Monthly column by Pat Hynes
Greenfield Recorder, September 6, 2023 

(online here; see also at Common Dreams)

I am heartened each time I come across a study affirming that waging war is not an innate part of human nature, that we humans are just as likely to be peaceful as we are to be violent. To quote the revered anthropologist Margaret Mead, “warfare is only an invention — not a biological necessity.”

And why do I cherish these findings by historians, anthropologists, psychologists and others that we are not doomed to inevitable human conflict?

In my lifetime, there has been barely a year that my government has not been at war overtly or covertly. By some calculations the United States has been involved in more than 100 wars since 1776 — early on with Native Americans to steal their land, claim their natural resources, and imprison them on reservations. Between 1945 and 1989 the U.S. attempted to change other (many democratic) countries’ governments 72 times. More than 4.5 million people have died in the more than two decades of post-9/11 U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Libya.

But war is relatively new in the more than 200,000-year history of us Homo sapiens: evidence of war dates back to 10-12,000 years ago, especially with the emergence of more settled communities.

Further, societies that were once extremely warlike are now peaceful: the countries of Scandinavia, for example, and the tribes of the Iroquois. Ireland, Austria and Switzerland are neutral Western European countries, not members of NATO; and Costa Rica has eliminated its military in a hemispheric region where conflict has been rife. All undercut the notion of war being a deeply engrained, inevitable biological behavior.

Moreover, experts who have studied the history of violent and nonviolent responses to conflict have found that violence is not the most effective nor successful way to resolve country- level disputes.

Recent landmark research by political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan of movements from 1900 through 2006 to overthrow dictatorships, expel foreign occupations or achieve self-determination reveal that nonviolent resistance campaigns were more than twice as successful as violent insurrections with the same goals.

And the trend is increasing even in extremely brutal authoritarian conditions. Elsewhere Chenoweth found that when women have leadership roles, they are “more likely to maintain nonviolent discipline … in resistance campaigns against repressive regimes.”

Especially uplifting, too, are the multitudinous creative individuals and movements in recent decades at work for peace in their countries. In 2005, 1,000 outstanding women peacemakers from 150 countries were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Why 1,000 women? Because “creating peace requires a culture of peace practiced by millions in our daily life,” explained the Nobel prize sponsors. Their slogan, “I am not a wall that divides — I am a crack in that wall” conjures up the singer/ songwriter Leonard Cohen’s “there are cracks in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”

A final piece of wisdom about the necessity of sustaining peace following violent conflict comes from a woman who gained her expertise through innovative conflict resolution and persistent peacebuilding.

Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee brought Christian and Muslim women together in her country to end Liberia’s brutal 14-year-long civil war in 2003. According to Gbowee, “Stopping a war does not bring lasting peace.” Peace persists through peacebuilding, using community organizing, and expressing dissent; teaching peace and nonviolence; and prioritizing the basic issues of women’s, racial, and social equality and environmental protection.

On International Peace Day this Sept. 21, imagine an unstoppable wave of peace actions sweeping across our country like that of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. That day Congress closed so its members could attend environmental teachins; 20 million citizens and politicians (one-fifth of the population!) came out for marches, rallies, and concerts; and 10 million children participated in peace teach-ins in their schools. A surge of environmental legislation, including the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, followed in the next few years.

May we be part of finding the lost path to peace: by peace education and active bystander programs in every school; by interracial and interfaith collaborations; by reparations for the historical injustices of slavery and theft of land from Native Americans; by ensuring women’s full equality including women’s’ reproductive rights; by beating warheads into windmills through shifting our government’s priorities from militarism to renewable technologies; and by demanding that our lawmakers have a real democratic debate on war, peace, and the military budget.

As Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “When will our conscience grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

Pat Hynes of Montague is a board member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and member of Nuclear Free Future.