For me, that concept offers resounding support for the notion that human beings are in fact free to choose and create the kind of world in which they prefer to live. I for one want to help build one in which relations between individuals, sectarian groups, and nations, as well as between all humans and nature, are governed not by force of any kind, including warfare, but by empathy, respect, conciliation, and support.
Further Reflections on Why Ending War Is Possible and Necessary
Another strong opponent of the notion that war is an indigenous impulse of human nature is John Horgan, a science journalist and Director of the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Horgan discussed his new book The End of War in an April, 2012 interview on Talk Radio Nation, an internet podcast series hosted by David Swanson.
Horgan agrees with Swanson that societies make war because it is accepted by them as a behavioral meme--as a notion that resonates with prevailing, though largely unspoken, cultural values. If a society accepts war-making as an idea consistent with its cultural value system, Horgan believes, it will act upon it whenever it is deemed to be in its self-interest. If it doesn't accept that idea, it will not make war in any circumstances. It is Horgan's view that, for any nation to replace war-making with strategies for peaceful conflict resolution, it must first experience a transformative awakening to the fact that war, no matter what its aim, is a moral atrocity that must be abolished. Such an awakening is possible, he contends, because war is not embedded in our genes. Nor is it, as many believe, made unavoidable at times by economic, demographic, or environmental exigencies. It is simply the product of cultural conditioning.
Swanson himself has written that not only war, but all the social pathologies to which human societies have been subject throughout history, including slavery, are the products of cultural choice, not of something called "human nature." No matter how ingrained such behaviors may seem, he argues, they are neither written in the stars nor inscribed in our human DNA.
As intimated in foregoing paragraphs, I also believe that no values that shape human behavior are instinctual. If that were the case, one would have to ask: How could Christianity overtake paganism to become the religion of ancient Rome? Or, how did Mohammed's austere monotheism gain ascendance over the conflicts of pagan tribes in the 7th-century Middle East? Both new faiths came about by the power of ideas that were ripe for adoption in the conditions of their time and place.
Consider, too, the 1914 Christmas Truce in the first year of World War I, when German and British soldiers laid down their arms in favor of celebrating Christmas with the other side. Can you imagine how great a transvaluation must have been involved to move those soldiers to suppress the deeply ingrained discipline of respect for their own ruling authority and, instead, take the very risky turn to free, empathic association with Others ruled by an opposing authority? This happened on the Western Front in 1914, because the moribund experience of the claustrophobic trenches had become intolerable for both sides, and the then more vital imprint of a shared cultural tradition had enough appeal to drive the men to lively fraternization with even the enemy. Unfortunately, the Christmas spirit can prevail no longer with soldiers than it can with ordinary civilians, and the gravity of commitment to duty, and the fear of non-conformity, soon dragged both sides back to their assigned roles. Nonetheless, the Christmas Truce, too, shows that human nature isn't stuck. It can, and does, change when the time is ripe for a better idea.
How Do We Get Others To Abandon Killing as a Means for Social Change?
Further into his interview with David Swanson, John Horgan makes the point that, based on the inhumanity of war, we must oppose it with the same revulsion we once opposed slavery. What we need most, he says, is leaders with the courage and vision to help people see the need for, and accept, a world without war. "We must get to a point," he says, "where war between any two nations is as inconceivable as war now is between the U.S. and Canada."
In response to that statement, Swanson noted that what is already inconceivable today is war between any two rich nations. War, he points out, is now primarily waged by rich nations (aka America) against poor nations.
David has in fact already addressed that reality by proposing a coordinated program of measures to combat the terrorism that, in many cases, can easily provide a pretext for such wars. The measures he suggests strike me as a solid starting point for convincing world leaders that, at least in terms of the most prevalent cause of armed conflict today, there is no lack of feasible alternatives to war. Here are just three of David's many proposals:
-- Adopt a new approach toward the world: Apologize for brutalizing the leader of ISIS in a prison camp, and for every other prisoner victimized under U.S. invasion or occupation. Apologize for destroying the nation of Iraq and to every family there. Apologize for arming the region and its kings and dictators, for past support for the Syrian government, and for the U.S. role in the Syrian war. Cease to support abusive governments in Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other countries.
-- Create a new "Marshall Plan" for restitution of the entire Middle East. Deliver aid (not "military aid" but actual aid: food, medicine, and the like) to Iraq, Syria, and neighboring nations. This can lead segments of the population currently supporting terrorists to reassess the kind of future they want for themselves and their children--and it can be done on a massive scale at less cost than continuing to shoot $2-million missiles at the problem. Announce a commitment to invest heavily in solar, wind, and other green energy, and to provide those resources to democratic representative governments. End economic sanctions on Iran, and begin providing that country with free wind and solar technologies.
-- Give real diplomacy a chance: Send diplomats to Baghdad and Damascus to negotiate aid and to encourage serious reforms. Open negotiations that include Iran and Russia, and use the mechanisms provided by the United Nations constructively. Employ peaceful means to help strengthen representative governments respectful of human rights, regardless of the consequences for U.S. oil corporations or any other influential profiteers. Propose the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions, and allow for citizen diplomacy efforts.
Promising Steps in the Here and Now toward the Ultimate Goal of War Abolition
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