I conclude from exploring the question “Is Peace Possible?” 1 & 2 in January posts, and in observations of many people around me who live most of their lives without trying to solve problems with violence or force, that peace is clearly possible. Yet, I am still haunted by vexing questions. An old billboard on a side street on the other side of town says in stark white on a background of black, War is over if you want it. Why do we choose war? Why don’t we, individually and collectively, want peace enough to make it happen?
Decision makers cite a variety of reasons to choose war. Force is necessary, they say, to create or keep the peace, to maintain law and order, to bring justice to the oppressed and afflicted, to defend ourselves when attacked, to combat thugs, ruthless dictators, and other evil-doers who attack our allies or other noncombatants. Such justifications have been developed and codified by just-war theory that goes back, as outlined by Paul Christopher in The Ethics of War and Peace, as early as 600 BC in
and extended around the ancient world. China
I think it goes back much further, at least to the epic Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was an actual historical king in the ancient Sumerian city of
Uruk, near the present-day around 2700 BC. In the epic, he is also a great warrior and a terrorist who brutalizes his own subjects and soldiers as well as battlefield enemies. He rapes and pillages with impunity, without conscience. Enkidu, a wild man raised by animals and civilized by the temple prostitute, hears about the atrocities of Gilgamesh and vows to challenge him. He finds Gilgamesh and fights him. Gilgamesh wins the fight, but they form an enduring friendship. In a series of adventures together, Enkidu tames and humanizes Gilgamesh’s ferocity and inspires the development of his conscience. Baghdad, Iraq
The early record of just-war thinking indicates that war was already well established and that its horrors were even then concerning reformers, likely even before writing was invented to record it. The theory attempts to prescribe rules for deciding to go to war and for waging it in a way that should make it more humane. It has evolved through the centuries to incorporate different applications for proliferating religious and political ideologies. And it has attempted to move decision makers from using subjective and personal criteria for choosing war such as honor and glory in Gilgamesh and divine retribution in the Old Testament to supposedly more objective ones in our modern age. Thus four major criteria for humanitarian intervention are proposed by Christopher: 1. “There Must Be a Just Cause.” 2. “The Political Objective [Must] Be Publicly Declared by Lawful Authority in Advance.” 3. “Humanitarian Intervention Must Be a Last Resort.” 4. “The Costs Must be Proportional to the Expected Objectives.”
For criteria to be objective, it must be capable of being applied in any situation at any time. Consider the decision to go to war in
. The publicly declared assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which constituted a direct threat to the security of the Iraq was the just-cause rationale. Accompanying that assertion, a rumor was circulated and believed widely that Hussein’s regime was linked with AlQueda and thus responsible for the 911 attack. In addition, humanitarian intervention supported the just-cause argument for war because Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and they were in need of liberation. There was disagreement about how much of a last resort it was, the United Nations arguing that their interventions needed more time to work and the U. S. with its allies arguing that Hussein had been given too long already to mend his ways. From this perspective, it looks like the costs and proportionality did not figure much in the public debate about the issue at the time of the decision, but aside from this, these reasons look like they fit Christopher’s criteria for just-war, humanitarian intervention. United States
However, the WMDs were never found. It turned out that Hussein had no links to AlQueda. The people of
were clearly in need of liberation from Hussein’s tyranny. But in terms of their suffering, the costs of the war to the Iraqi people would at this point seem to be out of proportion to the benefits they have so far gained. For decision makers, all wars are just wars, with or without reference to any particular just-war theorist. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians make a just claim to the disputed areas of their lands. Both the totalitarian Taliban and the Iraq U. S. make a just claim to absolutist moral authority, the Taliban to divine authority and the to humanitarian ideals of democracy and human rights. U. S.
In all its time of development, just-war theory has not made war more preventable, nor more humane. Instead, it appears to provide a tool-box for justifying war that can rationalize, with the aid of lies, secrets, and rumors, unjust causes. It has helped to make war the preferred choice in the face of inevitable and seemingly irresolvable conflict driven by differences. It is much easier and more comfortable to do what we collectively know, can justify, and have practiced and prepared for throughout so much of our history that it feels natural. It thus is one reason I’m persuaded peace is not probable.
Another reason peace is likely more improbable now than before WWW II is the growth of the “military industrial complex” in the
that President Eisenhower warned about. Just-war excuses are used to justify this growth that demands war to sustain the complex and that has led to our military involvement all over the world. That involvement is responsible for what some are aptly calling an empire. In searching President Obama’s State of the Union Address, I found only one mention of peace: “This [policies toward U. S. Iran and ] is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity.” The linking of peace and prosperity with the sense of empire building (“shaping a world”) is very disappointing, to put it mildly. Obama is the best choice we have, or had, and he is compromising on the most important liberal values for peace (See http://uppitynegronetwork.com/2011/01/27/we-do-big-things-celebrating-obama-as-head-of-empire-redux/#comment-3720.) Such compromises do not resolve conflicts; they keep them alive. North Korea
All through this current national debate on what to do about the deplorable deficit, only the liberal left pays any attention to military costs. So little major media attention goes to it that it appears to the public our military budget is justified as protection for our safety, our liberty, our democracy, our pocket books and the American way of life. A military way of life is so well established and is so deeply embedded in our economy and politics that it will require a major reformation of national priorities and institutions to uproot it, and it is a major barrier to peace.
A third reason peace is improbable is that what we get from war, with the help of just-war theory and the military industrial complex, is individually and collectively more immediately and intensely satisfying or pleasurable than the work of building peace, a fix of adrenaline excitement from patriotic or religious fervor, from anticipation of profit or power, or from other complex primal feelings.
I remember intense feelings of the few times in my life I have resorted to violence, slapping the face of someone who insulted me. Those times were decades ago, but I still remember vividly the power thrill of the spontaneous and unthinking rage and reaction. The thrill was momentary, followed immediately in its wake by the flood of guilty conscience and a frantic rush to justify the violation of my own values for peaceful resolution of conflict.
Like the emotions of the drug addict, the buzz of violent reaction can be irresistible, can drown out moral will, can even drown out the will to live. In War and Peace, Tolstoy dramatizes some of these feelings of what he calls in the epilogue “the spirit of the army.” In Regeneration Trilogy, Pat Barker explores such feelings in characters fighting in WW I. Commander of a platoon of combat soldiers, Lieutenant Billy Pryor is being treated for shell shock. When pressed for weeks by his psychiatrist to explain his feelings in combat, Billy finally says, “It’s sexy.” He is eager to go back to battle.
Billy means literally sexy, i.e. accompanied by physiological sexual arousal. The sexual context of Barker’s trilogy and the pervasive practice of rape in time of war supports that he is being literal, not just metaphorical. I don’t believe the contemporary common assertion, “Rape is not about sex.” I do believe the follow-up assertion, “It is about power.” Rape is about sex and power. Though just-war theory would have “lust for battle” as well as rape condemned as motives, war, both the decision and the action are fed by complex personal emotions that largely go unacknowledged, at least in part because just war theory condemns such motives. In our media culture saturated with sexuality, it paradoxically almost seems like a taboo, especially in relation to war and just-war theory, to discuss seriously the role of such motivating feelings in war and other forms of violence except to condemn them, which means we don’t understand them.
With Billy’s pronouncement, Barker makes it explicit that there is a link. In War and Peace, Victorian Tolstoy implies with the happy marriage of Pierre and Natasha that the answer to creating a lasting peace is to create domestic bliss in the home. In this case, the benevolent despot Pierre as head of the household implies the link with power which leaves me unsatisfied with that part of Tolstoy’s solution. Enkidu, the wild man, is civilized by sex with a woman. Gilgamesh’s ferocious violence is pacified by the love of Enkidu.
From studying in literature this relationship among sex, power, and violence for some time, I conclude that cultural attitudes toward sexuality and the relationship between sexual partners plays an important role, however unconscious, in motivating war and preventing peace. Yet, I still do not understand it in a satisfying way. I read American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right, hoping to get some fresh insight. The book is a persuasive rant about how the American right so much resembles the Taliban in its attitudes and actions. Markos Moulitsas is preaching to a member of the choir in me, and he convinces me that the parallels he describes are accurate, so I enjoy reading it. But I hoped for more insight into the dynamics of how personal motivations—sex, power, greed, etc.—apparently feed into and are fed by institutional and cultural violence in a feedback loop that makes peace very difficult and thus improbable to achieve without some dramatic rupture of the cycle.
A final, for this post, vexing question and barrier to peace is this: Short of war or other means of violent force, what are we to do in the face of a Hitler, an Osama bin Laden, a Saddam Hussein, ruthless leaders who will murder, torture, enslave, rape, or commit any other atrocity to any number of people to accomplish their purposes? The response of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and the Egyptian people of taking to the streets in mass protest seems to be the only effective answer we have, but Bin Laden is no Mubarack. And while waiting for a less ruthless leader or other conditions to be right for mass protest to be effective, innocent noncombatants continue to suffer consequences of such leaders that affect the economy, the political stability, the personal lives and mental health of millions for generations and continue to feed the forces that rush to war.
Peace in our time is improbable because of all of these complex reasons: justifications we know and trust from a long and pervasive history fueled by feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, and intensity we crave in our every day lives that obscure the personal and unconscious motivations for war. Peaceful conflict resolution is hard work, it is not widely taught, and its rewards are delayed gratification with, apparently, nowhere near the intense excitement that violent conflict provides. I myself, lifelong pacifist, kept falling asleep recently reading The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution. I kept telling myself that it was because of the textbook style. And it was partly that, but it was also and more because the examples described of the process and results of conflict resolution are not exciting in the way the drama of war is in the fiction of Tolstoy, Barker, Shakespeare, and numerous others.
Still, I continue to hope for increasing probability of peace. Is it simply by faith that I maintain hope? No, I have rational reasons, too.
Still, I continue to hope for increasing probability of peace. Is it simply by faith that I maintain hope? No, I have rational reasons, too.
Perhaps, the best hope of just-war theory is its failure either to prevent war or to make it more humane. For, as the theory becomes more convoluted, logically complicated, supposedly objective and remote from the emotional base of personal life, it fails to justify war at all.
The pace, strength and power of technological advancement, so much of it initiated and developed by the military industrial complex, paradoxically makes it harder to keep the secrets that support the choice to make war. Whistle blowers such as Wiki Leaks increasingly expose the underpinnings of vengence, hipocrisy, greed, rationalizing, lies, and fear mongering that motivate decisions to go to war.
The increasing proliferation of documentary films like Why we Fight also help to expose the secret unethical underpinnings of war. In this film, the story of a
Viet Nam vet’s grief about losing his son in the 911 attack on the is woven throughout the film. It is a poignant reminder of the personal complicity of individual citizens in the decision to go to war. He believed, along with most of the rest of the population, that World Trade Center was directly implicated in his son’s death, and he was a fervent supporter of the decision to attack. His desire for vengeance (frequently called justice, and the distinction is often fuzzy) compelled him to request his son’s name be written on one of the first bombs to strike Iraq . He felt great satisfaction that his request was granted. And then, as more information was gradually leaked that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, that the Iraq regime was not responsible for the bombings, he felt a betrayal that completely wiped out his sense of satisfaction and left him with his grief amplified by the loss of faith in his country and in its ability to make wise decisions. Baghdad
This story dramatizes important links between personal life and cultural institutions that suggests another reason for me to hope that peace will become more probable as we come to understand these links better. The Web of Violence, eds. Jennifer Turpin and Lester R. Kurtz, did keep me awake and alert in spite of its textbook style. This collection of essays focuses on linkages between the psychology of the subjective individual and the collective society, on the necessity to consider these linkages in understanding the causes of war, and on the things that can be done to create lasting peace:
Cycles of violence cannot be solved either by transforming individuals on a case by case basis or by imposing nonviolent dictums from above but through a complex process of cultural and individual transformation. [. . .] Historic cultural changes, however, do not take place without the courageous action of individuals who contradict existing cultural frames.
Peaceful movements and leaders of my own lifetime have increased in numbers and strength. The first formal academic programs in peace studies only began in the mid 20th century. Since then peace-studies programs at institutions and universities have proliferated: “The existence of 200 peace studies programs on college campuses in North America and
Western Europe provides powerful testimony for the desire of human beings to avoid Armageddon by studying peaceful ways to resolve conflicts” (http://www.gmu.edu/programs/icar/ijps/vol3_1/Harris.htm). More and more people speak about peace, study it, write about it, and join with others in actions to protest war and to promote peace.
Because of these reasons and because I have the human ability to imagine, I have a vision of masses of people all over the world who come to desire peace so much that they take to the streets as we witnessed the people of Egypt do these last few weeks. I have a vision of a war-free future, one in which peaceful conflict resolution and problem solving will replace war to resolve disagreements; forgiveness and compassion will replace vengeance and hate in dealing with oppressors, tyrants, and greedy grabbers. As the world becomes a kinder, gentler place to live, it will breed fewer and fewer Hitlers or Bin Ladens. And those it does breed will have fewer and fewer followers and thus less and less strength. War is over if and when enough of us want it and join in the chorus of voices demanding it.