions may be—not as “enemies” or “evil,” but as flawed human beings, worthy, at the very least, of an attempt to understand what made them that way.  “Make no mistake,” the president explained, “evil does exist in the world.”  But evil, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder.  To Muslim extremists, we’re evil.  George W. Bush saw the Iraqis, the Koreans and the Iranians as an “axis of evil.”  When we (and when I say “we,” I mean humanity as a whole, not just the United States) define our opponents as one-dimensional villains out of a 1940's comic book, we transform them into caricatures that can be obliterated without guilt or shame.  If we continue to paint them as evil, war as just and necessary, then those opponents will continue do the same—and the cycle of violence will go on and on, till the end of the world.

“The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and King,” the president stated, “may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached—their faith in human progress—must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.”  But how can anyone follow the North Star of King and Gandhi while justifying conflicts that brutalize and demean humanity?  I wonder how many men told Gandhi that violence was “just” in the name of a free India, how many urged King on to “necessary” violence in the name of civil rights for African Americans.   “A nonviolent movement,” Obama went on, “could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida’s leaders to lay down their arms.”  No, but who’s to say what acts of wisdom and compassion could have prevented Hitler’s rise to power or transformed the twisted, fundamentalist rage of men who thought blowing up innocents—and themselves with them—was some kind of doorway to Heaven?

Look:  I’m not a politician or a diplomat whose job is to deal with the so-called harsh realities of life.  I am, by trade and nature, a dreamer, and it’s my job to ask:  Why do we have to accept the Harsh Reality?  Why can’t we manifest a new, a better, one?  We can keep regurgitating the old models—from a thousand years ago, seven decades ago or the recent past—and hold them up as examples of the way things have always been, the way things have to be, or we can refuse to buy into those myths.  December 13, 2009 isn’t December 7, 1941, it isn’t September 11, 2001, it isn’t even yesterday:  it’s a new world right now.

Maybe our political leaders will never embrace the idea that peace is possible, that war isn’t a viable option—maybe, given the harrowing issues they have to deal with on a daily basis, they simply can’t—but we can dream that dream into being today.  You can call this unrealistic—starry-eyed idealism or crackpot mysticism—and, viewed from the realist’s perspective, it absolutely is.  But why not aim for the stars?  Why not project—and believe, to the bottom of our souls—that peace, both personal and global, is possible this very moment?

And if I’m wrong?  If I really am nothing but a starry-eyed, crackpot dreamer?  Well, I still think my life, and the lives of those around me, will be better for having chosen to believe.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis


  1. Hear Hear, J.M.! I saw a sign once that read "When War is the Answer, We need NEW QUESTIONS!" and that resonated as a truth for me.

    I appreciate your Dreaming, and your sharing portions of the dream through the writing, and I believe every point of light that is created from the Dream will influence the entire landscape.

    I also feel the disconnect between the "Dream Reality" and the "Harsh Reality" provides illumination for the next steps in the micro scale of my own life.

    Every movement in that direction can be 'one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind'.

    So continue to follow those stars in your eyes, fellow crackpot mystical dreamer!

  2. I know what you mean, Tim, about the disconnect between the Dream Reality and the Harsh Reality providing illumination. In a way, bridging that gap is the definition of the spiritual path. (At least as I see it.)

    Hey, maybe we need to officially start the Society for Crackpot Mystical Dreamers.

  3. Thank you! I'd say more but I'm heading out the door for a birthday dinner!

  4. Happy belated b-day, JMD.

    I was saddened but not surprised to hear Pres. Obama talk like that in Oslo. As we've seen, the GOP likes to categorize anyone to the left of "Bomb first, ask no questions later" as a terrorist-loving commie pinko. And yet, to them, Obama is a screeching liberal. That's how far they managed to move the goalposts from 2001-2009.

  5. It's a helluva time to be President of the United States, Rob, and I do understand why Obama has taken this stance; but that doesn't mean we have to buy it.

    Thanks for the birthday greetings. Went out with the family for a wonderful Indian meal last night. A great time was had by all.

  6. With the redux release of Savior 28 in mind, and having recently reread the fourth issue of that fine story, I would like to point out the fascinating comparison that could be made between Obama's Oslo speech and the talking points as presented by the life hardened Daring Disciple to his former mentor Savior 28 -- the later chained within the Skytop fortress.

    It might seem silly to compare the comments of a sitting president, as presented on the international stage and within the context of the aforementioned "Harsh Reality", to the imaginative voice of one of your characters, hatched some many months before and most certainly as a byproduct of the "Dream Reality"... but what the heck. When life imitates art, it is worth a good wink.

  7. There was a point when I was writing 28's speech to the U.N. and, a day or so later, came across a speech of Obama's that was very I don't think your comparison is that strange, Derek.
    Or maybe it's just that, however strange our fiction gets, life will always be stranger.