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Preparing for Peace

The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative





International wars are best seen as institutions in which lots of people play different roles: – generals, officers, transport workers, nurses, etc., with the role of leader as paramount. Those playing each role have specific rights and duties, and they do what they do primarily because it is their duty. The infantryman moves forward and tries to kill enemy soldiers because it is his duty to do so and in order to do this inhibitions against aggression must be overcome


War legitimates killing. The duty of the combatants is to fight. The soldier who would scarcely hurt a fly when at home has to be taught to use a bayonet to impale an enemy. The evidence from soldiers’ diaries and letters, especially from the First World War, shows that they disliked killing and bloodshed. The training for hand-to-hand combat is therefore designed to enhance aggressiveness and to see killing as success. Perhaps for that reason, murders tend to increase in frequency after wars are over.  Emphasis is placed on the combatant’s duty imposed by his or her role. Doing one’s duty is also ensured by military discipline, loyalty to buddies, leaders, the unit, country or cause.

War causes aggression: aggressiveness does not cause wars.




Every war occurs because of a different but complex network of factors - poverty,  inequality, competition for resources like oil or water. Less inequality and increased power to a world authority could help abolish war. These are distant goals but ones we might seek, nonetheless. There are three routes:


·        First, conflict resolution. A great deal is known about how conflicting interests can be reconciled. The United Nations and its agencies, as well as religious and secular organizations, have had a number of successes. Attempts to resolve conflicts should be started as early as possible, and not be seen as a panacea.


·        Second, pacifism. It is unlikely that the ideology of pacifism will be adequate to stop all war. Some will feel that it is right to fight however horrible war may be.  But this does not mean that the pacifist has no role to play.  The more individuals are seen to have integrity, to have stood outside the conflict, the more their wisdom may have an important role to play and the more hope there is of a peaceful society.  For this two things are necessary. First, the pacifist must have achieved respect in ways unrelated to the concerns of the two parties in conflict. Second, s/he must understand fully the political realities of the situation.

In addition, many humanitarians may adopt a form of “conditional pacifism” –that is, while not committed to a total opposition to all war on all occasions, are still opposed to war except as a very last resort and under very stringent conditions. Pacifists have a role in working with, and nurturing, such positions.


·        A third possibility is to disempower the institution of war by removing the forces that sustain it:




War is an institution which has to be continuously supported and maintained.  To undermine the institution of war the factors that support it must be neutralized. These may be divided into four categories:


Everyday factors.


·        The way in which we think is influenced in part by the language we use and, although the issue may seem trivial, the use of such phrases helps to give war a respectable image. Phrases we use in everyday life have military associations -  ‘keeping your head down’, ‘digging in’ have military origins and their use in ordinary conversation sanitizes their significance in war. Reports on war use euphemisms for the horrors involved - bombing attacks are referred to as ‘surgical strikes’, the dead as ‘the fallen’, civilian casualties as ‘collateral damage’. Military metaphors are even given respectability in such unfortunate phrases as ‘war on want’ and ‘fighting for peace’. Rejecting such ‘warisms’ could contribute, albeit in a small way, to reducing the power of the institution of war.


Films and books

·        Many, but not all, films and books about war give it a positive image. It is depicted as the scene for virtues such as courage and endurance – in an atmosphere of glory, excitement and new surroundings. The focus is on the victors, while the defeated are merely cardboard figures. Death is sanitized, lacking the terror and agony that often precedes it.


War toys            

·        The manufacturers of war toys exploit the fascination of mechanical devices for boys and make war seem like a harmless game, a part of normal life for grown-ups. Battles are re-enacted with toy soldiers, and board games are often based on militaristic themes. Some schools encourage ‘war games’, trivializing the horrors of war. Computer games, often involving extreme though make-believe violence, are a growing problem.



·        This has often been taught as a history of wars and battles, supporting a picture of the world as composed of competing groups. The image of the warrior hero is reinforced.


Educational radio and television programmes

·        When discussing war these have taken the point of view of the politicians and the generals.




·        There is much to be done in acquainting children with the nature of war as seen by those involved. Educators have paid little attention to the 1974 UNESCO recommendation that member states should strengthen the contribution of peace education to international understanding and cooperation, to the establishment of social justice, and to the eradication of the misconceptions and prejudices that hinder these aims. The recommendation was coupled with the suggestion that teachers should be trained to foster these aims and that the results should be monitored. Practically the only country that has seemed to take any serious notice of this recommendation has been Finland.


·        More recently some UK schools have tried to teach children what war really means, and some have even organized trips to the battlegrounds of northern France. The Peace Education Network of the British National Peace Council has taken steps to foster these aims. Moreover many people are not clear about thee nature of Non-governmental Organizations, (NGOs) and of the United Nations Agencies, yet in a democratic world everyone should be familiar with the roles that they play and have views on how their business should be conducted.


·        Education as normally understood starts only when children go to school. More fundamental are the personalities that children bring to school – and though later influences may be important, personalities are initially formed in earlier life.  The role of parents and the early social environment, the nuclear or extended family, is paramount. Children have the potentiality for both selfish assertiveness and aggression, and for co-operation and pro-sociality. : Early socialization can swing the balance either way. Education must start with the education of parents, because there is a strong tendency for parents to believe that the way in which they were brought up is the right way to bring up children. And for education to be effective, parents must be delivered from poverty and inequalities must be reduced.



The socialization and education of the coming generation


·        This is the most fundamental issue.  Cultural or societal characteristics affect the attitudes of individuals to war. Some countries are militaristic, some are peace loving. Such traditions are important since not only can they influence high-level decisions, but also they are incorporated into the self-images of individuals, who see themselves as having some of the characteristics of their country. But a country’s traditions can change. Over the years Sweden has changed from being militaristic to being peace loving, and Japan changed in the opposite direction. Two countries - Costa Rica and Iceland – have got rid of all their armed forces without apparently losing out.


·        The way individuals see themselves is influenced by how they see the group to which they belong. One identifies with the members of one’s group, the more so if, as is usually the case, one sees them as better than others. And in so far as one identifies with one’s own group, one sees a threat to the group as a threat to oneself.


Nationalism and patriotism


·        The principal tools of such propaganda are ethnicity and religion, nationalism and patriotism. Often ethnic or religious rivalries passed down through the generations are exploited by leaders or governments to foment hatred in a manner that will serve the current cause.


·        It is helpful here to distinguish between ‘patriotism’, involving love of one’s country, and ‘nationalism’, implying a feeling of superiority and need for power over outsiders.


·        Nationalism tends to be self-perpetuating in that the more power a nation has, the more its members see it as special, the more they tend to protect their own interests, and the less they care about the welfare of others. This is exacerbated by the competitiveness of capitalism. It is associated with high values placed on military power, dominance, economic opportunity and international competition, with a devil-take-the-hindmost attitude. Excessive nationalism is not conducive to a peaceful world.


·        Patriotism, on the other hand, is to be encouraged. Local cultures should be valued and preserved: no one wants to live in a uniform Coca-Cola world.


·        Both nationalism and patriotism are founded on basic human propensities – fear of strangers, group loyalties, and so on. They are stimulated by propaganda, especially in time of war or of impending war. Parades and ceremonies, saluting the flag and playing the national anthem enhance love of one’s country, but may at the same time invite comparison with, and thus denigration of, others. Patriotism is augmented by the perception of the country as the ‘mother country’ or ‘fatherland’, nationalism by portraying the enemy as evil, dangerous, and even sub-human.  On the other hand, patriotism can be manipulated by wicked leaders for their own ends.


·        There have been long-standing forces for internationalism dating back to the 17th century, but these are much stronger now than in earlier centuries. International law is strengthened by pressure for an International Humanitarian Law. The Geneva Convention is strengthened by War Crimes Tribunals which seek to minimise the effects of aggression in war.


·        There are other, personal, tendencies at work against petty nationalism. Regional integration, increased travel and even globalisation point up the common humanity of all peoples. In this situation nationalism looks increasingly antiquated.

 Session 3