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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/18/17

War Can Be Ended: It Is a Product of Cultural Choice, Not of "Human Nature."

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Near the end of his interview with David Swanson, John Horgan talks about two non-violent alternatives to war I found important not only in themselves, but as expedients to help world leaders cross the chasm between today's orthodoxy of war and a hoped-for not-too-distant world beyond war.

Horgan begins this discussion by revealing that he is not a total pacifist. He believes that certain limited armed interventions for humanitarian purposes may be both moral and rational--as, for example, the intervention not taken in the 1990s to prevent genocide in Rwanda. War is justifiable, Horgan says, when evident crimes of violence are being perpetrated against the people themselves.

Rounding out his anti-war position, Horgan describes himself as an exponent of "just war theory." An important part of this theory, he explains, is that you don't make war from ingrained cultural conditioning, but are scrupulous in determining whether the planned use of force is justified and also the only workable strategy in the given circumstances. In addition, you carry out any required war-making with scrupulous attention to minimizing damage.

The overall approach in such a strategy, Horgan says, is to use "police work" as your model, rather than conventional military strategy. The main conventions in police work are these: 1) Don't kill civilians. 2) Capture combatants. Don't kill them. 3) Never demonize your enemy: You don't want to indict an entire national, ethnic, or religious group--but only the leaders among them who are committing political crimes or crimes against humanity. 4) Use minimal force even on the leaders and bring them to justice in international courts that are set up to do so fairly. Don't kill the leaders.

Horgan believes that such tempered "police work" can be a bridge to a world without war of any kind. It can play an especially meaningful role in our own time, he believes, because wars are now commonly waged by advanced military powers against small groups of sectarian insurgents, religious extremists, and terrorists. Horgan thinks such groups will continue to vie for political power into the foreseeable future, and will be best contained by means of strictly targeted police actions. He envisions a U.N. international police force to carry out this role--at what he estimates would be a fraction of the cost of maintaining and using national armed forces. According to Horgan, the "police work" he describes can end conflict and restore social order with minimal damage to life, property, and the existing social and economic infrastructure. And, by minimizing physical and emotional hostilities, the strategy makes possible, too, a more rational and equitable settlement of the conflict that can strengthen the potential for long-term peace.

In answer to a question from David Swanson, Horgan also offers an opinion about the usefulness of strictly non-violent actions to counter criminal or tyrannical regimes. In doing so, he cites as a hero the political scientist Gene Sharp, who is an advocate for this strategy. Sharp claims that non-violent actions have the moral power to topple dictators, help right the wrongs of unjust regimes, and effectuate almost any reform that has the support of the people.

In concluding the interview, Horgan notes that non-violent actions played a constructive role during the Arab Spring, and that much data is available to support the use of this strategy as an effective means for creating change. David Swanson concurs. In a note to me relating to an assignment in the World Beyond War study course, he observed, "I do think unarmed civilian peacekeeping can help us move away from war."

My Own Concluding Thoughts

In listening to David Swanson's podcast interview of John Horgan, I wondered what kind of change in cultural values could in fact induce the American government to renounce war as a means to resolve international differences. In another note I received from David in connection with the study course, he wrote: "I'm in very strong agreement with the idea of outlawing war as a step toward stigmatizing it and doing away with it." But, I wondered, What would make a government--especially the American government--willing to comply with the outlawing of its historically most important sovereign right? To do so, it would not only have to break the longstanding habit of resorting to war at will, but risk some part of future strategic gains by settling any attendant conflict through compromise, not through war or the threat of war. Then I remembered a point made by Civil Rights advocates in the 1960s that I had taken to heart. The Civil Rights movement, the advocates had said, may not transform hearts and minds, but it will produce laws demanding just behavior toward people different from you that you will be bound to obey under pain of punishment.

Laws count, I reflected. They have ended slavery, child labor, female disenfranchisement, prohibition of gay marriage, banning of gays from the military, union busting, and many other barriers to personal or collective freedom and justice. Surely, a law outlawing the atrocity of war would also be respected. It cannot be expected that leaders of nations subscribing to an international agreement to end war will shift their priorities overnight from maintaining their own power to a concern for the well-being of their neighbors. But they will be under force of law to stop killing people who stand in their way. Because of the importance of that end, I concluded, we have to work toward the abolition of war as an independent issue. Other issues of similar gravity--global warming in particular--must also be pushed. But we can't wait to achieve a moral revolution in all aspects of mankind's relations with fellow humans and nature before we strive to independently end war---the most deadly and dangerous manifestation of man's social pathology.

It occurred to me too that the achievement of an international agreement to abolish war would itself provide the strongest possible spur to more caring behavior in all aspects of human social relations. Such a momentous achievement would serve to symbolize a moral turning point in human history. It would signal to all of humanity that respect and empathy for others, and a willingness to reconcile the needs of others with one's own, constitute the most effective approach in any situation--not just international relations--to resolving differences and achieving constructive collaboration. If such an approach were in fact widely adopted, it would herald a new normal in human behavior that could enrich the human experience with yet undreamed-of levels of creativity, meaning, and joy.

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In retirement, Bob Anschuetz has applied his long career experience as an industrial writer and copy editor to helping authors meet publishing standards for both online articles and full-length books. In work as a volunteer editor for OpEdNews, (more...)

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