Posts Tagged ‘peace’


Ending War is Achievable. Five Reasons Why.

July 25, 2016

by Judith Hand, Ph.D.


A meme can be an idea or belief that spreads throughout a culture by non-genetic means. This essay is about an idea powerful enough to radically transform human history. If this meme spreads across the globe by word of mouth and social media and captures the minds of a critical mass of global citizens and powerful movers-and-shakers, it can usher in a social paradigm shift every bit as profound as the Agricultural, Industrial, and Digital Revolutions.

Have you ever wondered what the future will look like? For you? Or maybe for the future’s children or grandchildren? Specifically, do you fear it will be forever blighted by war?

Let’s start with a little survey, asking two questions. First, do you think it’s possible humans can build a permanent base on the Moon? Here’s question two: Based on your life experience, do you think it’s possible that we could end war? This isn’t “would you like us to end war?” Rather it’s “Do you believe it is, in fact possible?” Not a lot of rational thought, please…just, what is your first, gut response?

Most people believe that putting a base on the moon is a possibility. In contrast, the vast majority of people asked these questions say they don’t believe ending war is possible. So, if you’re a skeptic about ending war, you absolutely aren’t alone.


This skepticism, that we can’t end war, is the single biggest barrier to doing it. We can’t accomplish any great feat, including putting a permanent colony on the Moon, if we start out “knowing” that it’s not possible. Great feats are accomplishd when at least one person has the vision of something and the belief that it can be done, one way or the other.

Keep an open mind, and  hopefully what follows will convince you that the answer to whether or not we can abolish war is “yes. It IS possible.”


I’ll mention later how I was drawn into the study of war, but my background prepared me for it in several ways. I’m an evolutionary biologist, with a Ph.D. from UCLA. What’s relevant to the study of war is that my areas of specialization are in communication, conflict resolution, gender differences, and primate behavior (including human behavior). The fancy name for the study of animal behavior is “ethology.” Since I’ve been studying war and peace from this perspective for the last 15 or so years, I’m am now also officially a Peace Ethologist. Additionally, as an undergraduate major in cultural anthropology, I studied non-patriarchal and nonviolent cultures.

Hand_Shift The Beginning

I put the results of my work on war and peace into this book. Also relevant is that I’m a published novelist, which I mention briefly later.

Lest we wander astray into other aspects of human lethal behavior, WAR needs to be defined as I use it. Murder is not war. Revenge killings of specific individuals, if you will, feuding over particular grievances, is not war.  War is when people (overwhelmingly men) band together to indiscriminately kill people in another group and the community’s noncombatants and religious leaders sanction their actions. It’s the sanctioned banding together to kill indiscriminately that distinguishes war from other forms of killing. We’re NOT going to erase murder and revenge anytime soon…these go way way back into human experience, maybe even before we became humans. We’re only considering the potential to abolish war.


Now imagine a Star Trek Future. In the TV show’s first year or so we were never on Earth. But what we knew about the Starship Enterprise’s crew was that on their home world there was no money, no poverty, and no war. They were clearly using their resources to invent and do fabulous things, like mounting starships to explore the galaxy. What we’re considering is whether that kind of Gene Roddenberry vision of an amazing and positive Homo sapiens future is completely out of the question?

Although we’ll be exploring the potential for a positive future, what is presented here is presented against the backdrop of the belief of many that it’s entirely possible onrushing violent movements like ISIS, or a mistaken triggering of a nuclear war, or some totally unpredictable event like a global pandemic could plunge us into a new “dark age” or “Mad Max” future of perpetual war. We are arguably in a race against time and possible misfortune. To stop what we don’t want and build what we do, realism, not wishful thinking, is required. So we’ll be seeking enlightenment and examining positive potential, with the understanding that nothing is guaranteed.

Six kinds of evidence are presented to support the view that we can end war:

  • First we tackle immediately the idea that war is “part of human nature,” a genetically determined, inescapable trait. Something we could only eliminate, for example, if we performed generations of selective breeding for less violent males. To put that idea to rest we look first at cultures that tell us about our deep evolutionary past, namely those of nomadic foragers…often referred to as hunter-gatherers.
  • Then we look at internally peaceful, more complex state-level cultures, ancient and modern.
  • We then review six key historical shifts that set us up to end war.
  • We consider the existence of and facilitating conditions for peace systems.
  • Some examples of rapid cultural change serve to counteract the notion that ending war would take hundreds of years.
  • Finally, we’ll look at a few of an impressive number of recent historical changes that are already moving us in the direction of a global peace system.

So we begin with the nomadic foragers to tackle the issue of genetic inevitability. This is because these people are our best window into our deep human past; they reflect how Homo sapiens likely lived for hundreds of thousands of years of behavioral evolution, before we started living in settlements or villages. These were the eons during which we evolved to be what we are today.

Doug Fry.001

The anthropologist Douglas Fry did an analysis of the anthropological literature on many aspects of hunter-gatherer cultures, 35 of them. If you lump them all together, no particular pattern emerges when it comes to war. BUT Fry separated them into two groups, what he called simple hunter-gatherers and complex hunter-gatherers.HG Table.001

If you separate them, some interesting patterns do emerge. This table lists 8 social variables down the left column: things like food storage and population density and slavery. We can compare these traits between the simple hunter-gatherers in the central column and complex hunter-gatherers to the right. There’s a fundamental, critical resource difference between them having to do with food supply and mobility that I believe relates to the emergence of war. Compare primary foods, top left column. Simple hunter-gatherers rely on highly mobile game. Complex hunter-gatherers on marine resources or plants, with the result that food storage is rare for simple-hunter gatherers, but it’s typical for complex hunter-gatherers.

Note the effect on mobility: The complex hunter-gatherers are settled or mostly settled. They have a food source sufficiently rich and stable that they can settle down. The classic example of settled hunter-gatherers were tribes along the north-west coast of the United States that depended on massive salmon runs. This settling down changed our way of life in ways that produced many consequences. For example, effects on population size, low vs. higher population densities; the non-acceptance of competition as a desired trait vs. the encouragement of competition. Note especially that for simple hunter-gatherers the political/social system is egalitarian, not hierarchical, meaning that men and women have equal social status. Later in the essay we’ll return to the importance of male/female egalitarianism.

What’s relevant at this point is to look at WARFARE on the bottom left and note that nomadic, simple hunter-gatherers, who arguably most resemble our ancient ancestors, rarely make war. In fact, and most significantly, some of those cultures have never been recorded as making war. This is consistent with the emerging theory that our success as a species is due to our impressive capacity for cooperation — the “humans as cooperators” hypothesis — rather than competitively killing each other — the “man the warrior” hypothesis. Also, this is our first evidence, and strong evidence, that making war is NOT a genetic predisposition. Otherwise all of these people, including the simple hunter-gatherers would commonly make war.

Now you might be thinking, “Well, sure they don’t make war, because their life-styles are so simple there’s nothing, not even stored food, to fight over. All civilizations have made war, right?” Actually, there’s evidence to suggest that that assumption isn’t true. Which brings us to the Minoan culture.

CreteInTheMed.001The Minoans lived in the Bronze Age on the Mediterranean island of Crete, approximately one thousand six hundred years, BCE. Perhaps you’ve been to Crete. If so, you may well have visited what tour guides call the Palace of King Minos.

Knossos.001This is an artist’s reconstruction of that impressive architectural work. Perhaps it was a palace. Perhaps it was a temple complex. Many experts believe these were the people of the mythical, wonderful Atlantis.

I mentioned earlier that I’m also a novelist, and it was my story about the Minoans (Voice of the Goddess ) that drew me into work on war and peace. We haven’t deciphered much of their written language, but numerous lovely pieces of art and artifacts indicate that they were a sophisticated, state-level culture of the kind that some anthropologists call women-centered: that is, women were prominent and powerful. Their chief divinity was a goddess.

MinoanArt.001Their art shows they were lovers of nature. And most significantly for this essay, we have no compelling evidence that they engaged in war. This is what intrigued me. In two books (Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace and Shift) I present evidence for their lack of war, and reasons why and how they could have achieved a state-level without war. A key reason, I believe, is that women, for reproductive reasons, have a strong preference for social stability. A much stronger preference than men’s. I explore the reasons for this female preference in essays, books (see Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace and Shift), and talks. Surely a desire to avoid social turmoil and in particular, physical conflicts, would have had a powerful impact in this culture where women were influential. It was most probably expressed and reinforced through their religion.

It’s notable that over a thousand years BCE, while people on the mainland were living in crude villages, this palace or temple complex had flush toilets. The Minoans had at least one paved road which ran 5 miles to their main port. They built a water aqueduct. A strong case can be made that manufacture and trade, not war, were basic to building this sophisticated culture.


Crete is strategically placed on Mediterranean trade routes, and products of Minoan origin are found all around the Mediterranean. Frankly, debates rage over whether they made war or not, because all historical records—that is, written records—do indicate that all state-level cultures practiced war. This is one reason why some people argue that war is inevitable.

But for the Minoans, there are no artifacts depicting war, or a king, or humiliation of enemies, or slavery or human sacrifice. There are, in fact, no depictions of domination. If they reached a sophisticated, state-level without war, Minoans would be, so far, historically unique. But the written record may not tell the whole truth of our ancient past.

That’s why ongoing research is so intriguing at sites of two other ancient cultures with no deciphered written language, and so far no evidence of war, but much evidence of trading:


the Harappa in the Indus Valley between India and Pakistan, and the Caral on the west coast of Peru. If these and others, like the Minoans, built sophisticated cultures on manufacture and trade, not war, that also tells us that war is not a genetically encoded inevitability. It’s worth noting that it would also support the theory that what has made our species so successful is our astounding capacity for cooperation, not killing each other. Now at this time, the hypothesis that the rise of civilizations was first based on trade, as opposed to war, is very speculative. So to advance beyond speculation, let’s look to the world we live in.


The red dots on the map indicate the centers of distribution of over 80 cultures that anthropologists classify as nonviolent/and or/non-warring. They’re NOT utopias. They have arguments and conflicts. But using physical aggression…even things like pushing and shoving…is rare to never.

AmishToNorwegians.001You may know some of their names: Amish, Hopi, Sami/Laplanders, and Norwegians. Note especiallly the very twenty-first-century Norwegians.  Other societies that live without war are faith communities: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Baha’i, Mennonites, and Hutterites. Non-warring religious groups live within a state-level, warring culture, but they create a way of life that avoids war. There are others less familiar all around the world. Again, these are not utopias, or perfect humans. The point here is that their existence is another example showing that making war is a very very bad—arguably evil—cultural phenomenon, but not a genetic inevitability.

So bottom line, war is overwhelmingly a result of nurture, not nature. There is some genetic component: virtually every human trait has some genetic component. Just standing upright and being able to hold anything, including a weapon, has a genetic component. Part of my work is to find out what genetic traits and environmental conditions make us vulnerable to calls for war. But this presentation isn’t about why we make war, but reasons to believe that we can end it. So, we now move forward to consider why the time we live in uniquely presents the opportunity to do so.


Remarkable events, beginning roughly 700 years ago, have given us an open time-window of opportunity. These changes created conditions that offer the hope that we can succeed in bringing off what would be a monumental, historical, paradigm shift away from dominator cultures and war, a shift that people of good will who had tried before us could never achieve.

The first two changes brought the enlightenment in the Western World, the Renaissance and Reformation. The reformation in particular encouraged persons to think for themselves…beginning with their approach to the divine. They could talk to God directly, without an intermediary. With the Renaissance, the individual came to be viewed as something of worth, not just an obedient tool or possession of a king or of a state. The effect of both of these massive shifts in thinking about individual behavior and worth allow now for the possibility that people can think for themselves, and if they choose, reject a ruler’s call to war.

The next big change was introduction of the modern Scientific Method. Beginning roughly 350 years ago, this way to search out truth unleashed -ologists: primatologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and so on. The work of thousands during these intervening 300 some odd years has allowed us at last to figure out why we make war and very recently, how to set up peace systems, something we’ll examine shortly.

A third big change was a return to the ideal of democratic/republican government. Democratic government provides the possibility that free people can refuse to elect or follow a leader inclined to go to war. Especially important, in a liberal democracy the votes of women equal men’s.

The 4th big change was women getting the vote. This trend started only slightly over 100 years ago, first in New Zealand. We now have powerful women heading up NGOs, businesses, and even governments. This is part of a “feminization” trend that arguably began with the Romantic Period in Europe. You may have read the book by Harvard neuropsychologist Steven PinkerThe Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker also points to feminization as one of 5 key factors facilitating declines in violence in the last several hundred years. Certainly giving women the vote puts real political power in their hands. This is very very different from centuries that preceded ours.

This was followed by the introduction of reliable family planning in the 1960s, which further empowers women to participate in governance. It also facilitates reduction in family sizes which is key to getting a hand on totally out of control population growth that can otherwise lead to conflicts over scarce resources.

And finally we have the birth of the Internet – this tool facilitates global connectedness in ways we couldn’t have imagined, not even ten years ago. It’s used by criminals and terrorists to facilitate their agenda. But everyone wishing to abolish war can also use it for advancing their agenda. It is a powerful global force multiplier.

To sum up, literally hundreds of thousands of good people before us have worked, and many have died, to bring us to this unique window of opportunity. Our time—this moment right now—is absolutely different, in key ways that provide an opportunity for global abolition of war. What we need to do is seize this day before it is too late, and key to doing that is spreading the idea that ending war is possible. The current, virtually global meme is that war is inevitable. We need to replace that defeatist meme with a powerfully positive new one.

Now something else that has changed very recently is that scholars have developed an understanding of what have been called “peace systems.” In a May 2012 issue of Science, Doug Fry, in a paper entitled, “Life Without War,” (scroll down to find the article) presented research looking for shared characteristics of groups who consciously created an alliance designed to prevent wars between them. They created “active peace systems.” He wanted to know if these have features in common that maintain peace. It’s important to note that some of these groups make war with communities that aren’t part of their alliance, but that within the peace system, peace holds. Also, from a number of peace systems, he picked three with very different cultures for detailed comparison.

Looking for commonalities among very different cultures allows us to ferret out features that are key to success of any peace system. The three alliances he focused on were4Maps.001

  • 10 tribes of the Upper Xingu River Basin in Brazil,
  • the Iroquois Confederacy in what is now the United States, and
  • the European Union.

Although he didn’t include it, he could have added the United States, because as you’ll see when we go through the shared traits, they also apply to the US.

Six general kinds of factors are associated with all of these peace alliances. These factors are not so much responsible for MAKING the peace, but for ensuring that it endures.

Longhouse.001First, they develop ways to tackle xenophobia by creating an overarching sense of shared identity: it is essential to tackle the “us-versus-them” mentality, because us-versus-them inevitably fosters conflicts. They devised means to “expand the us.” For example, the Iroquois tribes pictured their union as a shared longhouse…the symbolism of being one family.

EUSymbols.001Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, and other influential European men believed there could be a kind of United States of Europe that could end vicious and destructive cycles of war, and they acted on that belief. The European Union fosters shared identity with EU passports, automobile license plates, currency, an EU parliament and EU flag, etc. This peace system has worked for 70 years. The stresses they are now suffering, from things like the finances of Greece or influx of Syrian and other refugees, is a serious test of their union…will it disintegrate or strengthen? Only time will tell. The British recently held a referendum in which they voted to leave a union that has worked to keep peace between these nations.

A second key to keeping the peace is the existence of interdependence among subgroups. People from the different groups need to depend on each other. Doug Fry reported a fascinating case in which two tribes lived in very similar environments and had similar resources. Their lives were sufficiently simple that each tribe was perfectly able to make anything they needed. Both, however, made a distinctive, and highly prized, type of pottery. They recognized that a practice that tied them together and prevented fighting was exchanging goods at big meetings, including exchanges especially of the pottery. So they purposely refrained from making the distinctive pottery of the other group because they realized the importance of interdependence. Note that conscious choices and decisions are being made by all these people as they forge their alliance.

The European Union founders decided to build economic and political interdependence by incrementally integrating the national economies. The first step, in the 1950’s, was placing coal and steel—critical resources—under supranational control. That initiated an agenda of cooperation and unification they’re still working on. The British exit, if it does occcur, will have potentially alarming implications for splintering of the entire union.

A third feature essential to maintaining peace is establishment of intergroup social ties. One of the most prevalent is intermarriage. Among non-warring nomadic foragers, both men and women frequently marry outside their small band, so that everybody has kin and trade partners and friends in other groups. Bonds of kinship and friendship discourage violence between groups. The practice of intermarriage was true for the Iroquois and the 10 river tribes. In some peace systems, ceremonial marriage unions or ceremonial adoptions between groups are performed to decrease chances that conflicts will result in war.

Fourth, they create shared symbols and ceremonies. These reinforce unity, and serve as a reminder of their commitment to peace. All the 10 tribes of the Xingu peace system, for example, participate in mourning deaths of chiefs and inaugurating new ones. Fry provides a quote: “We don’t make war; we have festivals for the chiefs to which all of the villages come. We sing, dance, trade and wrestle.”

LongHouseTreeofPeace.001The “long-house” drawing symbolically represented the Iroquois Confederacy as one family. They also created a “Tree of Peace” symbol, first as a reminder of unity. The roots also symbolized their vision and hope that the peace should spread beyond the confederacy. The eagle on the tree top symbolized that they must remain vigilant to any threats to the peace; their wise and foresightful founders believed, probably rightly, that if a society takes peace for granted they will eventually lose it.

A fifth characteristic of these systems is that they foster values for peace. Fry points out that some value orientations are more conducive to peace, and that what people express and think is important if peace is to endure stresses over time. And given bitter prior hostilities between groups, they may have to make a conscious effort to foster peace-enhancing values. For example, in the 10 tribes of the Xingu peace system the role of warrior is shunned—they have a shared expression, ‘peace is moral, war is not.’ Furthermore, Fry points out that over time, shared spoken and practiced peace-promoting values become internalized and eventually, self-sustaining: it’s no longer imaginable, for example, that the United States would invade and begin killing people in Canada, or the British in France.

The Iroquois also made the peace value explicit. This is an Iroquois quote: “Thus we bury all the weapons of war out of sight, and establish the ‘Great Peace.’ Hostilities shall not be seen nor heard of any among you, but ‘Peace’ shall be preserved among the Confederated Nations.” Their alliance endured over several hundred years, until ended by the American Revolution.

The EU was founded after the disaster of WWII with the explicit goal of ending the barbarity and destruction of war, and peace related values serve as the EU’s uniting moral compass (democracy, social equality, human rights, respect for the law). This is a EU quote: “Promoting these values, as well as peace and the well-being of the Union’s people are now the main objectives of the Union.” Many aspects of EU behavior reflect this peace commitment to “all of the people’s well-being” (e.g., free health care systems, free university education, accessible child-care, and so on). When there is general well-being in a society there is less social turmoil and a vastly reduced desire to be led into a war. When any part of the population does NOT feel their well-being is fostered—as is increasingly true, for example, for some groups of Muslims in France and Belgium—anger can lead to violence within the country.

Recall that a trait of non-warring hunter-gatherers was an egalitarian social system. All members of the tribe had equal status. They lived with a sense of fairness, that we are all equal. Well, in our current vast, hierarchical, complex societies like the EU we certainly cannot go back to that condition. But the principles of equality and fairness and the need for the people’s well-being to be met are still operational for us emotionally. Developing and maintaining conditions that foster a sense of equality and fairness within countries and between them will be a necessary condition to keep a global peace system from eventually unraveling.

Finally, humans will always have conflicts, including serious ones within and between groups, over religion and economics and their vision of what the future “ought to be” and so on. If a peace system is to hold, it must create some kind of superordinate institutions to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means: negotiation, mediation, and adjudication.

For example, in the United States, conflicts are not resolved by taking up arms against each other. Frequently by going to court. And the final word comes from the Supreme Court. In essence, in complex societies, higher levels of government than just the local ones can be created to decide what is best for the whole. Regulations and laws are created to which everyone agrees to follow. This is what’s called the “social contract.” People voluntarily give up the right to total freedom to do whatever they want whenever they want it in order to live in peace, as opposed to living in some kind of Wild West where the fastest gun or biggest army imposes the will of some on others. The Iroquois Confederacy established a Council of Chiefs of all their nations. Many chiefs could attend, but only one from each nation, could vote. This was their version of a Supreme Court.


Recall that while tribes of the confederation didn’t make war with each other, they might get into wars with tribes that weren’t members of the alliance. Here it’s important and relevant to point out the role of women among the Iroquois. They were equals and had powerful voices. For example, although women couldn’t serve on the council, they could nominate, elect, and impeach their male representatives. The women could also decide between life or death for prisoners of war, they could forbid the men of their houses to go to war, and they could intervene to bring about peace. My work on male and female biology indicates that it is critical to recognize and never underplay the important influence of women within working peace systems.

Consider that in 2014, 37% of members of the EU Parliament were women. As of 2016, virtually all countries of the EU had a higher percentage of women in their national governments (e.g., Sweden 43.6%; UK 29.4%) than did, for example, the United States (19.4%) or Russia (13.6%). There is increasing interest in and ongoing research on just how tight the relationship is between empowerment of women in a society and that societies’ rates of all kinds of violence, including war. Recall that in non-warring hunter-gatherer societies women had social status equal to men’s, whereas in warring societies they did not.

So, the comparative study of peace systems in widely different cultures is a 4th reason for encouragement that we can end war because we now clearly understand that 1) peace systems exist – and have worked for long periods, and 2) we know what is required to create one and make it sustainable. Given that knowledge, we have a good idea how we need to proceed.

Now a complaint often heard is that ending war, could we do it, would take forever. Hundreds of years. Even thinking about doing it is impractical because of so many other pressing issues. Simply put, this protest isn’t true. Humans are capable of profound, rapid social changes.

For ten centuries in China the definition of feminine beauty depended upon a woman’s feet being extremely small. Ideally, no longer than 3 inches. In 1911, the new Republic of China government banned foot binding, and though it was done in secret for years, it’s now defunct. A practice of a thousand years changed in less than 100.

Australia had a mass shooting in 1996 that killed 35 and wounded 23, and 12 days later their conservative government adopted strict laws banning many weapons and highly regulating others and the context in which weapons can be owned. They then experienced a massive and rapid decline in gun deaths.

Consider the Christianization of much of South America, often in less than one generation. Sadly, not always without the use of violence. Still, though many Christian ideas were simply graphed onto the indigenous religions, many long used behaviors changed or values shifted. More modest clothing, sex before marriage became a sin, no head-hunting, religious worship inside a church, etc.

During a question session after a talk about Mongolia someone asked the speaker if it was true that Mongolians switched from a Communist political system to a secular democracy within only 1 year, and the speaker confirmed that that was in fact the case.

You yourself, with a little thought, could likely come up with many other examples of swift social change. We CAN change, and change quickly. It’s a matter of human will. Of believing it can be done, deciding to do it, and then taking the necessary action.

Now, it’s one thing for groups here or there to create a peace system, but the big question is whether we could establish a GLOBAL PEACE SYSTEM. That would be the end of war. Not the end of human violence. And we would still need to vigilantly contain anyone threatening the peace. But we can now consider some recent historical changes moving us in the direction of a global peace. And there are two very positive things to keep in mind as we do:


1. First, allow yourself to be impressed by how much has already been accomplished. If we hadn’t already created or done these things, we’d have to invent or do them now.
2. Second, feel good about what these accomplishments say about our longings, about what the majority of us really want. The media constantly deluge us with talk of terrorists, and war-mongering dictators, and threats of a middle east atomic war, and on and on. Patriarchy, and the wars associated with it, is still strong in so many places. But this is NOT what the vast majority of human citizens of earth want. It’s not who we are at our best. We do have “better angels of our nature,” and we need to embrace that.

Also note that the changes to be described are mostly TRENDS! None is perfected and they never will be because they’re human endeavors, which are never perfect. And some are detectable now for the most part only in developed nations. So as you consider them, be thinking of them as potent TRENDS for us to build on.

Kent.001The ardent peace advocate and historian, Kent Shifferd wrote From War to Peace and put its basics into a superb YouTube video called “The Evolution of a Global Peace System.” The video lists, and explains with examples, 26 shifts in global collaboration that move us toward a global peace.

Recent Changes.jpeg

We’ll not consider all 26. You can easily check them out by viewing the roughly 18 minute video. But to provide a feeling for what’s changing, I’ll highlight 9 of these global happenings. You’ll probably immediately sense how each is a step moving toward creating conditions having the potential to end war, permanently:

First, the emergence of supranational parliamentary systems tasked to keep the peace:
The United Nations, being chief among them. Other examples:
The European Union (EU),
The Organization of American States (OAS),
The African Union (AU)
And others.
These all monitor regional disputes and engage in peace-building.

The creation of International Law and Treaties that deal with instruments of war such as land mines and nuclear weapons, and set rules of engagement: Geneva Convention, Kellogg-Briand Treaty, Outer Space Treaty, Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, International Treaty to Ban Landmines. Most recently the Iranian Agreement on Development of Nuclear Weapons

The rise in International Justice in such bodies as
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, the International Criminal Court, Regional courts in Europe and Latin America.

Yearly there are hundreds of global conferences aimed at creating a peaceful and just world. Here are some notable examples: Earth Summit Rio (1992), International Indigenous Commission, UN Conferences on Sustainable Living, UN Conference on Women Beijing (1995), Rotary World Peace Conferences, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom The Hague (2015), World Council of Religious Leaders. Etc., etc. etc.

We have experienced the rise of Thousands of Non-governmental Organizations Having a Global Outlook. They have environmental, humanitarian, peacemaking and peacekeeping objectives – they reflect an emerging global citizenship – one people, one planet, one peace. Examples: Habitat for Humanity, Heifer Foundation, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Zero, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Clinton Global Initiative, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Project Concern International.  These organizations act without regard to race, religion, nationality, and so on. They are the kinds of organizations anyone can join or support financially if they want to be actively involved in working toward a global future without war

Globally, thousands of institutions provide courses, majors, minors, higher degrees and practical training in non-violent conflict resolution. Examples in San Diego, California, alone: Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, San Diego City College Peace Studies Certificate and Associate Degree, Alliant University Institute for Violence, Abuse, and Trauma, San Diego State University program in International Security and Conflict Resolution, Tariq Khamisa Foundation, San Diego Peace Resource Center.  Such organizations and projects are found in cities and communities on virtually every continent. The hunger to end war, and willingness to do what’s necessary for success, is strong and rapidly growing. It’s waiting to be harnessed in a shared effort to end war.

The growing trend toward decline in the prestige of war. War used to be considered a noble and glorious enterprise. Unfortunately, a great many movies arrange to still make it out to be. But in the real world there is a growing sense that war is a destructive and barbaric trap to be avoided…if for no other reason that, except for the war industry, it’s now seen as bad for business. And highly important, there is more knowledge among soldiers and citizens about networks of war profiteering – just who benefits from wars? We can look forward to a time when men, and women, who are trained as defenders and peacekeepers — the police of our global peace system — will be as honored as warriors who in earlier times were trained to invade and kill.

Sustainability movements work toward reducing consumptive excesses that create shortages, poverty, pollution and all kinds of environmental injustice. All of these lead to social unrest, a common fuel for war; making the environment sustainable is key to maintaining any global peace. Now, many groups are working on this, and, if all goes well, the shared threats created by global climate change could cause the entire global population to begin to pull together. Across the globe we may decide that resources devoted to war and cleaning up after war can be put to much more urgent, civilization-saving uses.

The trend toward peace oriented religion is particularly hopeful – some religious leaders have turned away from using their religion to justify war and instead use religion to foster peace and a sense of human oneness. Listed here are some notable examples: World Council of Religious Leaders, Christiantiy of Thomas Merton, Jim Wallace of Sojourners, Pax Christi, Buddhism of Dalai Lama, Judaism of Jewish Peace Fellowship, Jewish Voice for Peace, Islamism of Muslim Peace Fellowship, Muslim Voice for Peace. And most recently, that the Catholic Church has begun to consider whether the “just war” concept has become obsolete. Warmongers use religion to foment the will to kill other people. A trend toward rejection of war by religious leaders is potentially an enormously powerful, positive shift.WorldGlobe.001Finally, our ability now to look down at earth from outer space, with no borders visible, enhances our sense of oneness, that we are all citizens sharing this extraordinary blue and white living globe, our only home in the vastness of the universe. That God-like perspective serves to decrease xenophobia, a trait that unfortunately fosters tendencies toward war.

In short, the entire list of 26 trends puts our current status into realistic perspective – we’re not starting from ground zero. We need to see clearly how much we have already done that is part of creating an enduring global peace.

So here are four closing thoughts. First, I hope you’ve been persuaded to see:

1) that war is not “in our genes” – it is a cultural phenomenon and culture can change.

2) that we’re poised in a unique time in history that makes ending war possible, if we set up a global peace system that can endure.

3) that the global community, if sufficiently motivated, could set up a global system remarkably quickly in historical terms, and

4) that as much as we have growing forces working to create a future of perpetual war—a few of us can make a lot of money with perpetual war—there are also forces at work that reflect a striving to free ourselves from war so we leave to the children of the future a world of great positive potential. A critical mass of global citizens willing to be mobilized to focus on actually ending war already exists.

So we come back to the beginning of the essay. Unless we believe achieving a goal is possible, we can never achieve it. And a very real potential for ending war does now exist. Our species has the ability to create something like a Star Trek Future….if we want it badly enough and act in time.

So now, what of all of this relates to each of us? What if anything, for example, can you do?  organizatons.001There is so much! First, if you aren’t doing so already, you can lend your efforts to work on some essential component of creating a war-free future. It’s easy to get involved. Ask friends who are involved what they are doing. Or check out “Peace Organizations” on the Internet at Wikipedia: it lists hundreds. You can take your pick of whatever aspect of the campaign engages your passion, and dig in.

womengirls.001You can encourage the entry of more women, especially the younger women, into leadership roles at all levels in our communities, from the grassroots up. In our own country. In world government. In science, education, law. In all aspects of human endeavor. Tell them they have power, and they should use it. Having more women involved will make a huge difference in the direction the global community will move.

Support and spread appreciation for global efforts and institutions, like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. The UN for example has problems, it does need reforming, but by caring reformers who understand its profound importance.

Support efforts that will enhance, not destroy, the middle class in a country…creating and maintaining a middle class is one of the most powerful equalizing tools available to us.

What about elections? Never vote for a warmonger – learn how to recognize one: he is a would-be leader who thinks too quickly of using military force. Someone who says that on day one they will “go over there and kick ass,” or suggests that the solution is to “carpet bomb them,” or suggests that “I am the one who will save our women and children or our way of life by destroying those evil others.” Such individuals are dangerous to peace.

conversations.001And maybe most important, don’t let people in conversations get away with saying that ending war is impossible. In fact, insert into conversations that it’s possible and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, whether they know it or not, are already working on it. Make clear that the media aren’t telling us the whole story about what’s happening in the world, and that there is a positive side. You can be a participant in spreading this powerful, history-transforming meme. If you get involved, you can have the satisfaction of being part of what is one of the greatest causes in human history.


If you have children or grandchildren, you can tell them that you’re working on fixing the future for the better for them and their children. A version of a saying from the French writer and poet Victor Hugo is perhaps overused. But it’s also a spot-on relevant closing for this essay:

Nothing is stronger, even than armies, than an idea whose time has come.

This is one such idea: Ending war is achievable.

This essay is also available for viewing as a video on YouTube:


My Journey to the WILPF 100 Yr. Anniversary in The Hague

October 16, 2014

Judith Hand

The story of why I’m coming to The Hague with enormous enthusiasm and hope is a long one, in a way the fulfillment of my life journey. When I was a young girl, my hero was Wonder Woman. I was a feminist before the phrase “Women’s Liberation” was invented. When I picked a profession, I chose to be something still uncommon for a woman at the time…a scientist…specifically a biologist. My area of specialization was animal behavior, including human behavior, and I had a sub-specialization in gender differences.


Sewell-Belmont House–Washington, D.C.

Fast-forward decades and many life changes later to 1999 when my first novel, Voice of the Goddess, was published. That book led me to study war, and why women treat war differently than do men. This led to publication in 2003 of my nonfiction book, Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. Not long thereafter I flew to Washington D.C., hoping to visit my senators and congressman to give them a copy, and as I approached the Hart Senate Office Building, I stumbled upon the absolutely delightful Sewell-Belmont Museum, a quaint, brick, multi-story building right next door to the senators’ offices.

I was thrilled to have found the home and offices where Alice Paul, another hero of mine, and her confederates planned and lobbied for a Constitutional Amendment to give all women in the U.S. the vote. And for the first time, on a banner on the wall of an upstairs room, I learned about a group of women who, in 1915 in the Hague, had founded something they called WILPF—the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

US Delegation to The Hague - WILPF

US Delegation to The Hague – WILPF

How fabulous! I thought. My studies of archaeology, anthropology, and biology—pursued from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist—had led me to conclude that unless women become full partners with men as leaders in human affairs, it will never be possible to end war. Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace explained why. My most recent book, Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War, explores why in even more detail. Nearly 100 years ago this group of women in the Hague had apparently been quite serious about doing so.

I Googled WILPF and was further delighted to discover that WILPF lived! That it has hung on through the years, setting up projects internationally, a key to whether or not women would eventually be positioned to lead a successful campaign to end war.

Disappointingly, in 2002, when I explored womens’ activities globally, they were still mostly asking for help. Help in dealing with rape, human trafficking, post-war reconciliation, urging men to make treaties to end various wars, and so on. I despaired, thinking it would probably take 20-30 more years for women instead to realize they must do it themselves…they must step into leadership roles. To my profound joy and some amazement, only 8 years later womens’ approaches to problems had changed a hundred percent. Educated and practical women clearly had gotten the message, having decided that power is not given, it must be grasped. And a growing number of women were moving into power positions that, if they would unite, would enable them to move a campaign to end war forward.

But still, my sense was that the numbers of empowered women globally, although growing at a rapid pace, was still too small, too quiet compared to the voices advocating for war. How long would this movement take to reach critical mass, I wondered. Another ten years? Maybe 15? Or if the world fell into fatal disarray, perhaps never?

Judith Hand - IHEU - Oslo, Norway

Judith Hand – IHEU – Oslo, Norway

But by 2011, I concluded, with excitement, that contrary to my anxieties that negatives forces also at work would win the race for the future, the numbers of highly empowered women reached critical mass. Women, I believe, have reached sufficient numbers to bring the world to a tipping point. Now it is only necessary that these women find a way to unite, to have a single voice with sufficient clout to insist and win the changes needed to create a global peace system.

Women are poised to give the dream of the women who founded WILPF, and that visionary Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bertha von Suttner, that woman who had encourage Alfred Nobel to have a Prize for Peace, women can make the dreams of these sisters come true.

I’m coming to the Hague hoping that this will the moment when the world’s women do find that united voice. The awarding of the latest Peace Prize to a young woman, Malala Yousafzai, could not be more symbolic. Because it is the young women who must see this ending-war campaign to its conclusion, I believe in two generations or less, and who will be responsible for maintenance of a war-free future for all the children to come.

WILPF’s campaign to end war and give us an enduring peace has been 100 years of hard, foundation-laying work. Now it’s taking off big time. What an exciting moment in human history this is! And what a profoundly exciting meeting of minds and hearts this conference in the Hague in 2015 will be!

Judith Hand, Ph.D., is the Founder of  A Future Without, and author of Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War.


Peace Systems and Enduring Peace

May 8, 2014

Judith Hand, Ph.D.

ShiftCover72dpi-2There are myriad reasons—psychological, proximate, and ultimate (biological)—for why we make war. We’ve indulged in this deeply embedded, very bad cultural habit for a very long time, so skeptics are on solid ground to believe that ending it may not be, most likely isn’t, possible. But in Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War I explore how we CAN end war, if we choose to. No biological barrier prevents us from breaking this habit; as with all bad habits, including one as deeply engrained as war, breaking free is a matter of will.

Once we resolve to act, two kinds of efforts will be required for success, admittedly more simply said than done. We must:

  • stop doing or tolerating things that engender wars (like picking warmongers as our leaders or tolerating poverty). And,
  • do things that would prevent wars (like empowering women so we have parity governing, or establishing and fostering liberal democracies that include such characteristics as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, separation of church and state, and most especially, promotion of human rights and dignity).
The War Machine

The War Machine

We’d be engaged in a titanic struggle with an ancient monster having many tentacles: in our history, our mythologies, our economics, and our daily lives. To prevail we need a blueprint for how to subdue the beast. How can we consistently resolve serious disputes between nations or between ethnic groups and so on without killing each other? How do we move hearts and minds into a future culture where the idea of slaughtering people in another group for any reason has become absolutely unthinkable?

As it turns out, we don’t have to invent that blueprint from scratch. There are known basics that can guide our planning. Throughout history some people—led by visionary individuals in close touch with their innate moral compass, and arguably, also in touch with good sense—some people have found ways to achieve the goal of peace. People who created “peace systems.”

What do such systems look like? In an 18 May issue of a 2012 paper in the prestigious journal Science, anthropologist Douglas Fry wrote an article with the title “Life Without War.” He defines “peace systems” as neighboring societies that do not make war on each other, and points out that they exist on several continents.

First he lists peace systems found in Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Greenland, and The United States, the latter itself an example of a peace system; people living in the 50 states of this confederation do not make war to resolve their serious disputes: they take them to courts of law and ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Then he compared three very different systems, looking for shared characteristics: the Iroquois Confederacy of Upper New York State, the Upper Xingu River basin tribes of Brazil, and the European Union. From this comparison he hypothesizes that six features are critical to the creation and maintenance of any peace system:

  1. An overarching social identify,
  2. Interconnections among subgroups,
  3. Interdependence,
  4. Nonwarring values,
  5. Symbolism and ceremonies that reinforce peace, and
  6. Superordinate institutions for conflict management.

These societies are not Utopias, not close to it. They may even make war with outsiders to their union. But they found ways to avoid warring among themselves. Our quest would be to build a global peace system, guided by these critical necessary conditions.

Fry’s important paper should be read and thoroughly digested by anyone who wants to build and maintain an enduring peace. It can be found online for free by registering with the journal Science.

Nine AFWW Cornerstones

Nine AFWW Cornerstones

In Appendix III of Shift, I compared nine cornerstones I identify as being key to ending war and maintaining peace with the six factors Fry hypothesized as being critical.

The objective of making this kind of comparison is to indicate commonalities derived independently by different investigators. The process spotlights the most obvious key elements of success. Appendix II of Shift added to this search for commonalities by presenting a similar comparison with the recent book by Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence is Declining.

What follows is from Shift’s Appendix III, the comparison with Fry’s Science paper.

Five of Fry’s six characteristics of peace systems overlap with or are embraced by one or more Shift cornerstones. For example, in his discussion of “overarching social identity” he takes on the question of “us-versus-them” mentality that can foster conflicts and willingness to use violence against the “other.” He describes methods used by his three peace systems to “expand the us” to encompass a sense of common identity. The methods, not surprisingly given the great diversity of societies involved, are unique to each setting. Logically, a campaign to end war will have to devise methods suitable for creating a global sense of social identity.

Unity - clasped wristsThis corresponds to the work done and institutions embraced by the Shift cornerstone “Foster Connectedness.” Links to just a tiny few of already existing groups working on this issue are listed on an AFWW “Foster Connectedness” web page. The spirit this encompasses is perhaps most familiarly expressed in the Coke jingle

“I’d like to teach, the world to sing,in perfect harmony.”

That same spirit was part of the intention of the reestablishment of the Olympics in 1896, which have become, sadly, politicized but could be refurbished to truly unite the global community in the shared celebration of human achievement. There are many creative ways, already known and to be invented, to foster a global sense of oneness.

World Peace Prayer Ceremony

World Peace Prayer Ceremony

Addressing “intergroup ties,” he points out that intergroup bonds of friendship and kinship discourage violence. He describes how peace systems use ceremonial unions, fictive and genuine inter-marriage that establishes a sense of kinship, economic partnerships, and personal friendships to create such ties. The World Peace Prayer and Flag Ceremony, first begun in Japan and pictured here in Los Angeles, is an example of how shared ceremonies could bind the world in a permanent peace commitment. These practices are, again, ones being advanced by Shift’s Foster Connectedness cornerstone organizations.

Unknown“Interdependence” in Fry’s paper refers primarily to economic interdependence and its power to promote cooperation. People who trade with each other, especially if they depend on this trade, are less likely to make war with each other. Is the WTO, for example, perfect? No. No human organization is perfect. It can, of course, be improved upon. But it provides a forum for resolving serious resource disputes without killing each other. Many regional trade organizations serve a similar function. For us to have global peace, success will require that a balance be struck between local sustainability and developing and maintaining crucial trading interdependence between people and nations at the regional and global level.

red_cross-crescent256The idea of Interdependence, moreover, includes engaging in cooperation for any kinds of beneficial reasons. For example, in the dry desert of Australia’s west, local hunter-gatherer groups reciprocally allow other groups access to water and food on their “territory” in lean times, because a time will come when they may be the needy ones. Although the International Red Cross and International Red Crescent still reflect the separateness religion has often brought upon us, groups like them work to alleviate suffering and respond to disasters irrespective of natural borders.

Something quite fascinating is that some peace systems tend to specialize in production of particular trade goods that they exchange in order to create interdependence. Sometimes they even specifically refrain from producing their own version of “luxury” items that they could make for the specific reason that they understand that trading with the other group, that makes that item which they desire but do not themselves make, is essential to keeping the peace. Organizations like some listed under the Shift cornerstone “Shift Our Economies” are stressing the importance and potential power of creating many kinds of strategic interdependence.

Fry begins his discussion of “nonwarring values” by pointing out the obvious fact that some value orientations are more conducive to peace than others, and that peace systems live by “nonwarring values.” In the Upper Xingu tribes, for example, the warrior role is shunned: peace is considered moral, war is not. Fry describes the means by which peace-promoting values were enshrined by the Iroquois Confederation. In the case of the European Union, he describes how actualization of the values of democracy, social equality, human rights and the rule of law serve as the EU’s moral (value) compass. Many of the organizations focused on the Shift cornerstone “Spread Liberal Democracy” also place emphasis on the pacifying effect for large, modern societies of these facets of liberal democracies. And organizations of the Shift cornerstone “Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution” teach the values and skills of living in peace. So again we have commonality between Fry’s assessment of what it will take to move us beyond war and two more Shift cornerstones.

State Funeral

State Funeral

Fry illustrates a need for “symbolism and ceremonies that reinforce peace” citing participation of all the Upper Xingu tribes in ceremonies to mourn the deaths of deceased chiefs and inaugurate new ones. Pictured here was a ceremony in Serbia to honor deceased members of the royal family, attended by dignitaries from other countries. Joint ceremonies help unify the Xingu tribes, again fostering connectedness and creating a sense of common identity. For the global human community today, we should also promote a sense of shared destiny.

The Iroquois League was symbolized by a powerful symbol of unity and peace, the Tree of Life. The tree’s white roots represented the desire for peace to spread beyond the confederacy. Clearly the Iroquois understood that peace requires work to maintain it; an eagle perched on top of the tree reminded the tribes to remain vigilant to the threats to peace. As describe in Shift, a campaign, built around the shared goal of creating safe, secure, and healthy places for all children, would likewise need to create an appropriate, unifying symbol to represent the intention to build and maintain such a peace for the children of all generations to follow us. The campaign should also invent ceremonies to celebrate its creation.

European Court of Justice

European Court of Justice

If a life without war is to be won and maintained, there must be “superordinate institutions for conflict management.” Fry points out that there are many different ways to manage conflicts between groups, and that one key is to create higher levels of governance. He describes the Council of Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy. He describes higher levels of governance created by the EU, such as the European Court of Justice, its exterior pictured here. The commonality is that many of the organizations working on the Shift cornerstones “Provide Security and Order” and organizations working to “Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution” are also concerned with these issues. The United Nations and International Court of Justice are steps we have already taken in the right direction.

Fry concludes that creating a planetary peace system would involve many synergistic elements “including the transformative vision that a new peace-based global system is in fact possible….” Here the commonality is with the Shift cornerstone “Embrace the Goal.” Although at this time only a relatively few organizations are focused on ending all war, the time is ripe for many more to emerge.

Two Shift cornerstones that Fry’s analysis does not directly, or even very indirectly, touch upon are Empower Women” and Enlist Young Men.”

Islam's Great Peace Warrior

Islam’s Great Peace Warrior

First, the challenge of making restless young males part of the solution—making them supporters of building this peace system—is arguably the least appreciated element of creating a future without war. It’s hard to find organizations dedicated to that cause. The importance of recruiting young men into an effort to end war is seldom mentioned, I believe, since the general assumption is that we will never end war so thinking about the specific problem of how to include young men as part of the process of ending war and/or what to do with them when war is absent has no relevance. The concept of peaceful warriors, like the thousands of men recruited by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Muslim Gandhi, is something to be considered as a campaign to end war contemplates how to engage young men in positive ways.

Fry also doesn’t acknowledge the importance of empowering women, although women were powerful in the Iroquois Federation and women certainly have influence and the vote within the European Union. Biological facets of our problem are not generally stressed by most scholars, the emphasis being placed on culture rather than biology. Furthermore, it is virtually universally recognized that war is a male behavior, and so how women figure in is not thought to require consideration.

Screen-Shot-2012-10-26-at-2.56.47-PMThis biologically-based issue is, however, now coming into the discussion. Many organizations are focused on empowering women in a variety of ways. The recent book Sex and World Peace, edited by Valerie Hudson, documents compellingly a strong relationship between the empowerment of women and reduced levels of wars and violence. But is the relationship merely a correlation, or is it causative? Many scholars are cautious, like Yale University professor Nicholas Sambanis. Mara Hvistendahl quotes him in her 2012 Science article “Gender and Violence” as thinking that perhaps what has been called a “woman effect” on peace and stability is perhaps “a proxy for other, more fundamental things, like cultural differences, rule of law, [and] institutional development.” In other words, Sambanis is expressing the view that perhaps the fact that empowerment of women in a society is strongly related positively to its level of peace is simply a correlation. One goal of Shift is to make explicit the importance of very different biological traits of men and women (in general) as these relate to war, and to stress that women’s influence on peace is, in fact, a critical, causative factor. Parity governing needs to be understood as a necessary condition to ending war and even more critically perhaps, to ensuring that peace once achieved endures.

Summing up, if we decide to pursue a warless future with sufficient will, we have actual examples and models to learn from. They encourage us to know that we can succeed. The following are the commonalities between Shift cornerstones and common elements that Fry discovered:

  • We must foster personal and cultural connectedness.
  • We must foster economic interconnectedness (as part of fostering connectedness in general and related to shifting our economies appropriately)
  • We must foster human rights (by whatever means, but most readily by spreading mature liberal democracy)
  • We must foster behaviors and institutions that promote nonviolent conflict resolution.
  • We must foster the rule of law (part of providing security and order and promoting nonviolent conflict resolution)
  • We must embrace the goal.

The challenge now for the global community is to put these essentials in place on a global basis ASAP, and never let them slip into disuse.

If you’d like to be inspired and encouraged, treat yourself to a video documentary entitled “The Evolution of a Global Peace System.” Based on historian Kent Shifferd’s book From War to Peace, it should be widely publicized and appreciated. This 24 minute video is inspiring, not because of razzle-dazzle, but because it compellingly documents over 20 remarkable, hopeful trends of the last 100 years, many of them key elements of any peace system. They reflect evolution toward a planetary loyalty and sense of human oneness that will be critical to seizing a prize for humanity that no generation before us ever came close to.












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.


The Mutilation of Wonder Woman

November 9, 2011

In a recent Los Angeles Times article (5 Nov, 2011), Geoff Boucher reports on changes being made by DC Comics to improve Wonder Woman. The folks there are working on a film, and to make the Amazon heroine more understandable to today’s audiences, they explain, they are giving her a do-over.

In fact, it is a mutilation. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang were interviewed about how this fabulous heroic icon will be improved. She will no longer be the daughter of an Amazon Queen. She will be the daughter of Zeus, a god-king.


Wonder Woman - 2011

In a photo provided with the article, we see the new and improved Wonder Woman. Her fists are clenched. Her face is not calm and firm with resolve; it’s contorted with rage. She does not wear her golden lasso, a way to extract truth from the bad guys without torture. Instead she grasps a gratuitous bloodied sword, an eternal symbol of violence and gruesome death.

 It is not enough that she have her classic heroic strengths: “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules.”

Wonder Woman - Daughter of Diana, the Amazon Queen of Themiskyra

Through the years, readers knew her as a woman sent to bring peace from her Amazon home to the world of men. A woman whose Amazon training also gave her limited telepathy, profound scientific knowledge, the ability to speak every language known to man, super breath, ventriloquism, imperviousness to extremes of heat and cold, the ability to ride the air currents as if flying, microscopic vision, the ability to bestow wisdom to other beings, the ability to throw her tiara with such skill it could stop bullets, and much more. No, these powers put to the defense of the good are not sufficiently “understandable.” She must be the daughter of a male god and brandish a blood-covered sword.

I read this article at my small table in Starbuck’s, then sat transfixed with tears in my eyes for a long time. A tight knot of righteous rage at what they propose to do to this beloved heroine tightened around my heart.

This corporate takeover of the female icon who uses nonviolent means in the struggle for peace and justice by the warrior, bloody culture of violence is an abomination.

You are now aware of what DC Comics intends to do. You may want to protest in whatever way you are able. I hope that all women’s organizations, women’s studies departments, peace groups, and groups or individuals who understand the value of Wonder Woman as a female champion for justice and peace will rise up, and, if possible, put a halt to this attempt to kill her by mutilation.

The stories we imagine, the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell our children. They define who we are. They shape our worldview. They shape the future we create, for ourselves and most critically, for our children and the generations to follow us.  

We do not need Wonder Woman to be the avenging, sword-carrying daughter of a dominating god-king. To what kind of future does such a heroine lead us?


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.