February 6, 2013

It’s Time To Change

Is it not time for our species—inheritors and caretakers of this wondrous planet—to renounce the waste of resources and lives taken from us by war?

Increasing evidence indicates that humans in the deep past, our ancient forbearers, excelled at cooperation. [for insights on the origins of human cooperation, see book review of Mothers and Others: on the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding by anthropologist Sarah Hrdy.] This capability allowed us to invade and conquer every habitable landscape on the planet. We shared in caring for each other: for our group, for our young, and for others in times of illness or need.

Growing evidence also suggests that with regard to using deadly violence, we preferred to get along. That whenever our numbers seriously outpaced our resources, we split up and sought out new territory rather than fight to the death.



Homo sapiens’ Option Number 1 for dealing with major conflicts over resources—dispersal, fueled by an aversion to war—can be thought of as a key pressure responsible for driving us to occupy the entire globe.

Anatomically modern humans have been around for roughly 200,000 years. It was at the Agricultural Revolution, only about 10,000 years ago, that we settled down big time. In the filmed lecture, “No More War: the Human Potential for Peace,” evolutionary biologist Judith Hand uses the work of  anthropologist Douglas Fry to make the case that war was invented late in our evolutionary story. That war is a sad, unintended consequence—along with social hierarchies, subordination of women, and slavery—of settling down. By ceasing our nomadic way of life we created a profoundly new environment for ourselves, and our responses to living in that new, settled environment were not all good ones.

Space Shuttle Launch

Space Shuttle Launch

Other responses we made led to other results. Among these, we now control staggering and dangerous powers. We are sculpting the planet itself—changing the land physically, altering the numbers and kinds of other life forms, even shifting the weather.

Most awesomely, beyond the wildest imaginations of all generations before us, we have taken our first steps off-planet. We begin to reach for the stars. Destiny calls. What kind of destiny shall we create?

War is not a genetically built-in trait, inescapable and inevitable. It is a recent cultural invention/habit/meme. We can tolerate it, or dump it, along with other things that have become obsolete, into the dustbin of history. For suggestions how to accomplish that goal see To Abolish War” and “Shaping the Future.

Dismantling the War Machine


To accomplish the eradication of war, a critical mass of global citizens must come to share the following beliefs.

  • Believe that war is a cultural invention, not part of our inescapable biology.
  • Believe that when humans set their collective mind to it, we have the power to achieve pretty much whatever we choose: we can climb the highest mountains on the planet. explore the deepest reaches of the Earth’s seas, fly in the sky, put colonies on the Moon and Mars, end human sacrifice and slavery. We can maintain cultures of war—or create new cultures of peace.
  • Believe that great achievements, certainly one as massive as ending war, require that our efforts be organized, focused, and well led.

Unless these beliefs become the guiding reality for a sufficient number of global citizens, we cannot end war. When, however, these beliefs do become real for enough of us, success is only a matter of will and time.

So the next question becomes, how do we dismantle the war machine?

Something history and logic make evident is that we cannot use violence. We cannot kill our way to liberation from war. Consider World War I. If this war taught us nothing else, World War I—the “War to End All Wars”—brought that truth home with brutal clarity.

What options, then, do we have for undoing the mentality and operational machinery of the beast?

Here we are indebted to nonviolent social transformers of our recent past who used the strategy and tactics of nonviolence to mobilize critical masses of people to dismantle specific evils. Inspiring visionaries like:

  • Mohandas Gandhi, who catalyzed the dismantlement of British rule of India,
  • Suffragist women, who dismantled systems of political enfranchisement for men alone,
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the face and voice of a great movement to dismantled one country’s system that segregated humans based on skin color alone.

Their efforts teach us many things, among them that we will need to use both Constructive and Obstructive approaches. Also, that the strategy used to do the actual dismantling relies on the principle of Lever and Fulcrum.

Constructive and Obstructive Programs

Two synergistic approaches are required. Neither alone will achieve this grand vision.

Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi

The first approach Gandhi called“Constructive Program.” Through good works of peace education, peace making, peace keeping, and peace building we lay the ground for living in a warless future. We shift our cultures from a war mentality to a peace mentality and give people the tools to live in peace.

The second, equally important and synergistic approach is called “Obstructive Program.” Here is how, using the strategy and tactics of nonviolent direct action, we take the war industry apart piece-by-piece.

The essay, “To Abolish War,” compares Constructive and Obstructive approaches, explaining the necessary contributions of each. The essay also:

  • Considers critical gender differences in using physical aggression and concludes that partnership of men and women will be a necessary condition to end war, and
  • Introduces the concepts of levers and fulcrums: the idea that by selecting weak spots of the war machine as places to apply sufficient people pressure, we can remove war’s supporting infrastructure and ultimately war itself.
Legions of organizations and institutions around the globe are dedicated to a variety of Constructive Programs.

But so far, the world does not have many Obstructive Programs, let alone a united, mobilized campaign aimed at the war industry.

We’ve taken only initial steps to end war (e.g., founding the United Nations, establishment of the International Court of Justice, actions directed at eliminating nuclear weapons, and treaties against the use of landmines and cluster munitions). But AFWW believes the time is right for the global community to unite in a way that will create an unstoppable movement to overcome all forces—financial and political—supporting the continuation of war. See “Shaping the Future.”

Levers and Fulcrums

Archimedes - Lever on a Fulcrum

Archimedes – Lever on a Fulcrum

The great pioneers of nonviolent social transformation succeeded by skillful—even masterful—use of the principle of lever and fulcrum. Each analyzed the nature of the beast to be defeated, they found its weak points (the fulcrums), and they mobilized people power (their lever) to apply pressure to the weak point.

The war machine, which functions primarily as a massive money-maker for the few and a job creator for multitudes, is not simply going to fall apart because a great many people want it to. Too much money and power is invested in it. Prayers alone will not do it. Peacebuilding, peace-education, and peacemaking alone or in combination will not do it.

We can tackle this enormous dismantling task by using directed action against fulcrums. Such action not only weakens the war machine, it recruits ever more champions to the cause of ending war. The essay “Shaping the Future” provides examples of possible fulcrums and how to unite a critical mass of people power to apply sufficient leverage.

A Real-World Example

When a critical mass of citizens decide that a war must end and they are determined to make it happen no matter what the cost to themselves, then that war will end.

Liberian Women on the Move

Liberian Women on the Move

For example, after a brutal eight-year war that included mayhem and rape, the women of Liberia had had enough. Christian and Muslim women, who previously had not had much to do with each other, united in common cause—to force the warring factions to make peace. The article “Liberian Women Demand and Get Peace!” describes how these women used nonviolence and persistence to achieve their goal. An award-winning film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” documents details of their efforts.

Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee

In 2011, one of the most prominent women energizing the effort, Leymah Gebowee, won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the woman who subsequently became Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, andTawakul Karman, an activist from Yemen.

Ending a war can be done. Ending war itself can also be done…when a critical mass of global citizens decide that enough is enough.

AFWW sees the nucleus for a global ending-war movement in the activities of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. In late October 2010 they led a delegation to Palestine and Israel, seeking to support women in both communities who want to end the seemingly endless conflict there.

In January of 2013 they sent a delegation to Liberia to meet with grassroots women leaders who are playing an important role in the challenging work of maintaining and maturing their hard-won peace. You can read about the Nobel Women’s delegation to Liberia here, and check out their activities on Facebook.

While their current major focus is on ending violence against women in conflict situations, I foresee a time when the Nobel Women’s Initiative partners with a great many organizations around the globe in beginning the campaign to free us from all war, freeing women, children and all of us from behavior that has absolutely become obsolete.

Enough is enough! It’s time to change.

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