Peace: More Normal and Wonderful Than We Think
How might we get to a world that doesn\’t plan and produce wars but lives at peace economically, environmentally, culturally, and legally? How might we switch to systems that avoid conflicts and settle unavoidable conflicts nonviolently?
World Beyond War, one project that I\’m working on, intends to accelerate the movement toward ending war and establishing a peace system in two ways: massive education, and nonviolent action to dismantle the war machine. I\’m going to quote a bit of a section I wrote in a longer World Beyond War report on alternatives to war.
If we want war to end, we are going to have to work to end it. Even if you think war is lessening – by no means an uncontroversial claim – it won\’t continue doing so without work. And as long as there is any war, there is a significant danger of widespread war. Wars are notoriously hard to control once begun. With nuclear weapons in the world (and with nuclear plants as potential targets), any war-making carries a risk of apocalypse. War-making and war preparations are destroying our natural environment and diverting resources from a possible rescue effort that would preserve a habitable climate. As a matter of survival, war and preparations for war must be completely abolished, and abolished quickly, by replacing the war system with a peace system.
To accomplish this, we will need a peace movement that differs from past movements that have been against each successive war or against each offensive weapon. We cannot fail to oppose wars, but we must also oppose the entire institution and work toward replacing it.
World Beyond War intends to work globally. While begun in the United States, World Beyond War has worked to include individuals and organizations from around the globe in its decision making. Thousands of people in over 100 countries have thus far signed the pledge on the WorldBeyondWar.org website to work for the elimination of all war.
War does not have a single source, but it does have a largest one. Ending war-making by the United States and its allies would go a very long way toward ending war globally. For those living in the United States, at least, one key place to start ending war is within the U.S. government. This can be worked on together with people affected by US wars and those living near U.S. military bases around the world, which is a fairly large percentage of the people on earth.
Ending U.S. militarism wouldn’t eliminate war globally, but it would eliminate the pressure that is driving several other nations to increase their military spending. It would deprive NATO of its leading advocate for and greatest participant in wars. It would cut off the largest supply of weapons to Western Asia (a.k.a. the Middle East) and other regions. It would remove the major barrier to reconciliation and reunification of Korea. It would create U.S. willingness to support arms treaties, join the International Criminal Court, and allow the United Nations to move in the direction of its stated purpose of eliminating war. It could create a world free of nations threatening first-use of nukes (Pakistan also makes that threat), and a world in which nuclear disarmament might proceed more rapidly. Gone would be the last major nation using cluster bombs or refusing to ban landmines. If the United States kicked the war habit, war itself would suffer a major and possibly fatal set-back.
A focus on U.S. war preparations cannot work as well without similar efforts everywhere. Numerous nations are investing, and even increasing their investments, in war. All militarism must be opposed. And victories for a peace system tend to spread by example. When the British Parliament opposed attacking Syria in 2013 it helped block that U.S. proposal. When 31 nations committed in Havana, Cuba, in January 2014 to never making use of war, those voices were heard in other nations of the world.
Global solidarity in educational efforts constitutes an important part of the education itself. Student and cultural exchanges between the West and nations on the Pentagon’s likely target list (Syria, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, etc.) will go a long way toward building resistance toward those potential future wars. Similar exchanges between nations investing in war and nations that have ceased to do so, or which do so at a greatly reduced scale, can be of great value as well.
Building a global movement for stronger and more democratic global structures of peace will also require educational efforts that do not stop at national borders.
Using a bi-level approach and working with other citizen based organizations, World Beyond War will launch a world-wide campaign to educate the masses of people that war is a failed social institution that can be abolished to the great benefit of all. Books, print media articles, speaker’s bureaus, radio and television appearances, electronic media, conferences, etc., will be employed to spread the word about the myths and institutions that perpetuate war. The aim is to create a planetary consciousness and a demand for a just peace without undermining in any way the benefits of unique cultures and political systems.
World Beyond War has begun and will continue to support and promote good work in this direction by other organizations, including many organizations that have signed the pledge at WorldBeyondWar.org. Already distant connections have been made among organizations in various parts of the world that have proved mutually beneficial. World Beyond War will combine its own initiatives with this sort of assistance for others’ in an effort to create greater cooperation and greater coherence around the idea of a movement to end all war. The result of educational efforts favored by World Beyond War will be a world in which talk of a “good war” will sound no more possible than a “benevolent rape” or “philanthropic slavery” or “virtuous child abuse.”
World Beyond War seeks to create a moral movement against an institution that should be viewed as tantamount to mass-murder, even when that mass-murder is accompanied by flags or music or assertions of authority and promotion of irrational fear. World Beyond War advocates against the practice of opposing a particular war on the grounds that it isn’t being run well or isn’t as proper as some other war. World Beyond War seeks to strengthen its moral argument by taking the focus of peace activism partially away from the harm wars do to the aggressors, in order to fully acknowledge and appreciate the suffering of all.
In the film The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age we see a survivor of Nagasaki meeting a survivor of Auschwitz. It is hard in watching them meeting and speaking together to remember or care which nation committed which horror. A peace culture will see all war with that same clarity. War is an abomination not because of who commits it but because of what it is.
World Beyond War intends to make war abolition the sort of cause that slavery abolition was and to hold up resisters, conscientious objectors, peace advocates, diplomats, whistleblowers, journalists, and activists as our heroes — in fact, to develop alternative avenues for heroism and glory, including nonviolent activism, and including serving as peace workers and human shields in places of conflict.
World Beyond War will not promote the idea that “peace is patriotic,” but rather that thinking in terms of world citizenship is helpful in the cause of peace. WBW will work to remove nationalism, xenophobia, racism, religious bigotry, and exceptionalism from popular thinking.
Central projects in World Beyond War’s early efforts will be the provision of useful information through the WorldBeyondWar.org website, and the collection of a large number of individual and organizational signatures on the pledge posted there. The website is constantly being updated with maps, charts, graphics, arguments, talking points, and videos to help people make the case, to themselves and others, that wars can/should/must be abolished. Each section of the website includes lists of relevant books.
Other areas in which World Beyond War may put some effort, beyond its central project of advancing the idea of ending all war, include: disarmament; conversion to peaceful industries; asking new nations to join and current Parties to abide by the Kellogg-Briand Pact; lobbying for reforms of the United Nations; lobbying governments and other bodies for various initiatives, including a Global Marshall Plan or parts thereof; and countering recruitment efforts while strengthening the rights of conscientious objectors.
World Beyond War believes that little is more important than advancing common understanding of nonviolence as an alternative form of conflict to violence, and ending the habit of thinking that one can ever be faced with only the choices of engaging in violence or doing nothing. In addition to its education campaign, World Beyond War will work with other organizations to launch nonviolent, Gandhian-style protests and nonviolent direct action campaigns against the war machine in order to disrupt it and to demonstrate the strength of the popular desire to end war. The goal of this campaign will be to compel the political decision makers and those who make money from the killing machine to come to the table for talks on ending war and replacing it with a more effective alternative security system.
This nonviolent effort will benefit from the education campaign, but will also in its turn serve an educational purpose. Huge public campaigns or movements have a way of bringing people’s attention to questions they have not been focused on.
The WBW Pledge Statement reads as follows:
“I understand that wars and militarism make us less safe rather than protect us, that they kill, injure and traumatize adults, children and infants, severely damage the natural environment, erode civil liberties, and drain our economies, siphoning resources from life-affirming activities. I commit to engage in and support nonviolent efforts to end all war and preparations for war and to create a sustainable and just peace.”
World Beyond War is collecting signatures on this statement on paper at events and adding them to the website, as well as inviting people to add their names online. If a large number of those who would be willing to sign this statement can be reached and asked to do so, that fact will potentially be persuasive news to others. The same goes for the inclusion of signatures by well-known figures. The collection of signatures is a tool for advocacy in another way as well; those signers who choose to join a World Beyond War email list can later be contacted to help advance a project initiated in their part of the world.
Expanding the reach of the Pledge Statement, signers are asked to make use of WBW tools to contact others, share information online, write letters to editors, lobby governments and other bodies, and organize small gatherings. Resources to facilitate all kinds of outreach are provided at WorldBeyondWar.org.
Beyond its central projects, WBW will be participating in and promoting useful projects begun by other groups and testing out new specific initiatives of its own. One area that WBW hopes to work on is the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions, and greater appreciation of their work. Lobbying for the establishment of an International Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Court is a possible area of focus as well.
Partial steps toward replacing the war system will be pursued, but they will be understood as and discussed as just that: partial steps on the way toward creating a peace system. Such steps may include banning weaponized drones or closing particular bases or eliminating nuclear weapons or closing the School of the Americas, defunding military advertising campaigns, restoring war powers to the legislative branch, cutting off weapons sales to dictatorships, etc.
Finding the strength in numbers to do these things is part of the purpose of the collection of signatures on the simple Pledge Statement. World Beyond War hopes to facilitate the forming of a broader coalition suited to the task. This will mean bringing together all those sectors that rightfully ought to be opposing the military industrial complex: moralists, ethicists, preachers of morality and ethics, religious communities, doctors, psychologists, and protectors of human health, economists, labor unions, workers, civil libertarians, advocates for democratic reforms, journalists, historians, promoters of transparency in public decision-making, internationalists, those hoping to travel and be liked abroad, environmentalists, and proponents of everything worthwhile on which war dollars could be spent instead: education, housing, arts, science, etc. That’s a pretty big group.
Many activist organizations want to stay focused in their niches. Many are reluctant to risk being called unpatriotic. Some are tied up in profits from military contracts. World Beyond War will work around these barriers. This will involve asking civil libertarians to view war as the root cause of the symptoms they treat, and asking environmentalists to view war as at least one of the major root problems — and its elimination as a possible solution.
Green energy has far greater potential to handle our energy needs (and wants) than is commonly supposed, because the massive transfer of money that would be possible with the abolition of war isn’t usually considered. Human needs across the board can be better met than we usually imagine, because we don’t usually consider withdrawing $2 trillion a year globally from the world’s deadliest criminal enterprise.
Toward these ends, WBW will be working to organize a bigger coalition ready and trained to engage in nonviolent direct action, creatively, generously, and fearlessly.
OK, I\’m going to stop quoting my World Beyond War writing. I do think the alliance of all good movements is key. We don\’t need to re-do the election of Obama and get it right this time. We need to re-do the Occupy Movement and get it right this time. The plutocracy and the warocracy are the same problem. The destruction of the natural world and the acceptance of war as natural are the same problem. Civil liberties and human rights groups that began opposing war would simply be addressing the disease rather than the symptoms. Opponents of poverty and poor education are obliged to oppose the monster that is sucking up all the money. And integral to such a coalition are media and election reform.
We ought to be seizing the opportunity presented by the looming presidential nomination of the two worst candidates possible and quite possibly for the first time two candidates both from presidential dynasties, to withhold a bit of the mountain of money that we dump into electing this slightly less hideous candidate or that slightly less hideous candidate and instead invest it in activism aimed at moving the window of debate to a better location. Getting the lesser evil candidate is not a long-term solution if the pair of candidates gets worse each cycle.
We need automatic voter registration, as just created in Oregon. Apart from all the other benefits, it frees up countless hours for useful activism. How many times have we watched thousands of people who usually ignore politics invest energy in the busy work of registering voters and then collapse with exhaustion the moment an election is over, precisely the moment in which citizens of a government of the people ought to be beginning their efforts to demand good governance? We need to make voter registration automatic state by state and shame the low turnout states that don\’t catch up. There\’s a page at RootsAction.org where I work that lets you email your state legislators and governor all the facts about this. Most importantly we know it can be done because not only do lots of other countries do it which of course proves nothing, but one of the 50 U.S. states also does it which proves it\’s compatible with human nature.
We need to end partisan gerrymandering state by state and shame those states that don\’t catch up. And of course if Congress catches up to any of these state-by-state reforms, so much the better.
We need hand-counted paper ballots counted publicly at each polling place. We need ballot and debate access based on signature gathering. We need the national popular vote with no electoral college. We need the vote and full representation for Washington, D.C., and all of the U.S. colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. We need public financing and free air time and a ban on private election spending. We need voting rights regardless of criminal conviction. We need an election day or days holiday. We need a limited campaign season. Mandatory voting with the option to choose None-Of-The-Above could help as well. Most of these things can be advanced locally, at the state level, and nationally, and can be accomplished through a number of different mechanisms. If a fraction of the money and energy that goes into working within a demonstrably broken system were invested in fixing it, we\’d fix it, at which point enthusiasm for participating in it would skyrocket.
But activism is hard. We don\’t have most of the money. And we get tired out, discouraged, and distracted. How can we, each of us, best advance an agenda of peace, justice, and democracy. I imagine some of you have seen a graphic that a church produced recently matching up anyone\’s Myers Briggs Personality to a saint. So, based on whether you are more introverted or extroverted, sensing or intuiting, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving, you get to be Saint Patrick the partier or Saint Joan the hard worker, etc. Now I take Myers Briggs with a grain of salt, and none of us are actually saints. And I have my doubts that there would be any saints at all if Facebook had existed over the past millennia and every would-be saint had used it. But I do think there\’s a type of peace activism for everyone or for every moment.
When I want to do online activism from my computer or phone, I have my job at RootsAction.org. When I want to promote longer discussions in good books, I have my job at Just World Books. When I want to talk with an expert on some area of peace I have my job interviewing people on Talk Nation Radio. When I want to plan events supporting whistleblowers I have my job at Stand Up For Truth. When I want to strategize the creation of a new world, I have my job at World Beyond War. Now, I realize that some of you don\’t need five jobs to try to make a living, and some of you have other types of jobs, but the point is there is a way into activism for anyone, and as far in as you want to go. World Beyond War welcomes anyone onto any committee who wants to help work on any aspect of ending war.
Here\’s a vision of where we hope all this work takes us, written by my colleagues at World Beyond War:
We will know we have achieved peace when the world is safe for all the children. They will play freely out of doors, never worrying about picking up cluster bombs or about drones buzzing overhead. There will be good education for all of them for as far as they are able to go. Schools will be safe and free from fear. The economy will be healthy, producing useful things rather than those things which destroy use value, and producing them in ways that are sustainable. There will be no carbon burning industry and global warming will have been halted. All children will study peace and will be trained in powerful, peaceful methods of confronting violence, should it arise at all. They will all learn how to defuse and resolve conflicts peacefully. When they grow up they may enlist in a peace force that will be trained in nonviolent defense, making their nations ungovernable if attacked by another country or a coup d ́etat and therefore immune from conquest. The children will be healthy because health care will be freely available. The air and water will be clean, soils healthy and producing healthy food because the funding for ecological restoration will be available from the same source. When we see the children playing we will see children from many different cultures together at their play because restrictive borders will have been abolished. The arts will flourish. While learning to be proud of their own cultures–their religions, arts, foods, traditions, etc.–these children will realize they are citizens of one small planet as well as citizens of their respective countries. These children will never be soldiers, although they may well serve humanity in voluntary organizations or in some kinds of universal service for the common good.
Steps in this direction exist all around us. Less wealthy nations that forego investment in wars are able to provide education, healthcare, retirement, etc. Costa Rica has no military but is now getting all of its energy from renewable sources. That can\’t simply be copied. Costa Rica is using dams that won\’t power anything during a drought. But it\’s no coincidence that the United States leads in militarism and trails in most everything else.
Why don\’t we give a leading or at least an equal role in running the world, at the UN and elsewhere, to the nations with the best educational systems, the best healthcare systems, the longest lifespans, the longest periods without wars, the highest happiness rankings, the greatest generosity to others? Why are the permanent security council members the countries with the weapons?
I\’m not going to say much about law, because that\’s Elliott\’s area today, but the reason I wrote a book about a law, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, was primarily to paint a picture of the peace movement of the 1920s that brought it into being. That there can be a mainstream principled moral movement for the abolition of war is not just possible because anything of the sort if quite obviously possible, but also because it has happened before, less than a century ago, in this very country — and is therefore compatible with human nature.
But the idea of abolishing war is as old as war. I noticed that we\’re at St. John Fisher University Chapel. I didn\’t know who St. John Fisher was, since he\’s not in the Myers Briggs chart. But I read this about him, which interested me:
"Fisher gave further proof of his genuine zeal for learning by inducing Erasmus to visit Cambridge. The latter indeed attributes it to Fisher\’s protection that the study of Greek was allowed to proceed at Cambridge without the active molestation that it encountered at Oxford."
So now I\’m a fan of St. John Fisher because I was already a fan of Erasmus who has never been as popular among the rich and powerful as has his contemporary Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, but who in 1517 wrote The Complaint of Peace, in which he proposes that we think of ourselves as humans, and thereby become unwilling to make war on any of our brother and sister humans anywhere. Peace, speaking in the first-person, complains about how humanity treats her. She claims to offer "the source of all human blessings" and to be scorned by people who "go in quest of evils infinite in number." The Complaint reads like it was written 500 years ago in Latin for a readership made up of what we would call creationists, astrologers, monarchists, and Eurocentric bigots. Yet it offers rebuttals to defenses of war that have never been surpassed.
On a search for peacefulness, Peace hunts in vain among seemingly polite and amicable princes, among academics whom she finds as corrupted by war as we find ours today, among religious leaders whom she denounces as the hypocrites we\’ve come to know so well, and even among secluded monks. Peace looks into family life and into the internal mental life of an individual and finds no devotion to peace. Erasmus points Christian readers toward the words supporting peace in the New Testament. One might accuse him of hand-picking his quotes and avoiding those that don\’t support his goal, except that Erasmus quite openly says that that\’s what he\’s doing and advises others to do the same. The vengeful God of the Old Testament should be ignored in favor of the peaceful God of Jesus, Erasmus writes. And those who can\’t so ignore Him, writes Erasmus, should re-interpret him as peaceful. Let "God of vengeance" mean vengeance "on those sins which rob us of repose."
The cause of wars, Erasmus finds, is kings and their war-hungry chickenhawk advisors. The term in Latin is not exactly "chickenhawk" but the meaning comes through. Kings, writes Erasmus, start wars to seize territory when they would be better off improving the territory they have now. Or they start wars out of a personal grudge. Or they start wars to disrupt popular opposition to themselves at home. Such kings, Erasmus writes, should be exiled for life to the remotest islands. And not just the kings but their privileged advisors. Ordinary people don\’t create wars, says Peace, those in power impose wars on them.
Powerful people calling themselves Christian have created such a climate, says Peace, that speaking up for Christian forgiveness is taken to be treasonous and evil, while promoting war is understood to be good and loyal and directed at a nation\’s happiness. Erasmus has little tolerance for Orwellian propaganda about "supporting the troops" and proposes that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle:
"The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!"
" . . . If you detest robbery and pillage, remember these are among the duties of war; and that, to learn how to commit them adroitly, is a part of military discipline. Do you shudder at the idea of murder? You cannot require to be told, that to commit it with dispatch, and by wholesale, constitutes the celebrated art of war."
Peace proposes in her complaint that kings submit their grievances to wise and impartial arbiters, and points out that even if the arbiters are unjust neither side will suffer to remotely the extent that they would from war. Perhaps peace must be purchased — but compare the price to the cost of a war! For the price of destroying a town you could have built one, Peace says.
For arbitration to replace war, Peace says, we will need better kings and better courtiers. You can\’t get any more timely and relevant than that.
Let\’s get to work.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host.