I recently watched “Dunkirk,” a movie about the real-life daring evacuation of hundreds of thousand Allied troops from the French port of Dunkirk, where they were seemingly hopelessly surrounded by Nazi troops. This evacuation was arguably a turning point in the war, boosting the morale and preserving vital strengths of the Allied forces.
My thoughts quickly evolved away from the action on the screen, and into lessons learned and ignored.
As a young teen interested in history, I was deeply impressed by the Dunkirk evacuation, and read as much as I could about it. I was awed by the courage of so many, and in particular of the civilian sailors who crossed the English Channel in small boats to succeed in a rescue that the larger Navy vessels could not accomplish alone.
As an older adult, I remain awed by how human beings can be so incredibly brave and selfless, to achieve the nearly impossible. But I firmly realize that war is not just (or primarily!) a tale of bravery. It is scary, daunting, and ugly: A tool of last resort that takes an indescribable toll on people, families, communities and nations.
War is, at its core, a failure of tolerance, dialogue and respect for fellow human beings. As such, it is self-inflicted, as are so many other challenges that our society faces today: Poverty, hunger, preventable disease, climate change and environmental degradation, to mention just a few.
It is deeply saddening that we spend so much energy, as a society, taking positions on either side of (often artificial) lines on the sand. That energy, if it was instead focused on productive endeavors, could lead to powerful solutions where we now only see insurmountable problems.
The good news is that we (still) have a choice. A choice that starts with us, as individuals and local communities. Will we learn from the past, and choose a future where the focus is on finding solutions rather than on creating problems?