Posts Tagged ‘nonviolence’


How Do We End War? An Action Plan

June 23, 2013

Judith Hand, Ph.D.


For over ten years I’ve studied war. And I’ve concluded from my perspective as an evolutionary biologist that if we want it bad enough and make the choice to act, we can end war.

Pollaiuolo - Men in Battle

Pollaiuolo – Men in Battle

I’m not referring to ending conflict, which is clearly not possible. Nor am I talking about other ills that grow from the use of violence, such as murder, rape, and domestic abuse. These behaviors can be found even in cultures that do not make war, or societies that are nonviolent or relatively so (think of the Amish, Quakers, and even Norwegians). I’m talking about ending war, where groups of men take up weapons and bond together to go kill, indiscriminately, men who belong to another group.

Red HOW word around questions.

And a fascinating pattern emerges when I speak with long-time, dedicated peace activists, people who have spent years struggling to end war. In one way or another they ask me the same question. Not, can we end war? They believe we can and have been trying mightily to do it. The question they ask is, how?

They are stymied. How do we do it? How can we do something to defeat this behemoth that no activists from generations before us were able to defeat? A monster that they themselves have been striving to defeat. How do we dismantle an entity having tentacles that reach into virtually every aspect of our lives? That provides employment for many millions of global citizens. That reaches even into our homes, to take from us our sons to serve, and if necessary to die, in its wars.


A second question is a partner of the first: why, they ask me, do I think we can achieve something men and women of good will from previous generations could not? What has convinced me that we might actually do such an amazing thing?

My conclusions are based on my research:

  • into war,
  • into our biology as it relates to using physical aggression,
  • into the power of nonviolent direct action to bring about social transformation,
  • and on my expertise as a behaviorist.

I have written extensively about my results and conclusions at the website

PaulMasson - NoWineBeforeItsTimePerhaps my most succinct essay on why we can do this now is a blog. It explains why our time differs from preceding epochs in ways that give us, if we grasp the chance, a window of opportunity to make this hugely historic shift from war. It is entitled “To date nonviolence movements were ‘before their time.’ Now they are poised to change history.

The blog provides an introduction to the nature of using nonviolence for social transformation, beginning with a review of the work of three powerful users of nonviolence: Alice Paul, Mohandas Gandhi, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

And then it explains the two reasons why the people of our time are finally ready to seriously explore the possibility that we need a transformation. This is firstly because a critical mass of global citizens know “in their bones” that what we are doing is not working. They grasp with deep unease that we desperately need a new way to live with each other.

Earth “Global Village”Our time is hugely different because our global home is now “full.” From our isolated beginnings in Africa we now occupy all niches on the planet that are readily habitable by humans. It is no longer possible to escape from each other by emigrating to a frontier, moving to a place with fresh resources and unoccupied land. Our backs are to the wall, and we are floundering as we spend huge resources on war that are desperately needed for along list of critical needs.

YinYangAnd a second reason our time is radically different is that we have finally figured out that excluding women as leaders and decision-makers has upset a balance between approaches to conflict resolution. We have significantly eliminated the part of us that favors compromise over fighting in ways that have plunged us into roughly 10,000 years of war after war after war. The rise of powerful women around the globe has begun to restore balance in our approaches to resolving conflicts. The addition to the public space of women as decision-makers and trendsetters is establishing real and consistent power behind forces that seek compromise, negotiation, and peace with justice rather than expending resources on war. The forces of ying and yang are being balanced so that they equally share in decision-making. This change in the status of women is in its infancy, but it is accelerating at an astonishingly rapid rate.

These two enormous changes in our reality make us willing to open minds to the idea of change. We are more willing to consider the way of nonviolence.


But the question of “how” still remains. How do we move the global community from the cultures of violence in which we now live to a future in which physical violence, particularly in the form of war, is no longer standard practice? Two essays on my website explore “how to end war” in detail (“To Abolish War” and “Shaping the Future.”)

Moreover, I’ve distilled the essence of all of this research into an Action Plan for initiating a focused campaign to end war. The Action Plan provides 1) specifics for how to assemble the necessary leadership, 2) a shared unifying vision, and 3) a strategy and tactics to shape a paradigm shift that would rival in magnitude the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. I’ve called it The Nonviolence Revolution.

The Action Plan is built around “Constructive Programs” (such as peace education, work to shift our economies, reaching young men so that they become part of the solution) that are grouped into nine cornerstones, and “Obstructive Programs” using nonviolent direct action to directly tackle the war machine, the goal being to dismantle it piece-by-piece.

An companion essay, “Dismantling the War Machine,” offers more detail of how to take on the war machine using the lever of people power.

ACT Business Services Logo

The mechanism for the “how” is based on a successful approach pioneered by the International Committee to Ban Landmines (ICBL) (see the book “Banning Landmines”). This approach works to unite individuals and organizations with a great many diverse interests into common cause and has been called “massively distributed collaboration.” It is a way to coordinate and direct people power so that we end war and in the process create safe, secure communities for our children and the children of humanity’s future.

There is a “how.” There is hope. The choice is ours. It’s time to accept the challenge to act and begin the work. Check out the Action Plan and make your own decision as to whether you think it might actually work, and if you’d like to get on board.


Changing the Biological Chemistry of Nonviolence Movements: Women on the Front Lines

March 5, 2011

by Judith Hand

Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”

It’s pretty certain that if we want to abolish war, for example, the last 10,000 or so years of history indicate that we’re going to have to do something different. Here’s something very different: citizens pushing nonviolently for any kind of social transformation should consider putting women on the front lines.

Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

These are women demonstrators in Egypt during the 2011 uprising. TV footage of surging masses of men leave the impression that the protestors were virtually all male, but this is in part because the men push themselves into the spotlight. Articles from reporters indicate that many women were not only present in Tahrir Square, they made significant contributions  (RFE/RL, Ahmed, Global Post , Saoub). It is arguably possible that the presence of a critical mass of women was in no small part responsbile for the demonstrators’ consistent peacefulness.

Here is a radical proposition, but one worth consideration. Movements committed to pressuring for any social transformation using nonviolence should, whenever feasible, adopt a controversial but potentially very powerful change in tactics. Rather than mobilize men as the majority participants of marches, sit-ins, demonstrations, work-stoppages and so on, women should be the protestors.

New York Suffrage Parade

Why? Because this immediately alters the conflict chemistry. The context is no longer a male contest of wills, which provokes emotions that easily escalate into violence. Instead, men who are the enforcers of the system are facing, and threatening, determined women: their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters.

This single change maximally reduces the likelihood that the situation will turn violent. It does not guarantee it. As with all nonviolent direct actions, there will be risks for the activists, perhaps even arrest or beatings. If their opposition is led by a brutal dictator—a Hitler or a Kadafi—the risks may be to life itself.  But women roused to a worthy cause do not lack courage.

Force-feeding a suffragist

In a nonviolence movement, keeping a protest from turning violent greatly magnifies the protestors’ power. As an added plus, it does not require laborious training of men in how to respond nonviolently when attacked, something that is essential to well-planned nonviolent protests where men are going to be the chief protestors; women are already strongly inclined to avoid turning physically violent.

Consider that the successful U.S. women’s movement to secure the vote was nonviolent…but required determined and courageous women. As a recent, real-world example, study the peace campaign of the Liberian Women’s Peace Movement.

Liberian Women Rock!

Liberian Women’s Peace Movement

Liberia isn’t a “natural” African nation. It was formed when freed slaves from America returned to Africa at the end of the U.S. civil war. This movement didn’t last very long, but it resulted in a country with a constitution, a democracy, and a name.

Things did not go well.  Over time, Liberia degenerated into a tyrannical dictatorship, most recently under the presidency of Charles Taylor. In 1999, a “second civil war” broke out. This set off the barbaric use of rape, mutilation, and murder, something seen elsewhere in Africa as well. Some studies indicate that 90% of Liberian girls and women would experience rape in the lifetime.

After eight years of this mayhem, social activist Leymah Gbowee had a dream one night and when she awoke, she decided to call the women of her church together to pray for the end of the war.

Leymah Gbowee

 By the end of the meeting the women had pretty much decided that something more than prayer was necessary. They decided to begin a campaign, a nonviolent campaign, in which they would seek to have an audience with Taylor, to convince him to join in peace negotiations. They would wear white T-shirts and turbans, they would stake out the road along which his caravan drove each day, and they would stake out the market. They would not give up until Taylor conceded to see them.

Then a woman stood up to say that, the fact was, she wasn’t a Christian. She was a Muslim, and she knew a lot of Muslim women who felt exactly the same way. Women of the two faiths joined together and began their “action.”

It was said of Charles Taylor, who put on a great show of piety,  that he was so evil that he could “pray the devil out of hell.” An inspiring film entitled “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” documents how things worked out, including how the women of Liberia held the warring men hostage until a peace agreement was signed.  It also shows how the women were supported by men of good will who were also eager to see the bloodshed cease.  The support of good men was also the case with the U.S. suffragists; for example, a great deal of the money for the movement came from men, most of the women having no money of their own.  But the women were the front lines.

But that’s not the end of the Liberian story. When it came time for the next election, the women of Liberia helped elect Harvard Educated Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the first elected women head of state on the African continent.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

At this time (2009), Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberia’s men and women struggle to build on this wonderful transformation in a land that is bitterly poor and crippled with a debilitating history of strife. But clearly, a determined and savvy application of nonviolence could cut through a nasty, brutal, violent civil war even in this day and age. And such a movement can be achieved by determined women who have the support of men of good will.

Many if not most men and women will initially respond negatively to this reversal of traditional roles.  We are used to men being the leaders and women being the helpers. But women seeking change and wanting to do it nonviolently should not automatically dismiss the potential for tactical advantage of putting themselves on the front lines whenever conditions allow. And men should be smart enough, and humble enough, to support them in every way possible.