- why is war wrong?
- aggression and revenge
- the right to live
- the web of war
- changing the way we think
- pacifism in action
- further reading
- science & responsibility
- 20th century action for peace
- history of pacifism
- voices for peace
- war and peace
THE WEB OF WAR
One of the reasons why it's so difficult to outlaw war is that it's built into the fabric of most societies, installed there by their pasts. As it happens, the earliest archaeological discoveries show that human beings used their evolving brains to make tools, not weapons. But as populations grew, so did problems we know today: quarrels over land, property, resources and power. It was an easy step, though not an intelligent one, to turn a two-person squabble into a group brawl, and so descend into mass violence and bloodshed. From there it was easy, though not far-sighted, to learn how to organise that violence and use it as a threat.
War became a part of human society a long time ago, but for many centuries it was a relatively small part. It dominates historical records, because documenting the everyday lives of ordinary people did not seem important. Men became warriors because it went with the job of being a prince or lord, and footsoldiers because it went with the job of being a lord's servant; some took up soldiering when it became a profession, or joined in as amateurs to support a particular cause. But most men were farmers, labourers, craftworkers, or employed by the church. Sadly, as people came to understand science better, some of them applied their intelligence and learning to the machinery of war. By the 20th century weapons had been devised that could kill many people at once, and not just soldiers; and war had become a multi-billion dollar industry.
Studying world history (with eyes and minds open) in tandem with the history of people who have worked to abolish war gives a fascinating insight into the way our species behaves. The human race went blindly ahead with the advancement of warfare - brutal, brutalising and corrupt - without stopping to think of the consequences for succeeding generations, or for the planet itself, and without listening to enlightened warnings and advice against it. War got a grip on people's minds, societies and ways of life with the strength (and many of the strategies) of a virus. And, not least because of the huge cost of its needs, war now in one way or another touches almost every aspect of life.
Take taxes, for example. In democracies, theoretically people elect governments to budget on their behalf to keep them healthy, educated and comfortable. But huge amounts of taxpayers' money are hived off to pay for 'defence' - which means 'equipment for killing' - and welfare is under-supported as a result. Taxpayers aren't consulted about this; decisions about war are never put to the people. In the UK income tax was originally invented to meet the costs of war. In some countries, especially developing ones, expenditure on arms and armies leaves the general population enduring poverty, disease and deprivation. (And it's often those countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters.)
A major cause of concern is that many people, caught in the historic web of war, find it hard to believe that all war is always wrong. They may agree that it should be avoided if at all possible, but not, they say, at all costs: it should remain a worst-case scenario. But war is worse than that. Think of the terrible events of the First World War - the first to be conducted on an industrial scale. Think of the Second World War's saturation bombing, atomic weapons and, with the Holocaust, organised racism - all of which caused the widespread murder of civilians and made such actions an 'acceptable' part of war. Think of what the Vietnam War did to both civilians and soldiers, and the effects of massacres and 'ethnic cleansing' round the world. Think of the appalling kinds of warfare, global and local, which modern technology has made possible.