Sunday, August 04, 2013

What if they gave a war and nobody came?

War takes participants. Yes, nuclear war would only take a few--The Decider and the twisted troops to turn the launch keys. This is just one of many many reasons to rid ourselves of the most obscene, genocidal, blasphemous weapons ever invented. It's 68 years since the invention was promptly used to incinerate scores of thousands of civilians--the final war crime in a EuroUSJapanese orgy of war crimes that we mark as World War II. World War III would be over in a day. The human race might linger somewhat longer as it died out. All other threats to humankind--climate chaos, disease, rightwing talk radio--pale alongside the unleashed nuclear arsenals of even the 'smaller' arsenals of Israel and Pakistan or India and Pakistan or the UK and Pakistan or France and....why does France have nukes? Do they fear a Berber insurgency?

But ground war takes enormous participation. Humanitarian aid workers Mary B. Anderson and Marshall Wallace (2013) began to observe, think about, and research how communities large and small managed in the midst of war all around them to avoid participation. They studied such exemplary communities in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, Mozambique and Rwanda.

One of the commonalities they found in communities who chose not to participate in war was a combination of imagination, courage to contemplate relative costs and benefits, and commitment to peace. While other communities were drawn into hot conflict willingly or unwillingly, the communities that opted out did not operate in denial that, a) war was on the way, and, b) there would be costs involved by either participating in war or not participating in war. They faced it all and made the decision to exempt themselves from participating and suffered the costs, which were significant but not as great as the costs of participating.

When communities do this together they gain the strength of unity, common suffering, and mutual appreciation and respect for courage and conscience. They make a commitment and an initial decision, and adapt from there, learning to use an iterative, nimble method of making alterations to the plan, all the time keeping the eye on the prize.

Will we manage to form enough community to stop our nations from going to war? It almost felt that way in 2002-early 2003. That was a good try. Next time we should be an order of magnitude stronger and perhaps we can turn so many of our communities toward peace that we might stop the next invasion from happening. Imagine our infrastructure, our global reputation, our stable economy, our living soldiers, our mentally healthy veterans, our well funded education and health care and pensions and environmental protection and alternative energy and and and...if we had never invaded Iraq.

We can learn from some communities in the most ruined and rubble-strewn countries. Our humility and ability to learn from those who avoided violence when it seemed impossible to avoid would be of great help right now and into the future.


Anderson, Mary B. & Wallace, Marshall (2013). Opting out of war: Strategies to prevent violent conflict. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

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