Two Paths in the Wood: “Choice” of Life or War


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Road Not Taken . . .

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both. . . .

Somewhere ages and ages hence,
Two roads diverged in a wood,
And I . . . And I took the one less traveled by.

And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, Pulitzer Prize American Poet (1874-1963)

Enough! “Choice” Is Ours to Make

“Choice:” Poetic, Personal, and Political

Literary critics have written much of this popular Robert Frost poem. All seem to agree that the essence of Frost’s poem is the importance of “choice” in the absence of any knowledge of possible consequences” — the making of an important decision without knowing the likelihood of the outcomes. This decision requires the willingness to make a “choice” based on personal confidence, trust, and, perhaps more than anything else, courage. Critics suggest Frost understood in his poem there was no better path, but rather “choice” is our daily reality – “choice” is present in each and every moment, and “choice” is inherent in the nature of human life, and forms the basis for individual and social morality. Unlike other species relying on reflexive, inborn fixed-response patterns, human have the capacity for “choice,” albeit, in many, there is little conscious awareness of this special capacity. As life unfolds, the consequences of our “choices” reveal the wisdom (i.e., fulfillment, satisfaction, comfort), and/or regrets (i.e., remorse, penitence, guilt, trauma) of our life.

I chose Frost’s poem as a departure point for a “choice” all humans face at this time in our world; in my opinion, the “choice” is between endless war – endless killing and destruction — or the nurturing and sustaining of life. Here I could substitute the word “peace,” but I am uncertain at this point what peace means. People, societies, and nations use the word peace with impunity to benefit their own needs, rather than a source of mutuality — an enduring state and condition in which violence, destruction, and war are refused. Enough!

I am asking for a world free of strife, suffering, agony, and endless pain and grief. The mythical apocalyptic horses are exacting their legendary tolls, poverty, famine, disease, and war, amidst threats of extinction, disposal lives, and exhaustion of natural resources. We are living in the Anthropocene Era (age) in which human behavior – shaped by choice, is the dominating force shaping our world’s survival. The two greatest capacities of humanity — consciousness and conscience – have yielded to to denial and avoidance in favor of reflex and impulse. Cui Bono?

Beyond Symbolic and Poetic Words

The path we choose in our lives is not merely a symbolic or poetic path — one presented so eloquently by Robert Frost’s image of worn and less-trodden paths at a fork in the road.   No! The path before us is an essential life nurturing and sustaining path — each person must choose to renounce violence, destruction, war, and killing. In each of daily habitual actions, we are making moral choices regarding the survival of our planet.

Humanity is at the point of extinguishing countless life forms and expressions. We engaged in an unbridled assault upon each other and upon the natural world. Our appetites for destruction are endless in virtually every realm of our lives — economic, political, social, educational, and moral. Our global condition is well–known, and yet so we are oblivious to the dangerous consequences we are supporting. These facts are most visible in the United States of America, a nation one symbolized as a “beaming light-on-the-hill,” and now an example of a nation most visible whose policies and actions — whose “choices” — are characterized by corruption, cronyism, exploitation, violence, inequity, prison population disproportions, and the sins of affluence (i.e., lobbyists, hypocrisy [hypocracy], contempt for citizen rights and participation [demonocracy], and slow deaths by obesity, malnutrition, racism, classism, poverty).

The mass media, a potential voice for informing and educating citizens is a participant in destruction. Analyses of critical news events become opportunities to defame the “other side” — what ever that may be! Receptive audiences choose to watch and to listen to media supporting their existing views. And news readers begin to all look similar in appearance and opinion. Minds become closed to doubt. Here I call attention to the more invisible and elusive acts destroying people’s lives through assaults on character and personhood via gossip, calumny, half-truths, entrapment, stereotypic names and words, and falsehoods, misrepresentations, and quick and lathered false descriptions.

Enemies of the State . . .

There is a popular tactic used by “national security agencies” to neutralize critics. The tactic involves not interfering with an individual’s efforts to promote peace and social justice, and to be a voice for moral actions. However, simultaneously, agencies are collect and collate extensive information from surveillance, monitoring, and archiving from distant years. At some point, if the critic becomes to “unbearable” to the agency (agencies), they simply begin the process of neutralization by releasing “offensive” information gleaned from many sources, and systematically destroying character and moral standing. All our lives involve sins of commission and omission. Some are apparent and well-known. Others may be buried in the privacy of the critic’s soul. But for agencies intent on “neutralization,” they engage in building a systematic profile designed to destroy the words and ideas of the critic. This is done by using different cooperating sources to affirm their conclusion. Was this not what occurred in Nazi Germany, STASI East Germany, Fascist Italy, Communist USSR, North Korea – “Enemies of the State.” Is this not what is happening in the USA and its allies.

These destructive acts, whether done by a person, society, or nation, are equally violent and devastating, leaving scars on minds and bodies that are painful and memorable for the agony they have carried. We accuse, vilify, slander, denigrate, abuse, and malign individuals, groups, races, religions, nations, and the very planet on which we live through choices we make and utter each day. This is the way it begins! This is the root of hate and violence. This is the seemingly innocent path that leads so easily to broader acts of violence, destruction, killing, and war.

Consider the reality we are faced with each day as individuals, groups, societies, and nations use the media for propagandistic purposes to justify their actions. We vilify individuals and we vilify nations, it doesn’t matter. What we are doing is destroying any possibility of peace. I viewed and listened to an author on TV — so obviously filled with hate and vengeance toward Muslims — that he could barely disguise the fire in his eyes and his advocacy of their destruction.   Here, I am speaking not only of select groups who have taken it upon themselves under the guise of local, government, or commercial security groups using religion, nationalism, or profit, to kill without remorse (e.g., Boko Haram, “secret” black-operation national assassination/drone units, murder- for-hire-groups, or a score of other groups used by governmental, business, or criminal organizations).

Indeed, “terrorism” is precisely what is being used by both small organized “terroristic” groups seeking rebellion and change, and by nations seeking to impose their will and interests upon others for selfish benefit. There are “terrorist” individuals, nations, businesses, agencies, organizations, societies, and criminal organizations. What do we mean when we say societies and nations have “counter-terrorist” agencies and resources designed to prevent “terrorism” and to keep us secure. At some point, we engage in the very same actions, with the same purposes, and with the same consequences (e.g., T. Kapitan, October 19, 2014, The Resign of Terror, NY Times, Opinionator; A.J. Marsella, (2014),

Beyond Propaganda, Media Deception and Abuses, and Lies

The United States of America and its closest international allies have chosen the path of war, with tragic consequences for the survival of humanity and our natural world. Our foreign and domestic policies are destructive — serving the political, economic, and financial interests of a limited number of individuals and organizations. Unless we retreat from this path, and choose the path of peace, we will find ourselves doomed to endless domestic and international and violence and war. The USA has fashioned an explicit global domestic and foreign policy characterized by reliance on encouraging endless fractures and divisions between and among nations, regions, gender, religions, ethnic groups/races, and social-economic classes. We are pitting humanity against itself and against the natural world. We are promoting global chaos and collapse.

Efforts by the USA to use the deceptive “patriotic” attractions and seductions of war — blindly mantled in glory, soldiers ‘bravery, and martial domination, replete with songs, parades, banners, and celebrations of victory and nationalism are deceptive attractions and seductions of our bodies, minds, and spirits. How many more must die from this lie that finds virtue in war? How many more must be wounded, traumatized, and punished by starvation, torture, and social upheaval and dislocation? Have we no conscience? Have we lost all sense of human dignity and worth? Have we no awareness of our assault on nature? Have we no sense of the exploitation and exhaustion of our natural resources? And still, our leaders come before us, offering their plaintive explanations designed to sculpt their destructive legacy in our minds as legacies of brilliant strategy, moral and ethical choices, and wise and learned tactics and actions. Do they hope that by daily repetition, humanity will believe their lies? Or do they hope by repetition and habituation, they will be released from their duplicity?

Consider this viewpoint: Government is engaged in advertising – propaganda — with the same purposes and intentions as a used-car salesperson attempting to sell a malfunctioning car. The words and intentions are the same: “Here is our product! Believe me! It is a good product, and you should purchase it! Accept my advice. It would certainly make me happy if you did. (I have used music, color, jingoism, sensuality, and quick and rapid changes of my on-screen message to convince you my product is a good one.   And I know you are too uninformed — too victim to TV – too comfortable to not believe me. I am your demon disguised as your friend).”

The Endless Cycle of War

I do not quarrel with the reality there are nations, groups, and individuals seeking to punish us, and to destroy us. This is accurate! But I question the absence of understanding reasons for this plight. In my opinion, efforts after violence, war, and terrorism attributed to “envy” are spurious. Those acting against us as a society, culture, and nation perceive us as seeking their destruction. They do this for revenge, and they do this to indicate they will not succumb to defeat. They do this because the USA is now seen across the world as the most dangerous nation – a “bully” willing to impose its interests without conscience.

  1. Exceptionalism and Identity

As a nation, we have lost the trust and respect of many people and nations. Our distorted sense of American “exceptionalism” has led us deeper and deeper into endless wars. This antiquated 19th Century vision and ideology cannot be continued. It is a denial of the reality of our interdependent times in which nations and people seek freedom from external interference. Identity has become a major theme of revolt and rebellion. “I do not wish to have your identity imposed on me – I am aware of the many overt and covert ways you seek to gain control over me.”   This thought is occurring in many minds across the world. The lessons of empire abuse are not lost!

What do we expect? Can any other response be expected from those we have abused, occupied, killed, and destroyed with an endless array of weapons that defy imagination in their power and cold precision in bringing death? Can any other response be expected from billions of people whose identity, honor, and heritage we have demonized and insulted? Would we permit humiliation of this scope without anger and a willingness to die? How can we expect those seeking our destruction to offer us respect, admiration, cooperation, and peace as we kill their people and destroy their lands?

  1. War in Favor of Grand Designs

The expressed need for a single global power with extensive financial, political, military, and technological expertise has been used to justify the continuation of the USA’s domestic and foreign policies and actions. Consider the fact that the USA and NATO have taken actions to surround Russia and China with nuclear warheads and other military weaponry throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. The result is to push Russia and China into defensive postures for self-protection. The cycle is endless, and is reinforced by a score of other actions. Trade pacts that serve to destroy the economies of those who criticize the USA cannot bring peace. When we seek answers to world peace, we must look in the mirror, and consider what we are doing to perpetuate violence, war, and destruction.

The United States of America acts with impunity, disregarding the wishes of others, buying our way into their land and culture with billions of dollars paid to corrupt leaders. We impose our will, interests, and troubled popular culture upon others. Who is making these decisions that have kept us in a state of war for more than 200 years, devoid of empathy or compassion for others – committed to the financial and political interests of the purveyors of death? We have failed in every effort at nation building because the “transparency” of our efforts is apparent. Military occupation and building huge fortress embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan do not signal purity of intention. They signal our intention to remain in the location, and to control a nation’s destiny for our selfish interests. This cannot lead to peace.

The USA’s wars on poverty, terrorism, crime, and drugs are massive failures reflecting an ignorance of the complex social, economic, political, and cultural realities of our times. Has a powerful shadow government developed in the USA that transcends our troubled executive, congressional, and judicial branches? Have national and domestic security become justifications for increasing control and domination via surveillance, monitoring, and archiving of all our legal rights and privileges? A recent USA government report indicates our policies lack justification and effectiveness. They are subject to major flaws in our judicial process, tainting it with favoritism, accommodations to special interests, and an absence of reform.

The Path of Empire Building and Collapse

Unlike the uncertainty of Frost’s paths, our “choice” as citizens of the world is clear. We can no longer continue, for moral, economic, and political reasons, to support USA domestic and foreign policies that have led to the destruction of our nation and other nations. The USA has engaged in overthrows of governments, invasions, occupations, assassinations, and other destructive creating chaos because chaos serves the purposes of cultural control and domination. We must insist on an open public dialogue in which transparency is present. Critics must be encouraged, as non-violence is the norm for all sides. New visions of our world must be advanced and discussed. These visions must consider the complex challenges we face, and the chaos that is present. But we must also enter the numerous and profound possibilities arising from “advances” occurring in technology, and from an emerging human consciousness of our global era.

Empire requires war — the glorification of killing, defeating, and leaving a legacy of humiliation. Remember Fallujah! Fallujah! The USA crushed the resistance using radiated weapons leaving a legacy of impaired births for generation. Christian warfare? No, no, no. It is Hellelujah! Hellelujah! This epic battle for a city in Iraq exemplifies the timeless legacy of hatred that has been initiated and sustained by the lies of our nation’s leaders at the cost of the deaths of American soldiers and Fallujah’s citizens. Today the children of Fallujah pay the tragic price of our use of weapons of mass destruction — irradiated bullets and bombs. Will they remember? Will we remember? Why does such violence continue? It continues because it serves the interests of certain groups (e.g., people, nations, businesses).

The pursuit of empire by the United States of America is an anachronistic policy. It fails to acknowledge the realities of our global era! Empire requires a militaristic mentality, and militarism creates destruction and death. It is not the American people who choose this path. Americans recognize we are victims of the concentration of power in a few. We recognize government and corporate corruption is rampant. We recognize the perpetuation of a cronyism that ties public and private paths to employment, position, and assured wealth. Americans are tired of endless wars. Wars have drained needed funds for rebuilding our nation. Funds from endless wars are needed for building schools, clinics, and national infrastructure. Funds are needed for human services, and most of all, funds are needed to recover a sense of national decency and purpose.

Those few in positions of wealth, power, and position benefit from war; they lack conscience and regard for human suffering and death. History reveals the pursuit of empire always results in decline and collapse. Can anyone deny we are witnessing a fall from grace? We continue, as a nation, now linked to corporate and special interests, to consolidate our international national power, to exploit other people and lands, to militarize our society, and to deceive our citizens with half-truths and lies. In this tragic process, we nurture our decline. Ultimately, empire must seize total control and domination, and in the process destroy itself.

Making the Choice: Peace or War

The “choice” of paths is clear! Peace or War! I have summarized the choices and consequences of the paths in two tables: Destructive Foreign Policies and Actions (Table 1) and Constructive Foreign and Domestic Policies and Actions (Table 2). The options are listed alphabetically. The items are not exhaustive; others are welcome to add to the lists. Never has a fork in the road been clearer with regard to the “choice” that must be made. If we fail, we are endorsing and approving global upheaval and chaos.

Table 1:

Counter-Productive/Destructive USA Foreign and Domestic Policies, Actions, Choices, and Alternatives (Alphabetized)

  • Assassinations/death squads/drones;
  • Bounties for info/capture, and assassination;
  • Bribery, purchase, and installation of pro-American leaders and dictators;
  • Celebration of national “morality” in the face of evil acts;
  • Collaboration/contracts with foreign universities, scientists, professional organizations, and intelligence agencies defaming their character;
  • Contingent “humanitarian” aid – implicit and explicit;
  • Contingent “foreign” aid;
  • Control of UN via vetoes and economic and political pressures;
  • Control of IMF and World Bank;
  • Cooperation with foreign nation security services (e.g., military, intelligence, corporations);
  • Development of domestic crowd controls (militarization of police);
  • Drones(Widespread use of drones by domestic/national groups and agencies);
  • Drug wars. Corruption of local officials;
  • Disproportionate support of “allies.” Enemification of others;
  • Entrapments of targeted individuals and groups – persons of interest;
  • Establishment of military bases [more than 700 known USA foreign bases];
  • Exportation of unpopular American culture (i.e., consumerism, materialism, commodification, competition, crony capitalism, corruption, celebritization)
  • False flag operations disguised military and/or economic interventions/invasions);
  • Foreign student/faculty/consultant exchanges (used for intelligence recruitment);
  • Fund development of disguised/pseudo-organizations used for national military and security purposes (e.g. Human Ecology Fund, ONR, AID);
  • Glorification of war, militarism, warrior mentalities and images, machismo;
  • Hegemonic globalization (i.e., control of socio-technical changes and economy);
  • Infiltration of peace, anti-war groups, and social activist organizations;
  • Invasion and overthrow, including regime change;
  • Justification of torture (“enhanced interrogation”);
  • Mass surveillance, monitoring, and archiving of info/communication data;
  • Massive growth in government/private intelligence agencies and organizations;
  • Media influence and control via biased news and biased news commentators;
  • Military interventions and occupation of nations and regions;
  • Mind control technologies (e.g., drugs, EMR, behavior control technologies);
  • Negotiation/conflict resolution delays are now policy;
  • No Prosecution of connected military, government, civilian law violators/abusers;
  • Military occupation of foreign nations, regions, and cities;
  • Promotion of nationalism, pseudo-patriotism, USA exceptionalism;
  • Project for a New American Century (Developed to insure USA Hegemony);
  • Project Infra Guard (Collaboration between FBI and hundreds of thousands of businesses in USA to report on citizens resulting in creation of mass list of citizens with no opportunity for contesting surveillance. (Every mall and every store provides video and other personal information;
  • Propaganda to instill citizen fear, and vilification of individuals and groups;
  • Recruitment of spies, informers, collaborators, agents among friends, neighbors. The best spy is a person who doesn’t now they are a spy, but in fact, as they share information on neighbors, friends, and family, the information is collected and archived;
  • Renditions in numerous countries;
  • Use surrogate nations and forces to accomplish military goals;
  • Use false-flag incidents;
  • Use major philanthropic foundations to influence policy and actions;
  • Vilification, demonization, enemification of domestic and/or international critics;
  • Weapons/arms dealer sales for money, and for promoting conflicts;
  • Witness protection programs.

Table 2: Productive Foreign Policy and Domestic Options, Choices, Alternatives: Paths to Peace and Social Justice

  • Acknowledge the national security of the USA is best secured by pursuing and modeling peace, not by engaging in constant accusations and enemification of nations, cultures, religions, and people;
  • Address and resolve domestic inequities and inequalities in wealth, power, and position. Create new policies for equity and opportunity;
  • Address and limit monopolies (e.g., Big Agro, Big Pharm, Big Health, Big Transportation, Big Education, etc.) because these monopolies concentrate power, and they become impossible to control – “Too big to fail.”
  • Address the reality of USA decline in reputation and image by stopping the pursuit of a global empire;
  • Adopt a “Never Again” policy and practices for all countries, by all countries. “Never again” must not be limited to a single group or nation;
  • Apologize and ask for forgiveness in a public forum. Express intention to no  longer pursue violence and war as national policy;
  • “Be the nation you want others to be;”
  • Build museums, monuments, holidays, and tributes to peace. Stop glorification of war;
  • Cease all vilification of Muslims and Muslim nations;
  • Condemn and prosecute apartheid;
  • Choose and support non-violent and non-killing protests and social changes;
  • Circulate UDHR to all schools and governments as an accepted guide;
  • Close Guantanamo, and other WOT prisons, camps, and rendition sites;
  • Destroy all weapons of mass destruction (Nuclear, Toxic, Gas, etc);
  • Develop Department of Peace as an official standing cabinet office separate from State or Defense Departments;
  • Develop a metric to assess and prosecute USA international abuses and crimes;
  • Develop metrics to assess USA contributions to advancing humanity and the natural sectors. Assess metrics constantly;
  • Develop, implement, and empower UN conflict resolution office;
  • Develop ethic/ethos of global interdependency;
  • Diplomacy dialogue, rather than military force or violent interventions;
  • Educate women and children, and re-educate men;
  • Empower UN, and improve its functions and roles;
  • End corporate political election influence, control, and dominance;
  • End global surveillance and restore privacy and constitutional rights;
  • Increase governmental transparency and accountability;
  • International loan forgiveness;
  • Join and cooperate with international courts;
  • Limit “imperial” president powers as reflected in abuses of signing statements;
  • Limit lobbyist influence and control of public offices;
  • Limit Presidential terms of office to six years;
  • Limit Congressional terms of office to eight years. End seniority system of power;
  • Limit military-industrial-congressional- education complex powers;
  • Non-Contingent humanitarian aid and assistance, rather than contingent aid;
  • Practice humility, apology, and forgiveness;
  • Prosecute American war and military crimes to national and international laws;
  • Public apology for violent and destructive national and international policies and actions (e.g. NATO);
  • Reconsider political and economic treaties that isolate and marginalize nations (e.g., TPP) and seek hegemonic control (e.g., Russia, China);
  • Resist military solutions to conflicts and disagreements – choose diplomacy;
  • Restore balance of power across executive, congressional, and justice sectors. Dominance of the executive branch under the auspices of protecting national security has been abused, and has proven a failure and crime;
  • Restorative justice to victims;
  • Restrict central banking model of financial control over nations’ debt;
  • Review immediate and long-term consequences of DHS/NSA Abuses;
  • Stop “for profit” prisons, and their associated judicial corruption;
  • Speak truth, do not distort or exaggerate, practice transparency;,
  • Use “Justice” as an arbiter for decisions;

Some Closing Thoughts

These are NOT musings of an idealist! They are facts embedded in choices. There is an urgent need for new ideological foundations to replace our nation’s historic reliance on war and destruction to achieve ends. Our nation’s history is stained with the blood of indigenous peoples, with the blood of slavery, and with the blood of world wars whose resolutions (victories?) produced a heritage of continued reliance on military solutions and revenge from those who “lost” or from those who now see the intentions of the USA and its allies. All sides lose in war! There are no victors.

The challenges of a global era require a different approach that requires USA participation in the world, but not its domination. The world had changed. Yet the USA continues to pursue policies, strategies, and tactics that fuel war and conflict across the world. Even as national leaders speak of desires for peace, and for the intentions to help establish and support “democracies,” it is apparent these are basically strategies and tactics for continuing to establish dominant political, economic, and social positions.

I have come to a fork in the road. I can see two paths before me. The path less taken is clear. Its’ earth and grass are un-trodden, its greenery remains, and its horizon, distant, but visible. I love my country, amidst its’ many flaws and inconsistencies. I am still proud of its noble foundations and comforts. But I can no longer accept the belief: “My country right or wrong.” My country has betrayed its’ promise and potential!

Imagine Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and a score of others standing at a fork in the road, and saying to you:

“Do not be afraid. Do not hesitate! Do not yield to uncertainty. If you choose the wrong path — a path hidden in its consequences of violence, suffering, and destruction — retrace your steps, and follow the other path. It is never too late to grasp your mistakes. Learn from your errors! Walk the path of peace. In peace, there is forgiveness and redemption for individuals, groups, nations. Choose peace not war!”


February 8, 2014
June 7, 2014
October 25, 2014

Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Oct 2014.

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