Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is Ending War an Idea Whose Time has Come? Some essential readings

The End of War: How Waging Peace Can Save Humanity, Our Planet and Our Future by Captain Paul K. Chappell, U.S. Army. Eaton Studio Press, 2010.

From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years by Kent D. Shifferd. McFarland & Co, 2011.
Transition to Peace: A Defense Engineer’s Search for an Alternative to War by Russell Faure-Brac. Open Book Editions, 2012.
War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson, 2013.
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith L. Hand. Questpath Publishing, 2014.

“Armies can be resisted; ideas cannot be resisted.” Victor Hugo

Over the last few years, a number of compelling books have appeared that address the question: Can war be abolished, like slavery? If so, how? As these authors make abundantly clear, there is a growing consensus among experts that ending war is not a na├»ve fantasy, but a real possibility as well as an urgent need.  In May, 2014, David Hartsough, well-known Quaker peace activist who helped start the Nonviolent Peace Force, convened the authors of these books along with seasoned peace activists for a strategy session at Ben Lomond Quaker Center to explore how we could launch a campaign to abolish war. I took part in this historic gathering, organized by World Beyond War, and was deeply impressed by the quality of people involved, particularly the writers.
All of these writers agree we must dispel the myths that make ending war seem unrealistic or impossible.

1)      War is part of human nature and therefore inevitable. Evidence shows this is simply not true. What scientific research reveals is that war is a “cultural invention,” not something biologically ordained. Violence and aggression are hardwired into our human genes, especially in males, but so are cooperation and compassion. We human beings have choices about how to express our natural impulses. Some cultures (like the Romans and the Huns) were extremely war-like, while others (like the Hopi) nearly pacifist. And cultures change: the Vikings once were fiercely war-like, while their descendants, the Norwegians, are relatively peaceful. The Iroquois nations once fought each other in bloody wars; they eventually formed a Confederacy that insured peace and stability for many generations. The European Union has forged a similar kind of peace system based on economic cooperation and shared security, reducing almost to nil the possibility of war. Prior to the Agricultural Revolution that took place around 4000-10,000 BCE, human beings lived in small nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers that tended to disperse rather than fight when conflicts arose.  These early humans did not engage in warfare as we know it. They were too busy hunting and trying to survive. Considering that there were no armies during 40,000 of the past 50,000 years or so of homo sapiens, we see that warfare is a fairly recent invention. It can and should become obsolete.

2)      War is a “necessary evil” and can be justified. The cost of war vastly outweighs any supposed benefits, as we have seen most clearly in recent times. Trillions have been spent on wars in Vietnam, Central America,  Iraq and Afghanistan, with few positive results. David Swanson documents with numerous examples how pointlessly costly wars can be, compared with the alternatives. For example, according to a transcript of a meeting in February 2003 between President George Bush and the Prime Minister of Spain, Bush said Saddam Hussein offered to go into exile rather than fight, if only he could take a billion dollars with him (see Swanson, p. 38). Having deployed troops and being eager to become a “War President,” Bush refused this offer. Although letting a brutal dictator escape with a billion in loot seems unfair and politically risky, it is certainly better than the carnage that resulted from war—in which over a million Iraqis died, with trillions of dollars in damages. The Afghan war could also have been avoided, if the US had been willing to negotiate with the Taliban for the extradition of Osama Bin Laden. These have been called “preemptive wars” or “wars of choice” rather than just wars. But as Swanson points out, if we look honestly at how wars are fought, and the number of innocent people who are slaughtered or maimed for life, the concept of “just war” is a contradiction in terms, like “benevolent rape.”

3)      War is such an entrenched institution it cannot be changed. The same was said about slavery, dueling, and depriving women of the right to be treated as equals. Attitudes change, and so do institutions. Sometimes changes occur with remarkable and unexpected rapidity, as was the case with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Given these facts, the question is not whether it is desirable or possible to abolish war, but what are the best practices to make this happen. Experts agree that ending war will not be easy. Warmongering is extremely profitable, and the war system deeply rooted. But the cost of war has grown so staggeringly expensive and destructive of life—both human and non-human—people of the world are becoming increasingly open to exploring alternatives to the current war system. Ending war will require a massive campaign of reeducation, nonviolent resistance, and organizing both globally and locally. The World Beyond War website lists dozen of ways to begin conversion from a war system to a peace system, including ending the international arms trade, strengthening the UN and World Court, creating Departments of Peacekeeping, encouraging cultural exchange,  promoting nonmilitary foreign aid and crisis prevention—a Global Rescue/Aid/Friendship/Marshall Plan, etc, etc. We know how to end war. We just need the political will to do it.
I will be reviewing the rest of these books in subsequent posts....

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