A World Without War
By Don Thompson
Since war has apparently been with human beings since they were first able to carry an object large enough to throw, it’s hard to imagine a world without war. Like language, war seems an indelible part of the human experience. Yet, if there was ever a time in the history of the planet to organize an effort to end war as an institution, now is that time. While many would view the world today as an ever more dangerous place, according to the Human Security Report published by Oxford University Press, global conflicts have actually decreased significantly since the end of the Cold War, with 40% fewer armed conflicts in 2003 when compared to 1992. To be sure, the overwhelming obstacles to peace presented by the Cold War have been replaced by more subtle (some would say insidious) exigencies of the corporate-warrior state, where a pervasive and persistent War On Terror very neatly supplies the political elites with an organizing principle. But still, these obstacles, like the Cold War, can be overcome. The work is certainly difficult, if not multi-generational. Those that began the effort would probably not live long enough to see its fruits.
The fundamental question surrounding war is: why? There are several reasons for war, all intertwined and interleaved in a vast social, personal, political syndrome, not unlike a complex illness for which there is no one cause, no one cure, and no sure prognosis. But if we turn toward the individual human being as a beginning place, it is there that any effort to ban war may find its most likely success. For it is on the level of the individual – how they react to and interact with their fellow human beings – it is here that the seeds of war begin. It is in individual hatred, biases, bigotries, selfishness, and sentiment that the drive for war takes root. It is therefore in raising individual consciousness about the ultimate fallacy of war and its institutions, about its self-perpetuating nature and tendency of the politicians who support war to delude through propaganda, manipulation and emotion – it is through an effort to raise human consciousness (or at least raise the consciousness of enough people to make policy change) that an effort toward world peace can take shape.
The obstacles are daunting: a thoroughly entrenched, multi-billion dollar military industrial complex that serves as a de facto jobs program because “national defense” is an area where most can agree funds should be spent; politicians and policy makers who have convinced themselves that there is a persistent international conspiracy (whether communist or socialist or terrorist) against “good” that will always call for a response, even if that response is disproportionate to the threat and ineffective as a deterrent; a sense that some individuals will only respond to force, and that if free societies don’t understand this reality that they will be taken by force and subjected to tyranny; individual human beings who believe that some people are inherently evil and malevolent, with evil intentions often fueled by satanic influences; human beings that believe that their particular brand of religion is the only valid one, and that people who believe otherwise are inherently of less value; wealthy individuals who value property above people, and will quickly sacrifice the later for the former; and a consistent and pervasive desire for human beings to dehumanize themselves in a variety of ways in order to take away the painful awareness of their own mortality, and thus trivializing the deaths associated with war, unless those deaths are within their own sphere.
In other words, the current political institutions and structure, social mindset, economic reality and overwhelming precedence of history work against a world devoid of war. War has become a way, a method of being, an economic force, and an emblem of democratic strength. War has even become integrated into consumer culture, where aggression, pride, guile, greed and selfishness are trumped up by the media as values worthy of a modern democratic society. Apparently aggression is the only sufficient fuel (along with oil) for capitalist progress, which promotes individual strength over communal good, and values the symbols and rhetoric of freedom (the “freedom brand” you might say) more than freedom itself. At the same time, an aggressive materialist society ignores the individual struggle–often more emotional, spiritual and psychological in nature–required to secure freedom as it focuses on the often shallow requirements of consumer and economic freedom.
Now some of these “aggressive” values may even be beneficial, and some have already found adequate channels of expression through sports, entrepreneurship, and healthy debate devoid of guile. But too often the expression of aggressive behavior, particularly in the United States, is becoming commodified to such an extent that it becomes a part of the culture in such a way that makes it much easier to manipulate people into war and toward policies that promote a conservative, war-promoting agenda.
And yet if you were to ask most people if they supported the concept of “world peace” they would say unequivocally “yes.”
To understand our current situation, it’s really necessary to look back to World War II, when the modern military was formed. The doctrine of American military became “overwhelming force” where the sheer ability of American industry to out-produce its enemies became the operating mindset for decades to follow. Certainly it was the credo of the Cold War, where the U.S. military produced enough nuclear warheads to destroy the planet several times over. In this sense adherence to the principle of overwhelming force, while successful in WW II, began to show signs of neurosis during the Cold War and is now showing signs of a full catatonic break with reality during the War on Terror – an effort which requires a completely different doctrine than “overwhelming force” to ensure its success. The War in Iraq is in essence the last insane gasp of the doctrine of overwhelming force (and its bastard child, “smart force”), and shows how thoroughly inadequate and delusional it has become as a method for securing democratic goals.
The new method of “war” if you will is to effectively wage non-violence on a massive and institutional level. To promote, educate and enlighten individuals as to the value of each individual and the value of each culture, and to the rights of people to live in peace in order to live their lives as they best see fit. In other words, the billions that are spent on the military machine should be channeled, to a large degree, toward efforts at common human understanding. NGO’s, ranging from the Red Cross to OxFam to the Carter Center – as well as the relevant U.N. agencies – should receive massive funding to eliminate poverty and promote common human respect and decency. While this effort will not work overnight, and may well have many failures in the short term, over the long term, generationally, we will see results.
The obstacles to this approach are also numerous. For one, many people feel that the idea that all human beings are inherently of value is anathema to them – for whether Christian or Muslim or Jew, it seems that the idea of an “elect” is well entrenched, and that for this reason it is easy enough to see people outside of one’s own faith as evil, as the enemy or infidel. The goals of world peace are, according to many of these people, “secular humanist” in nature and thus patently evil, and undermine national sovereignty to boot. Moreover, if these individuals work for the military industry or have family in the military, the military is a means of economic security for them. A powerful combination of sentiment, religion and economic incentive make it incredibly easy for cynical politicians and profits hungry arms producers to manipulate vast swaths of people in ways that promote war and make it difficult to wage non-violence. In fact, non-violence as a dominant worldview is so far from reality today that it seems laughable to think of it as one day being potentially the overwhelming liet motif of human existence. And yet the same thing was said of slavery, or women’s rights, and of environmental protections in their day; but slavery has ended, women’s rights has made great strides, and environmental protections, while very much a work in progress, have become a reality. Moreover, if you were to ask most people today if they support the concept of “non-violence’ they would respond with an overwhelming “yes.”
So the answer to the question “how do we create a world without war?” begins today, with our individual choices. Do we act aggressively when it might be more mature and effective to act differently? Do we support organizations that support peace? Do we vote for politicians that have at least the beginnings of an agenda for peace? Do we educate your children in ways that are conducive of peace? Do we seek means and methods to engage in healthy debate with those that disagree with a peace agenda? In other words, do we, and more importantly you as an individual, take the passion for your convictions into your daily life, and not just roll over and play dead whenever challenged about your ideas on peace? Maybe you should begin a friendly debate with the relative at the office party who rants on about the war agenda while everyone else politely listens. Maybe you should finally sign up with a peace organization you’ve been considering. In other words, maybe you should take some responsibility for peace, both on a spiritual, political, individual and social level, and promote it in a way that manifests peace in your schools, your neighborhood, and your community.
It is here that the “yeses” to world peace will begin. And it is here that the beginnings of a world without wars can take shape.
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