Thursday, October 31, 2013

Study war no more: How to teach history

"History was boring."
"I never paid attention to history" 
"History class was my weakness." 
This is the sort of comment common from many of my students as they begin to read what I assign them, which is often...wait for it...history.
"This should be taught."
"This gives me hope." 
This is the sort of comment common from many of my students as they continue reading how grassroots groups, civil society, and an aroused public will change history, get justice, bring down dictators from the left an from the right, and end wars.

Historian Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 126) writes of the history of peace in the past two centuries and notes that two of the major factors in creating a desire for peace and civil society organizing for peace are the ongoing democratization of societies and the industrialization of war.

Democratization engenders the expectation of power in the hearts and minds of most citizens instead of the fatalistic expectation of powerlessness. It even does so in societies that are emphatically not free because the model becomes known and is contagious.

The industrialization of war shows the citizens that the individual nobility, strength, and discipline which seemed to characterize the warrior are, for the most part, useless and irrelevant. Not only are most casualties civilian, the indiscriminate and instant nature of modern weaponry renders it all worthless. War is just ugly, no matter how much elites try to hang on to icons of the sacred warrior, the valorous soldier, and the noble protectors.
Peace History is indeed fascinating to those of you who find yourselves learning about peace or working for peace because you discover you are not alone; you come from a long line of those who look for ways to save our loved ones without slaughtering other people's loved ones. Peace people tend to apply the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, that is, what if I and my loved ones had been born into another society, in another nation? Should my little daughter be a target in that case? And the next logical step, Should anyone's little daughter be a target? 

No, of course not. And once we start down that peace-thinking path we hit that slippery slope toward peace activism, toward justice work, and our methods are nonviolent. That logic is inescapable, ultimately. Peace history provides part of the hope and part of the knowledge that it takes to help convince others that peace is possible, that nonviolence is working better and better as we learn more and more about it, and that many old doctrines--Just War, peace through strength of arms, righteous violence of the oppressed--can be, should be, and most adaptively need to be jettisoned.

While the ancient Greeks may not have seriously developed strategic nonviolence, we can love to think about Aristophanes--sick of the stupid Peloponnisian Wars--thumbing his nose at war and warriors in three of his plays, Acharnians, Lysistrata, and Peace. Peace thinking doesn't usually come to those operating in a peaceful society; historically, it has arisen from thinkers and doers in cultures at war. St. Francis went on the Crusades to try to negotiate peace. German philosopher Emmanuel Kant wrote Perpetual Peace as Europe struggled to recover from the Reign of Terror and other carnage. The peace sign was coined as the world legitimately feared nuclear destruction in 1958--when Soviets and Americans were blasting thermonuclear bombs in the atmosphere and posturing belligerently at each other.

In this sense, we are positioned as peace thinkers following 12 years of a terrorizing Global War on Terror, which has left the US with a badly tarnished image--even widely hated--a wobbling economy, an atmospheric stew of pollutants and greenhouse gases, and a polity so polarized it is less civil than any era since just before the Civil War. We need peace history now, which will help us to create a peace present and peace future.

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Charnel of war reframed to house of peace: Review of War No More

David Swanson self-publishes and I always hesitate to read or review self-published books--where is the check and balance the editors provide? This is the rare exception for me; Swanson has produced a great little book, readable, creatively powerful and urgent.
Yes, many of us have books on aspects of ending war, of stating the problem of war, of suggesting partial or systemic solutions. Swanson presents no startling new blindingly brilliant plans. What he does instead is jump right into a basic reframing of just how unacceptable all war is, period, and gives us multiple simple ways to reframe all the basic challenges to the desire to end all war. He removes all justifications for all wars, not using religion but unafraid to state and defend some basic human moral stances.

Swanson embodies what Grace Paley fittingly self-described as the "combative pacifist." He parses and dismantles the exceptions that so many make--but what about this sort of war, how about this circumstance or exceptional condition? He asks us to think about just how many other "natural" human activities (e.g. slavery, torture, dueling to the death) we now view as utterly immoral and uncivilized--and how we can make war into that sort of past bad behavior.

Kathy Kelly, arguably the most pure and brave peaceworker alive, provides a fine foreword, and Swanson then offers a short introduction followed by four sections: War can be ended, War should be ended, War is not going to end on its own, and We have to end war.

Like the journalist he is, Swanson generally includes the references he needs to verify most of his claims in the text, which is the weakest part of the book for academics and for those who want bombproof arguments. As critical readers, we editors are bound to ask, "Says who?" when something is asserted without visible means of support. Swanson is astonishingly prolific and his occasional missing reference is understandable, forgivable, but needs to be noted. As I was reading I was thinking, I need to assign this book to my graduate students and require them to provide citations wherever they are missing. This would be such a learning experience for them. Swanson is a stunning rhetorician; he needs a little disarmy of research assistants to get him the missing footnotes, reference list, and index.

Swanson just challenges the basic structures and nominal purposes of all aspects of the US military, for example:
The permanent stationing of a million soldiers in some 175 nations doesn't help prevent provokes it (p. 66).

As an example of his openly inquiring approaches, Swanson absorbs, dissects, and asks about the quality and effect of media in the context of our war culture, showing us some revelatory and creative ways to engage:
A couple of years ago, National Public Radio interviewed a weapons executive. Asked what he would do if the hugely profitable occupation of Afghanistan were to end, he replied that he hoped there could be an occupation of Libya. He was clearly joking. And he didn't get his wish--yet. But jokes don't come from nowhere. Had he joked about molesting children or practicing racism his comments would not have aired. Joking about a new war is accepted in our culture as an appropriate joke. In contrast, mocking war as backward and undesirable is just not done, and might be deemed incomprehensible, not to mention unfunny. We have a long way to go (pp. 143-144).

It is this sort of ethical challenge to each of us, to all of us, that makes Swanson's turns of mind so helpful, so challenging to those of us who search for successful ways to question how we can more effectively help others to see the deep problems of war. He does this sort of reframing throughout the book in scores of fascinating and inspirational passages. If our minds ever start to close around any pieces of what we are working on in the peace movement, Swanson has a hard-earned gift for prying our brains back open.

Order copies: and give them out. Swanson is not in this to sell books to make money--you can even get the pdf for $2. He's tireless and authentic. Order 10 hard copies for just $60--he can't be clearing his expenses, but these little books need to be distributed, and need to be read. A beginner peace activist can read this and start producing "A game" arguments, which is how the social psychologists tell us social norms can shift. That is Swanson's goal and he does great work toward making it happen. Helping him along is a smart peace strategy.

Swanson, David (2013). War no more.

Friday, October 25, 2013

War toys--what's the harm?

"I had war toys when I was a boy and I turned out fine."

Really? Are you sure about that?

One of my students posted about taking her four-year-old nephew into the supermarket, giving him her phone to play with to amuse himself. He played Angry Birds and squealed with proud delight every time he killed a pig. Teaching a four-year-old to kill? Is that OK?
Ask the family of Andy Lopez Cruz, a 13-year-old who was carrying two plastic toy guns while walking to his friend's house in Santa Rosa, a peaceful town in California's wine country. He was wearing a hoodie and allegedly failed to drop his toy guns when police responded to a call of concern by some citizen worried about the replica toy assault rifle he was carrying.

Sonoma County sheriff's deputies shot the boy dead. A boy with a reputation for being a good kid, a school budding musician with a sweet disposition by all accounts.

War toys can indeed be lethal.

The responses to the shooting are predictably polarized. The kid was asking for it say some. Cops are trigger happy say others. Sadly, if we use any logic, we can see the truth and the avoidable tragedy in both positions. What parent allows a 13-year-old to run around with a real-looking assault rifle dressed in clothing that the culture associates with gangs? What sort of purblind cop cannot tell the difference? Lousy parenting, rotten policing, and a dead child--can we learn nothing from this?

Do we do any favors for our children by approving of them preparing to murder others?--and when we give them toy guns we are issuing that stamp of approval. Parents, teachers, community workers, social workers, health care professionals, law enforcement, elected officials, child safety experts--all these groups and more should be working to end this sick tutelage of our children and concomitantly confronting law enforcement's own corrupt and unprofessional role in literally overkill response. For a scholarly exegesis of the war toy problem, see the July 2013 issue of Peace & Change and a 25-page peer-reviewed study by Rachel Waltner Goossen, history professor at Washburn University. The evidence against war toys and in favor of healthy peace-teaching toys is voluminous. We can fix this if we listen to the Grandmothers for Peace.

Blame is not a zero-sum game. We can apportion it to parents, teachers, toy companies, media workers, law enforcement, and society in general in large and fixable proportions. In the end, we all have some part in this. We all contribute to the solution or to the ongoing problem. It should hurt our hearts to lose a child to totally avoidable circumstances like these. Each child is precious and we can begin to inoculate them against the dangers or we can ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Andy Lopez Cruz has gone away instead. Let him be the last.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

When the world has no more war

The day will come when humankind is free of the practice and threat of war. The only question is whether that day will come as a result of our foresight or our hindsight, that is, as a result of our collective wisdom to choose to develop a culture of peace that has some common aspects all across the world or as a result of our profound post-disaster late realization of the maladaptivity of our war system that virtually destroyed our species.

When we have succeeded in abolishing war it will be because we have rooted peace in institutions, values, and beliefs that penetrate all aspects of culture.
--Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 168)
Over the decades I've heard activists and students make statements that indicate they regard the problem of war as a single-source issue, sometimes fixable and mostly not. Statements like:
  • War will end when human nature changes.
  • War will end when all the fighting over resources stops.
  • War will end when our ethnic differences are celebrated instead of hated.
  • War will end when religions stop fighting.
  • War will end when we outlaw war.
  • War will end when we take the profit out of war.
  • War will end when humans no longer take revenge.
  • War will end when we have world government.
  • War will end when women rule.
  • War will end when the schools teach peace to children instead of war.
  • War will end when families teach peace to children instead of war.
  • War will end when religions teach peace to children instead of war.
  • War will end when people learn that nonviolence works best.
  • War will end when there is no more exploitation.
  • War will end when human rights are respected
  • War will end when media and other propaganda sources stop promoting war.
  • War will end when we elect politicians who will choose peace.
  • War will end when we defund the military.
  • War will end when no nation tries to take over others' lands. 
  • War will end when the arms trade ends.
  • War will end when those who refuse to fight are honored instead of those who kill others.
  • War will end when soldiers refuse to fight.
  • War will end when no one signs up to be a soldier.
There are more such statements, but these samples show this sort of thinking, which is fine as far as it goes. Most of the time these single sentences have a comma and conclude with "which will never happen."

So our thinking needs to expand, doesn't it, to show ourselves that if we work on creating success in each of these categories the trends will make further progress in all the rest more likely. In short, taking a systems approach, valuing the work done by all peacemakers, is how we slowly build up a peace system and dismantle the war system.

There is no work that is more critical, but there are infinite arenas in which we each can move the ball forward and protect against the sort of apocalypse we rightly fear from a war system that threatens all our children, all our grandchildren, and the future of humankind. Do we need to be coordinated in our work? It helps, but even if we don't feel it, the connections are valid and ongoing. The mainstream Rotarian who avoids controversy may feel the nun who takes a little hammer to a weapon and goes to prison is not really making progress, and vice-versa. The loyal opposition in the Democratic Party who works hard to influence policy votes toward peace may believe that the Sunday School teacher who teaches little children to love Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus is simply naive. But if we follow our passions and skills we can make key differences in our own chosen areas that reinforce the good work of others in their arenas.

Do you work for peace in your favorite organizations or in your aspects of culture? I value your work. I hope you do more of it and increase your influence. We are racing against Armageddon and we are on the same team. Like an ecology, we are stronger in our diversity unless we advocate violence or preparing for "defensive" violence, which is the poison that the war system uses against our work toward a culture of peace. Planting the seeds of peace and nurturing them while weeding out war is how we finally get that edenic peaceable kindom of the idealists' dreams. Will we have conflict? Always, but a peace system will enable us to engage fully in conflict without any threat of war. It is our destiny when we choose it.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Godfather of nonviolence

It is a culturally iconic moment; in the 1972 The Godfather trilogy, Don Corleone--Marlon Brando--tells Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." As the films unfold, the reasons "he" can't refuse involve guns to the head and a bloody horse head in bed. The films were never meant to reflect any sort of nonviolent approach to resolving conflict, of course, but are so culturally embedded that, by now, more than 40 years later, the quote is closer to a more useful reference for those who practice successful nonviolence. What began as unprincipled negotiation can morph toward a more benign Getting to Yes.

Gene Sharp is the Godfather of nonviolence. He was the first serious academic scholar to focus a lifetime of research and analysis on strategic nonviolence. To do so, he felt he needed to wash his hands of the perception that he just wanted everyone to be nice. His degrees, including a doctorate in political theory from Oxford, were achieved when studying nonviolence in the political context was perceived as fatuous, tantamount to studying the effects of a bouquet of flowers on the actions of a serial killer. Sharp needed to create his own space in the academy, space that has been enlarged by those who followed, but a very tiny and tight space indeed for him. He seemed to do so by chucking philosophy, religion, ethics and morals overboard, and focusing exclusively on the isolated question, 'was the stated objective achieved or not?' followed by descriptions and even a large typology of observable, provable factors--published the year after The Godfather movies, in 1973, in Sharp's own trilogy, The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

Peace scholars, many of whom start with a personal philosophy or peace church orientation toward the morality and ethical high ground of nonviolence, often critique this narrow utilitarian focus of Sharp.

Nonviolence "re-humanizes the opponent's soldiers and functionaries and re-includes them in the common humanity. This is especially true of the kind of nonviolence that is more than just making trouble by noncooperation and sabotage, as was the case in the Ruhr in the 1920s, which was the kind of nonviolent struggle that Gene Sharp advocates" (Shifferd, 2011, p. 164).

Fair point, but Sharp wrote very precisely about strategic nonviolence tending to "subvert the loyalty of the attacker's troops and functionaries," as did Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, currently the most widely cited and respected researchers on strategic nonviolence from that political science world.

In actuality, the intersectionality of morality and coercive strategic nonviolence is a fertile ground for study. Certainly those who have done the best real world work along those lines, from Gandhi to Reverend James Lawson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, have shown that the question is not an either/or in many cases but a both/and. When the Filipinas and Filipinos intervened by the hundreds of thousands in the 1986 crisis in their homeland, they updated Don Corleone by making the security forces on both sides in their country an offer they couldn't refuse--they offered their nonviolent interposition to stop the armed forces from killing each other. This, in turn, helped the Reaganistas make an offer to Ferdinand Marcos that he couldn't refuse--a nice retirement out of the Philippines. No guns to any heads and no horse heads in bed were necessary.

We'll give the last word to a nonviolent activist from New Zealand, a woman who had just gone through several days of nonviolence training that three of us did for aspiring members of Christian Peacemaker Teams. If you listen to Kiwis (what we lovingly call those great folks from New Zealand), they pronounce the American short e like a long e quite often. At the conclusion of the training she said, with a beaming smile in her Kiwi pronunciation, "I love this. Nonviolence brings out the beast in you!"

And so, with strategic nonviolence, we learn to inflict "the good kind of pain," coercion with care for the hearts and minds we hope to win by bringing out the beast in us and in them.


 Chenoweth, Erica, & Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Fisher, Roger, & Ury, William (2011). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. (3rd ed.). New York: Penguin Books. 

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

We'll learn better, if it takes a hundred years!

It was all planned out very carefully in advance, scientifically, one could say.
The generals knew, and the Kings and Kaisers,
But most folks missed those meetings in the War Departments
Where the experts worked out the timetables for troop movements,
Right down to the minute, and the preplanned mobilization plans for millions of men,
Who would report where and exactly when, and how many rifles would be issued.
How the big cannons would get to the front and how many coffins they’d need.
And the common folk were probably drinking in the pubs when the diplomats met
And drew up the entangling alliances so that one thing triggered another,
An automatic cascade into total war.
“But It won’t really happen, will it,” asked the Kings and Kaisers?
And the generals said, “Not to worry.
Just making sure we’re ready if it does.”
So it was all a big surprise.

--Kent Shifferd, from his World War I poems to mark the passage of a century since it began in 1914

What we prepare for, we get. What we invest in, we realize. What we train for, we respond with. What we buy, we use.

Some humans have always been preparing to hurt others, to steal from others, to subjugate others, by brute force. The rest of us have responded by planning to use our own brute force to stop the aggressors.  The problem comes, doesn't it, when the "defensive" violence becomes retaliatory, and retribution feels like a new sort of aggression, which in turn precipitates a violent response and welcome to the Middle East. Or, in the case of Europe, five centuries culminating in World War II, with a 'minor' flare-up in the--of course--Balkans in the 1990s.

Conflict forensics--the science and art of dissecting conflict into its contributory, necessary, and sufficient causes, and then illustrating it in a map or flowchart--can offer us points of entry, intervention, and change. Learning how to apply those counterfactuals to past conflicts can offer hope toward a more constructive and less destructive set of outcomes for the inevitable future conflicts.

This, then, is why it is imperative to teach peace, to begin to introduce into our children and our adult students that nonviolence is no longer nearly as counter-intuitive as it was even a decade ago. Choosing whether to be nice or whether to prevail is no longer necessary. We can nicely force aggressors back into their pens. We can. And we can take away the causes that produce organized aggression in the first place, which is key.

Let's say, for instance, that the US would have come up with different incentives to Anwar El-Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978, hosted by Jimmy Carter, and the subsequent treaty between Egypt and Israel.

While the Accords were more general and refurbished Begin and Sadat as peace guys (even garnering them a shared Nobel Peace Prize that year), the treaty included many sketchy provisions, such as the massive military aid that has never quit and has enriched US war profiteers (some say that is the major factor in Congressional approval of those huge expenses annually) while serving as a bribe to keep out of direct war, even as they prepare for it. It might or might not be a prelude to a regional war, but, like World War I, the "peace" is "kept" by incessant and increasing preparation for war, skirting the lip of the cliff from time to time. While Carter bought off the two enemies to create a negative peace, the price was unacceptable to a sustainable peace. Better ideas could have been found rather than setting up a perpetual profit machine for war profiteering elite owners.

It's all planned out very carefully in advance. And unless we begin to invest, instead, in peace that comes from nonviolent justice and fairness and respect for the rights of all, we are just investing in more war.