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The End of War

By davidswanson - Posted on 14 May 2010

By David Swanson

Last year I published a review of a book called "Will War Ever End: A Soldier's Vision of Peace for the 21st Century" by Captain Paul K. Chappell, U.S. Army. Chappell left active duty last November and is now the Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His new book is called "The End of War: How Waging Peace Can Save Humanity, Our Planet, and Our Future."

The new book is more brilliant and important than the first, and I get the impression that the third one will be even better. Chappell is developing his thought on the critical question of what motivates war and what could overcome it. I'm always initially skeptical of psychological explanations for war, because I've seen wars driven by a few people's greed and lust for power in the face of fervent opposition from a majority of the people. But Chappell looks at the motivations of those both in and out of power, including the techniques used by those in power to manufacture consent. And he explores techniques for persuading supporters of wars to change their minds.

Chappell's own experience in the military is not just persuasive packaging for his books. It enriches them with his understanding of what motivates soldiers. The military experience is, in fact, filled with admirable codes of respect, solidarity, devotion, and self-sacrifice. Soldiers typically fight to protect their fellows, not to harm others. The typical soldier and the typical peace activist have much more in common than Gandhi had with someone throwing bricks for peace or spitting on veterans. Of course, those of us who believe that what the U.S. military now does is criminal and murderous would like enlisting in the military to be widely seen as shameful rather than heroic, because it would discourage enlistment. But those who enlist do not see it that way. And, as Chappell envisions, a military devoted exclusively to defense could be an admirable thing. Yet, he titles a chapter "Glorify Peace, Not War."

Chappell's writing is deceptively simple. I probably wouldn't have read chapter one if I hadn't read his earlier book. I mean, who can stand another rendition of Plato's story of the cave? But Chappell riffs on Plato, relocates the cave to today's society, and finds understanding in the story that hadn't been there before. The same can be said of his discussions of pain, fear, greed, appreciation, and aggression. Here's a typical insight:

"One reason war is so common throughout history is that when countries use warning aggression, they cannot walk away. Imagine a tribe of our early ancestors on the plains of Africa. Across from them is a pride of hungry lions. The people are yelling and waving their spears to display warning aggression, while the lions are growling and looking for an opportunity to attack. The lions have three options. They can choose hostile aggression and attack, display warning aggression by growling, or walk away. Now imagine this same scenario, but put the tribe and the lions in a small cage."

Here's another. Chappell argues that people with freedoms and prosperity can be easier to persuade to support wars precisely because they have a lot to lose. Chappell quotes President George W. Bush:

"They hate us because we're free. They hate the thought that Americans welcome all religions. They can't stand that thought. They hate the thought that we educate everybody. They hate our freedoms. . . ."

Chappell responds to this:

"When I first heard these words they did not remind me of Hitler. Instead, they reminded me of a speech given by Pericles, who created the Athenian empire through warfare during the fifth century BC. After invading several neighboring territories, Pericles gave the following speech at a funeral for the deceased soldiers. The Greek historian Thucydides recounted Pericles' argument for waging war:

'The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life . . . Such is the Athens for which these men, in the assertion of their resolve not to lose her, nobly fought and died; and well may every one of their survivors be ready to suffer in her cause . . . These [deceased soldiers] take as your model and, judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom and freedom of valor, never decline the dangers of war.'

"Pericles argued that invading those neighboring territories was necessary to protect the freedom of Athens."

Or, as a car bumper in front of you in traffic might put it: We fight them over there, so we don't have to fight them here. Aggressive war is mass murder, motivated by valient self-sacrifice aimed at protecting a free society from fictional danger. Soldiers are typically willing to take greater risks on behalf of others than to protect themselves. That's bravery. It's simply and tragically misdirected.

Chappell would redirect such noble deeds into "waging peace." If we do not, he warns, we may be done for:

"Perhaps the biggest misconception of war, which threatens the survival of our country and planet, is the naïve belief that once we begin a war we can control it."


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