Research Project for Peacemakers
December 5, 2012
“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.
“Of course people don’t want war. Why should a poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best thing he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?”
"War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.
Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.
"In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other."
From Wangari Maathai's Nobel Lecture, delivered in Oslo, 10 December 2004.
When the rich wage war, it's the poor who die.
As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist (1891)
A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe.
It would be naive to think that the problems plaguing mankind
today can be solved with means and methods which were applied or seemed to work
in the past.
What we need is Star Peace and not Star Wars.
There have been many excellent studies showing how companies induce people to buy products or services that they could easily get along without. Vance Packard started with his 1957 classic, The Hidden Persuaders. More recently, Martin Lindstrom’s Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy show that the companies are far more sophisticated than they were in 1957.
The surprise is that there has been zero detailed research showing how the military industrial complex pulls the big con in history: telling us that war is glorious and necessary.
Progressives must recognize the awesome sales job made by government propaganda that war is necessary and glorious, like a football game. The war sport is like mountain climbing or deep sea diving, far more dangerous than everyday life. As in a football game, we root for our side to win because a defeat would bring catastrophic consequences. In World War Two, a victory by the Axis Powers would have brought slavery for all and extermination for many.
As a teenager (born in 1944), I saw war as a great adventure. Of course, a fellow could get killed. In the comic books, movies and documentaries, I did not see burn victims nor injured soldiers who lost limbs. Dead soldiers looked like they were asleep.
Hans Zinnser in his book, Rats, Lice and History, cites peacetime boredom as a reason for men to support war. He gave a hypothetical example showing a man who worked 10 years in the same job selling shoes. There was nothing for him to look forward to. War would mean a break in the routine, adventure and glory. Front line soldiers have comradeship found nowhere else in life. If you get killed, the country will honor your family with some benefits.
Those who make the movies, songs and poems do a top-notch job showing war as a contest between good and evil. This has all the drama involved in a close sports event. I remember the 1991 season for the Houston Oilers reading something like this every Sunday morning in the Houston Post:
This afternoon’s game against the Jets will be a dogfight. The lead will change five times. The winning team will be the one that scores last, probably in the last minute.
The sports writer was correct. With excellent plays on offense and defense on both sides, the fans see a nail-biting game. In the last three minutes and 22 seconds in the fourth quarter, the Oilers are down by five on their own 23 yard line. At this stage, a field goal will not help. The whole field is four down territory. They must march down field and march they do. With some time on the clock, they do not have to throw on every down. With seven seconds left on the clock, the Oilers cross the goal line with the game’s final touchdown.
The best war propaganda ever made was the 1952 NBC series Victory at Sea. The editors reviewed 11,000 miles of film, prepared a stirring musical score and narrative making 26 episodes lasting about 26 minutes each. Television reviewers wondered who would want to watch war documentaries on a Sunday afternoon. By the second week, they got their answer: just about everybody.
On YouTube see the finale for the episode, Beneath the Southern Cross, which described the successful efforts by the American and Brazilian navies to protect convoys in the South Atlantic. This is the ending narrative:
And the convoys come through,
Bearing the wealth of the Southern Hemisphere,
Refusing to pay one cent for tribute but willing to spend millions for defense,
The American republics have swept from the ocean highways of the South Atlantic their common foe.
Spread wide across the sea
Guarded by the might of nations that can fight side by side because they have learned to live side by side.
The ships stream toward their goal - Allied victory.
Progressives must offer a peace vision through songs, poems, short stories, movies and plays. Offer contests with some prize money and much recognition. My favorite peace vision comes from the 1967 hit, Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells:
Snoppy’s adventures as a fighter pilot and his Sopwith Camel are well known. Since there are no depictions showing the dead or wounded, people see war as an adventure, a break from everyday humdrum life. I ask the cartoonists, the television writer and move producers to show the peacenik, the social worker, the homeless person, the teacher, the alternative energy executive, the neighborhood organizer, the priest and the environmental activist
I have not encountered a peace web site yet that reaches out to those who are currently outside the movement. This may mean hiring Madison Avenue firms for recommendations. After all, they are good at appealing to emotions to make people buy items that they can easily do without. Coming up with appeals will be a challenge for them since this would mean that people will be buying fewer goods from their regular clients.
Peacemakers must offer specifics. Otherwise, war criminals like George W. Bush and Barack Obama will talk about peace until the cows come home. Here are some specifics:
1) reduce the bloated US military budget by 90%,
2) tax international arms sales,
3) begin a moratorium on weapons research,
4) start a world-wide anti-poverty program,
5) train our troops for disaster relief,
6) establishing a cabinet level Department of Peace,
7) reduce nuclear weapons to zero, and,
8) negotiate to take all the world’s nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert.
Note that each proposal can become a bumper sticker. I invite progressives to copy the excellent communication skills demonstrated our right-winger friends, who have done well with simple slogans. People can instantly understand what right-wingers want.
Make no mistake. Humans must end war or war will end us and all life on our planet. This is not just an idea from hippies and Quakers. See this plea from General Douglas MacArthur when he spoke to the US Congress on April 19, 1951:
“I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes...
"Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of
nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible
of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We
have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable
system, our Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is
theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence, an improvement of human
character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science,
art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past two
thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh."
Environmentalists may be the first major group to accept war abolition although, up to now, they have been indifferent to military spending. I hope they wake up for two reasons: 1) a nuclear war will end our civilization in an afternoon and 2) the resources devoted to the military means crumbs off the table for everything else. We all want cleaner energy and to reverse global warming but all these efforts achieve little as long as the military goes full speed ahead.
Since Lloyd George remarked at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 that making peace was more complicated than making war, correcting this charade will not be easy. However, it must be done. With courage and vision, humans can follow Isaiah by turning swords into plowshares saving ourselves and all life on our planet.
Useful research material:
Kurlansky, Mark (with a forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea.
Regan, Geoffrey. Picking the Past: Reclaiming the Past from Politicians. The Spanish language title is better: Guerras, Politicos y Mentiras: Como nos enganan manipulando el pasado y el presente (Wars, Politicians and Lies: How They Deceive by Manipulating the Past and the Present).
Ed O’Rourke is a retired certified public accountant living in Medellin, Colombia. He is currently writing a book, World Peace, The Blueprint: You Can Get to There from Here.