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ISSUE 71 AUTUMN 2015 Full pdf


Peace Matters Index

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ONLINE contents
Selection from paper publication

- assassination inc uk
- believe it or not
- sinister forces at work
- keir hardie centenary
- writing for peace
- women making peace
- migration, climate and security
- we can stop wounding the world



Wounding the World - how military violence and war-play imvade our lives. Joanna Bouke. Vitrago 2015.
Joanna will be speaking On remembrance Sunday in Tavistock Sq (see p3)


WE ARE A peaceful people. Few of us actually enjoy hurting others; even enthusiastic sadists ensure their partners have a safe-word in case delight turns into distress. Most people recognize the look of pain on other people’s faces, even if they are strangers. Many of us actively seek to reduce or eradicate other people’s suffering. One of the ways we can do this is by resisting the militarisation of our society.

The first step is acknowledging that it doesn’t have to be this way: we can decide not to remain helplessly enthralled to military ideologies, practices and symbols. One of the most debilitating myths for people seeking to forge more peaceful worlds is the assertion that armed conflict is inevitable. So many times when writing this book I have been told that wars have ‘been part of the human condition since the struggle between Cain and Abel, and regrettably they are likely to remain so’.' Pacifist pronouncements are often portrayed as hopelessly utopian, and one strand of the political left worry that they forestall the possibility of armed struggle from below, or by the oppressed.

Does this make me a naive romantic? No. I am optimistic for three reasons. The first is that the history of humanity has been one of cooperation more than competition. Armed conflict between nations is not inevitable. It is helpful to remind ourselves that conventional wars today are creations of sovereign states. Equating international wars with spontaneous individual aggression is simply wrong. Wars serve instrumental purposes; they involve the investment of trillions of dollars, pounds, euros, roubles or yuan. They are a social activity. As such, they can be unmade as well as made.

But secondly, I don’t think that pacifism is a dangerous fantasy that will hamper the struggle against tyrants. Armed struggle by the oppressed is no longer the way in which revolutions take place. There is no Bastille or Winter Palace to storm. In the twenty-first century, radical change of the social and economic order demands different approaches.

The final reason it is not a utopian dream is because disobedience and defiance are what it means to be human. As political philosopher Costas Douzinas reminds us, ‘Humanity starts in disobedience. Adam and Eve defy God’s command and leave the Garden of Eden. Prometheus steals fire from the Olympian Gods and gives it to men alongside writing, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, starting civilization . . . Humanity is born in acts of disobedience, defiance, and resistance." Throughout human history, wherever there is power there has been resistance.
If the first step requires acknowledging that we don’t have to passively accept the inevitability of war and violence, subsequent steps are more difficult to identify. Personally, I don’t have any patience for dogmatists. Activists who insist on laying out rigid blueprints for a better world fail to engage with the awe-inspiring, creative diversity of human existence. Their cardboard cut-out figures are easily squashed by the vast corporate interests involved in armament design, production and use. We don’t all have to join a peace movement (although I believe it is a good idea) nor should we expect everyone to demonstrate vociferously in the street.

Each of us possesses proclivities, skills and spheres of influence that enable us to make a difference in our own local contexts. Wherever we are situated - as homemakers, academics, labourers, shopkeepers, secretaries, publishers, journalists, civil servants, teachers, entertainers, novelists, artists, lawyers, doc-tors, scientists, unemployed and so on - we can make a difference globally. The only crucial element is this: a refusal to outsource political engagement.

Joanna Bourke


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