To the editor:
As a demonstrator for peace every Sunday I am sometimes asked, “Why?” in various ways, at various times and locations, in mostly antagonistic tones, and occasionally with downright insults. I also get arguments about why peace is impossible and war is a necessity: “Violence and war are in human nature, and you can’t change human nature;” “Short of war or other means of violent force, what are we to do in the face of a Hitler, a Saddam Hussein, an Osama bin Laden, ruthless leaders who will organize masses of warriors to murder, torture, enslave, rape, or commit any other atrocity to any number of people to accomplish their purposes?”
These are serious arguments. Experts on the issue do not agree on what the evidence shows about human nature as opposed to what is learned via human culture. Peace in our time seems improbable. Justifications for war have a long and pervasive history, and they are fueled by feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, and intensity we crave in our everyday lives if we are to judge by the popularity of violent media which teaches that violence is an exciting and necessary way to get rid of the bad guys and make heroes. Peaceful conflict resolution is hard work, it is not widely taught yet, and its rewards are delayed gratification with, apparently, nowhere near the intense excitement that violent conflict provides.
So why do I continue to demonstrate for peace? Because I believe that war is too costly in money and human potential to sustain; see http://armscontrolcenter.org/issues/securityspending/articles/fy09_dod_request_global/.
And because I believe that, while peace may not seem probable in our time, it is clearly possible sometime, and there is evidence that shows this. Simple observation shows that most people live most of their lives without resorting to violence. People can and do learn better ways to solve relationship problems and to get their excitement through social-justice action and other peaceful means. Without cultural reinforcement for violence and with appropriate treatment, the mentally ill, too, can and do live peaceful lives.
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 these programs 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. At the bridge for peace, thumbs up are far more frequent than thumbs down. In spite of opponents making arguments about human nature and necessity, historic cultural changes have taken place in my lifetime increasing civil rights for racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians. These changes take place because of the efforts of individuals organizing and demonstrating to challenge existing cultural frames.
I go every Sunday to add my voice to the growing chorus of those who believe in the possibility and necessity of replacing violence and war with peaceful problem solving and conflict resolution.
To the editor: