“What will set the atom bombs bursting in the air is not the natural instinct of man to fight. What may blow us all to smithereens is our failure to deal with the causes of war – injustice, poverty, discrimination, and greed.”
Rabbi Olan’s December 15, 1963 sermon was a passionate discussion on war and peace. The topic is one that touched Olan’s life deeply. As a young man, Levi Olan embraced pacifism (refusing to participate in acts of violence and seeking to resolve conflict through non-violent means) as the way to bring about world peace. Then with the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, he came to accept the use of violence as a necessary evil. In the 1960s Olan continued to ponder the nature of violent conflict and its relationship to human nature. Must we just accept war, including the very real possibility of global nuclear annihilation, as a tragic fact of life?
Rabbi Olan was no fatalist. In this sermon he challenged his listeners to take up the difficult task of preventing war and making peace. “The fact is that war is the easy way – peace is hard to come by. War need not be if [we] will deal with its causes intelligently and morally.” Though he no longer claimed to be a pacifist, Olan espoused this pacifist viewpoint perfectly.