The year 2014 is set to refresh the memories of the human folly of the First World War, which began one hundred years ago and created unimaginable horror. During these 100 years, we have seen innumerable other wars including the Second World War, which eventually compelled the world leaders to think about averting the future wars. Whereas the number of wars has decreased gradually, the scale of destruction of recent wars has increased tremendously with more civilian casualties due to the use of evermore lethal weapons. Albert Einstein aptly said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Advancement in technology has left us in a situation where we should think a thousand times before unleashing our weapons on other human beings. In a drone war, for instance, hundreds or thousands of people can be snuffed-out by remote control without scarifying a single “attacking soldier,” as if playing a video game. It sends shivers down the spine that we can play war as a video game but with real human casualties.
This scenario has led to a growing realization that war is a folly, which needs to be abolished permanently. Intellectuals and peace activists have embarked upon the task of mobilizing people to say ‘no’ to war and to look for peaceful solutions to resolve their issues. Finland, one of the most peaceful countries in the world, has always been very active to contribute to peace efforts around the world. Recently, a conference was held on ‘The abolition of war’ at the Åbo Akademi University Finland where world renowned experts from the fields of anthropology, biology, psychology, journalism and art presented their thoughts on the possibility of abolition of war in the future. The pertinent question always arises: Is the abolition of war really possible? Unfortunately, there have always been some war mongers who directly or indirectly support wars and justify it by presenting a host of excuses. Some blame genetic disposition responsible for all human atrocities. However, the latest research finds no correlation between war and genetic disposition, innate drives, or a killer human nature.
Anthropological research proves that warfare is not very old phenomenon but started some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, and this contradicts the popular misconceptions that war is part and parcel of human nature. For this and other reasons, Kaj Björkqvist, President-Elect of the International Society for Research on Aggression, strongly rejects the misconception that war is in our genes. Even if we think for a moment that we human beings have a gene for aggression which compels us to wage war, the question arises: are we destined to live this way forever? There is another question of common sense. Do we leave a person to die of a disease just because it lies in the genes? Certainly not; we try to cure the disease. The need is to understand that war is also a disease whether it lies in our genes or not. Hence, we have to cure and save humanity from it. Dr. Douglas P. Fry, a renowned anthropologist and the author of several books including ‘Beyond war’ (2007, Oxford) presents a thought-provoking argument to support that the abolition of war is possible. He has shown through anthropological research that there exist many peaceful societies some of which have never waged war. Europe is an example from recent history which was shaken by wars and destruction only sixty-six years ago, but nowadays even the idea of another war in Europe is inconceivable. If the abolition of war is possible in some parts of this earth, why can’t it be applied to the entire world? Isn’t it a logical argument? Hence, a future without war is conceivably possible. Achieving this objective requires untiring efforts on all fronts: at the individual, leadership and institutional levels.
The Dalai Lama is right when he says that if we want global disarmament, we need to start from internal disarmament of an individual. It is the actual foundation to build up a non-warring future and it should start from early childhood. Douglas P. Fry’s anthropological research proves that strong belief system based on peace values has been a landmark of various peace societies around the world. It raises the question as to what sort of human values we tend to inculcate into the minds of our children through formal and informal education.
Changing the mindset is imperative to move towards a future without war. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” In this regard, our educational curriculum needs to be revised since it has become a tool to propagate jingoism around the world. We need to teach our children that killing innocent people is not a thing of pride; but rather saving humanity from the perils of war is the act of real heroism. Moreover, we should rid ourselves of all those artifacts which refresh the memories of war and serve to justify the continuation of war. Krzysztof Wodiczko, the author of the book The Abolition of War (2012), emphasizes the need to abandon the ‘culture of war’ including war monuments which glorify war and aggression.
There also arises a need to revisit the concept of nationalism. The European countries, after waging horrible wars under the flags of nationalism, found the solution in building a transnational institution in the form of the European Union (EU). Regional integrations based on strong political and economic cooperation and sovereignty-sharing is a key to curtail jingoistic nationalism in a region. Strong institutions to counter purely self-interested national sovereignty and to promote international cooperation are cornerstones for a non-warring future. Apart from regional institutional bonds, there arises the need of an impartial global central body to prevent war between nations and to provide speedy justice without any discrimination. The United Nations was established to serve this purpose but its role has been questionable since it has itself sanctioned some recent wars. Hence, the UN needs to be reformed or replaced by a more effective institution that guarantees equal representation of all countries in decision-making matters.
John Horgan, the author of ‘The end of war’ (2012, Mcsweeney), argues that “war begins with human decision.” Hence, the most important ingredient to end war is a strong ‘will’ to do so. Ending war requires a strong, courageous and sincere leadership, which could turn this vision into reality. Judith Hand, the author of a very recent book ‘Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War’ (2014) believes that a non-warring future is possible within a few generations if we have an effective and visionary leadership. However, there is a need to realize that it’s not the sole responsibility of intellectuals, leaders and thinkers to work to achieve this objective. In fact, the onus lies on all of us to save this world from the dangers of wars.
There is no greater power on earth than people’s power. We, as individuals, need to realize that we are ‘global citizens’ of this earth before belonging to any state. To save this planet from death and destruction in this nuclear age, we need to reject warmongers and raise our voice against aggressive policies of our states. We need to realize that war is a parasite which not only feeds on the blood of our people but also drains our financial resources, thus depriving generations from a prosperous future. In fact, war is not a solution but pollution. When enough people realize this fact, the abolition of war will become inevitable.
Nazia Nazar is based in Finland and pursuing her studies in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research at Abo Akademi University.