Streams

July 04, 2012 04:50:40 PM
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Olivia Burtnor

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On this July 4 as we celebrate the “bombs bursting in air,” I listened to the re-broadcast of the last “End of War” show (at the Greene Space) and read Brian’s Guardian US essay. I love the essay and am very grateful to the BLS for taking on this topic.

But while I applauded Horgan and Kucinish, some of the comments at the NY event and most of those from the Guardian site filled me with dismay. So many people are not only pessimistic about ending war but actively defend its continued usefulness.

Violence is the central obstacle to the progress of human civilization. If we can’t solve it, we can’t move forward. Those who don’t believe we have made progress from barbarism – despite the persistence of slavery, injustice, and venality of all kinds and despite the fact that not all places in the world have progressed at the same rate – should read a bit about life for average and poor people in the middle ages or ancient Rome.

Not all violence is the same, but when violence permeates culture, war is inevitable because it is permissible and it is taught. That is a central premise. We learn to hate and fear, we learn to fight with sticks and guns and bombs, we learn to attack people who are different or threatening. Teach peace and it becomes possible.

Why do we go to war? In no particular order: 1) power and territory, that is, imperialism; 2) economics, that is, access to and profits from resources like water and oil and profits directly from war itself, like weapons and equipment sales; 3) revenge, that is, to avenge a perceived insult or defeat; and 4) social oppression and tyranny.

What justifications are we sold? Lies and propaganda about threats or losses, dehumanization and scapegoating of others, myths of national and personal glory and riches.

It all comes down to whether we believe human beings can learn. I believe it was Dennis Kucinich who said you have to believe in the human capacity for social evolution.

I do. We learned to wage war, and we can unlearn it. We can change how we think and how we act. That is what is so extraordinary about human beings. We can make choices about how to shape our culture. We do not just travel round and round the same course. We are, as Isaiah Berlin pointed out in “The Crooked Timber of Humanity,” perfectible and, despite cultural, nationalist, and tribal allegiances, “we inhabit one common moral world.”

Sooner or later, if we do not blow up the planet, we will have to agree that it cannot include war.

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