The Three Branches of The Peace Movement:

By Anatol Rapoport | 1990-10-01 12:00:00

Peace research is sometinies regarded as a sort of analogue to medical research. Just as the latter, leading to the discovery of causes of specific diseases, has made control, at times eradication of diseases possible, so, it seemed, reliable knowledge about the causes of wars could help to eliminate war from human affairs.

THE FLAW IN THIS reasoning is that it fails to take into account a fundamental difference between diseases and wars. Diseases are natural events that happen to people. Wars are made by people. Hardly anyone resists efforts to eradicate diseases, not even those who might benefit by their ravages, e.g., undertakers. In contrast, there is organized political opposition to efforts directed at reducing the ravages of war, for instance, by serious arms control or disarmament. The opposition comes from powerful groups that derive benefits if not from the wars themselves (although there are those too), at least from activities retated to the preparation forwar. For this reason, a search for the causes of wars (as peace research is most widely perceived) is not as directly relevant to the eradication ofwar as medical research is to the eradication of disease. Knowledge of causes of diseases has often sufficed to design ways of electively combating them. But knowtedge of causes of wars does not suffice to eradicate war. For instance, destructive wars could not be waged if weapons were not available, but possessors of weapons do not readily give them up.

IT IS THE FORMIDABLE obstacles that prevent knowledge from being used in combating the plague of perpetual warfare that should be a principal object of investigation in peace research. If peace research can produce knowledge useful for prevention or eradicating wars, who will use it and how?

AGAIN IT IS INSTRUCTIVE to contrast the products of medical research and the possibleproductsofpeace research. Using the knowledge generated by medical research presents no problem. Avastinstitutional infrastructure stands ready to translate such knowledge into action: the pharmaceutical industry, the medical profession, public health agencies. There is no analogous inftastructure to put knowledge produced by peace research to work. Worse, there is a vast infrastructure ready to translate war research into weapons of mass destruction.

In view of this formidable obstacle to putting the findings of peace research to work, the task of peace education becomes clear. Peace education in today's world should play a role analogous to that played by general education when, following the invention of the printing press, literacy became widespread.

The accessibility of the Scriptures in vulgate languages ushered in the Reformation and broke the stranglehold of the established Church on people's minds. The resulting change of thinking made possible the acceptance of the scientific mode of thinking, and the way was cleared to eradicate superstitions about the physical world. In fact, the new power elites, the entrepreneurial and professional classes had little use for this sort of superstition, which only impeded the application of scientific knowledge in establishing control over the physical environment.

However, the spread of scientific knowledge about the physical world did not suffice to combat superstitions about social and political realities. It is to these that the enlightenment process needs to be extended. To the extent that areas are illuminated that relate to problems of war and peace, conflict and conflict resolution, the task is to be undertaken by the peace educator.

For in the age of mass communication it is the adroit use of verbal hypnosis that fosters the most pernicious superstitions about war and peace.

Of the buzz words used to preserve the legitimacy and robustness of the war system, the most pervasive and powerful shibboleth is "defence." It plays the part once played by "king," "fatherland," "motherland,"etc. Those old idols have become shop-worn and were already largely discredited in the trenches of World War I. In contrast' "defence" retains its power of triggermg instant acquiescence of policies no matter how stupid or dangerous. The first task of peace education ought to be, therefore, the debunking of words by means oF which populations are mesmerized into supporting perpetual preparations for war, buzz words such as "security," "balance of power," "protecting our way of life," "deterrence," and the like.

It is, however, insufficient to realize that one is being deceived. It is also important to have an idea of what motivates the power elites to deceive the people over whose fate they preside, some of them deceive themselves well, falling fortheirown pitch and believing that "defence" actually means defence, that a nation's "security" can be enhanced by making weapons ever more destructive, just as one enhances the fiscal security of a firm by augmenting its resources or the security of one's house by an up-to-date burglar alarm.

On the other band, it is difficult to believe that this sort of simple-minded self-deception is common among astute people. We have here a peculiar phenomenon. lndividual decision makers exhibit "local" rationality, i.e., rationality in the narrow contexts in which they make decisions. But all of these "locally rational" decisions add up to global insanity. The question arises; why is the attention of these decision makers riveted on the circumscribed problems? Are they really so blinded by preoccupation with these problems that they cannot see how their "solutions" bring humankind nearer to an irreversible catastrophe? Or are they mesmerized by the immediate benefits that accrue from their activity profits for the businessman, advancement for the military man, recognition and prestige or simply the satisfaction of meeting a challenge for the scientist, public support for the politician? Sorting out these motivations is not a simple matter. But it is grist for the mill for the peace researcher and for the peace educator.

The aim of all education should be enlightenment. Specifically, that of peace education ought to be enlightenment about the bewildering variety of human conflict. The most prevalent idea about the origins of violence is that it stems From hostility between people. This commonsenseview seems to bejustified in the context ofcommunal strife, civil wars, terrorist acts, and the like. Occasionally xenophobia and interethnic hatred seems to underlie "classical" inter-nation wars. It is important to realize, however, that intergroup hatred is by no means, an universal ingredient of war. It was hardly, ifatall, a motivating force in the so called "cabinet wars" of 18th century Europe when patriotism was unknown and the soldiers of standing armies often did not even know whom they were fighting, let alone why. Neither was hostility between populations a factor in the drift toward war produced by the nuclear arms race of the superpowers. There is no record of chronic enmity between Russians and Americans nor between Americans and the Chinese, who were at one time identified as America's Enemy Number One. The Cold War was frequently attributed to a clashofideologies.At the same time the Soviet Union and China, supposedly ideological allies, approached the brink of war. Dispelling myths underlying facile "explanations" of the roots of war should be an important partof the peace educator's job.

The role of the peace activist can be different in different settings. Wherever conflicts are rooted in enmities generated by age-long inequities, smouldering vendettas, ethnic or racial hatreds, the peace activist's most important role might be that ofa conciliator. It would be futile, however, to cast the peace activist in the same nole where violence or the threat of violence stems from addiction to power rather than from chronic inter-ethnic strife, for example in the case of interventions and neo-colonialwarswagedby the United States throughout the period of the Cold War. In that context, the most important field of action for the peace activist was the organization of opposition, especially at the grass roots level.

The same tactics seem to be appropriate in combating permanent militarization. Ex post facto judgments are risky, but it is not unlikely that mass demonstrations in the West-including instances of civil disobedience-played a part in instigating political change in the Soviet Union by providing a prospect of a successful peace offensive fromthat source, which led to the liquidation of the Cold War. In preparation for a program of peace action in the post-Cold War era, peace activists would be well advised to accumulate some political capital.

Due attention should be paid to special circumstances in which a particular country can find itself. Canada is surely inaverypeculiarsituation. Ifwe look at Canada's so called "defence needs" soberly, that is, with the jaundiced eye of "realism," as the defence establishment is supposed to look at those needs, we are forced to the conclusion that Canada has only one potential "enemy," namely, our neighbor to the south. From no other source is it in the least realistic to expect an invasion of Canadian territory, if only because the logistics of such an invasion would be totally unfeasible. In contrast, an invasion by the U.S. would be logistically possible and under certain circumstances perhaps sufficiently motivated: forexample, ifthe U.S.were determined to extend its nuclear offensive weaponry to the north and if Canada were to refuse this use of its soil.

It is clear that no "defence" in the conventional militarysense would be of avail against an American invasion. The only chance Canadians would have in protecting their independence would be by some form of nonviolent resistance, based essentially on strictly disciplined total refusal to cooperate with the invaders or to obey their orders. The Canadian peace activist might undertake to explain this mode of defence ("defence that makes sense") to concerned Canadians.

This example illustrates the necessity of a tight connection between the three branches of the peace movement: activism, education, and research. Canadian activism-espousing (among other things) the cause of meaningful defence-must necessarily be coupled with far-reaching educational programs, which, in tum, must be supported by research findings in an area that is yet almost completely unexplored: techniques of nonviolent defence.

A similar linkage is needed on the global scale. By its very nature, the peace movement must be global, since its fundamental aim requires global integration and global cornmitment, namely the eradication of war as an institution. Concerted action directed at this goal requires pervasive enlightenment about the nature of the global war system-a parasite or a malignant growth in humanity. Such enlightenment ought to be a principal task ofpeace education. Further, genuine enlightenment must be based on reliable knowledge, in this case of human psychology (both of the individual and of the mass), of the role of ideologies in shaping human consciousness, of the systemic nature oflarge scale processes (e.g., arms races, militarization of economies), of the history of efforts to strengthen the forces of peace and to weaken the forces of war, of the successes and of the failures of those efforts. Above all, it is important to know why and how some of these efforts succeeded and how and why others failed and how to apply this knowledge in organizing future efforts. Pmduction of this knowledge should be the aim of peace research, its dissemination the aim ofpeace education, its utilization in pursuit of the common goal the task of peace activism.

Anatol Rapoport is a professor at the University of Toronto who has written over 400 articles and many books, mainly on Peace Studies topics.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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