In this exclusive series of interviews, we speak to seven experts on conflict and peace building. Four Nobel Peace Prize Winners; Prof. Jody Williams (Chair, Nobel Women’s Initiative), Dr. Shirin Ebadi (Human Rights Lawyer and Educator), President Maarti Ahtisaari (Former President, Finland and Founder of CMI – The Crisis Management Initiative), Lech Wałęsa (Former President, Poland) alongside Marina Cantacuzino (Founder, The Forgiveness Project), Ben Ferencz (Former Prosecutor, Nuremberg War Crimes Trial) and Bertie Ahern (Former Taoiseach – Irish Prime Minister). We discuss the causes of war and conflict, the impact of these phenomena on society, and look at what it will take to achieve a world at peace.
“To review the history of violence…” wrote Steven Pinker, “is to be repeatedly astounded by the cruelty and waste of it all, and at times to be overcome with anger, disgust, and immeasurable sadness. I know that behind the graphs there is a young man who feels a stab of pain and watches the life drain slowly out of him, knowing he has been robbed of decades of existence. There is a victim of torture whose contents of consciousness have been replaced by unbearable agony, leaving room only for the desire that consciousness itself should cease…. It would be terrible enough if these ordeals befell one person, or ten, or a hundred. But the numbers are not in the hundreds, or the thousands, or even the millions, but in the hundreds of millions- an order of magnitude that the mind staggers to comprehend, with deepening horror as it comes to realize just how much suffering has been inflicted by the naked ape upon its own kind.” (The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011).
This may sound like an undue hyperbole, but the scholar Milton Leitenberg also notes that, “…187 million people were ‘killed or allowed to die by human decision’ in what he called the ‘short century’ – a period of about 75 years from 1914 to 1991 (a period spanning the beginning of World War I to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Soviet occupation of its Eastern European ‘allies’). However, the sum that he provided was low by just about 44 million people for the full twentieth century, during which approximately 231 million people died in wars and conflict…” The scale of this human loss is hard to comprehend, equivalent to the loss (over a century) of the entire population of Brazil or… to put it another way, the loss of over 2.3 million people each and every year… or an event as destructive as the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami occurring each and every month.
The economic cost of war is similarly staggering. Global annual military spending has been estimated to be over US$1.75 trillion. This corresponds to 2.5 per cent of world GDP, or approximately $249 for each person in the world, and does not even come close to including the economic impact of war itself on nations and communities. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
When we consider that the estimated costs to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger from society are around US$ 175 billion per year and US$ 30 billion per year respectively, it is easy to see how educators such as Abraham Flexner conclude that “…no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.”
Estimates state that in the 3,500 years of recorded history, there have only been 270 years of peace. One could argue therefore, that conflict is an essential part of human nature, and that it’s absence is an anomaly… But what is the reality of conflict and war in our society, and what are the chances we will ever see a world at peace?
n this exclusive series of interviews, we speak to seven experts on conflict and peace building. Four Nobel Peace Prize Winners: Prof. Jody Williams (Chair,Nobel Women’s Initiative – Founder, International Campaign to Ban Landmines, ICBL), Dr. Shirin Ebadi(Human Rights Lawyer and Educator), President Maarti Ahtisaari (Former President of Finland and Founder of CMI – The Crisis Management Initiative), Lech Wałęsa (Former President, Poland) alongside Marina Cantacuzino (Founder, The Forgiveness Project), Ben Ferencz (Former Prosecutor, Nuremberg War Crimes Trial) and Bertie Ahern (Former Taoiseach – Irish Prime Minister). We discuss the causes of war and conflict, the impact of these phenomena on society, and look at what it will take to achieve a world at peace.
Prof. Jody Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the Peace Prize with her that year. At that time, she became the 10th woman – and third American woman – in its almost 100-year history to receive the Prize. Since her protests of the Vietnam War, she has been a life-long advocate of freedom, self-determination and human and civil rights.
Since January of 2006, Jody Williams has worked toward those ends through the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which she chairs. Along with sister Nobel Laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi of Iran, she took the lead in establishing the Nobel Women’s Initiative. They were joined at that time by sister Nobel Laureates Wangari Maathai (Kenya), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Guatemala) and Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland). The Initiative uses the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize and the influence and access of the women Nobel Laureates themselves to support and amplify the efforts of women around the world working for sustainable peace with justice and equality.
Since 1998, Williams has also served as a Campaign Ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Beginning in early 1992 with two non-governmental organizations and a staff of one – Jody Williams, she oversaw the Campaign’s growth to over 1,300 organizations in 95 countries working to eliminate antipersonnel landmines. In an unprecedented cooperative effort with governments, UN bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, she served as a chief strategist and spokesperson for the ICBL as it dramatically achieved its goal of an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines during a diplomatic conference held in Oslo in September 1997.
Williams continues to be recognized for her contributions to human rights and global security. She is the recipient of fifteen honorary degrees, among other recognitions. In 2004, Williams was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world in the publication of its first such annual list.
She holds the Sam and Cele Keeper Endowed Professorship in Peace and Social Justice at the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston where she has been teaching since 2003. In academic year 2012-2013, she became the inaugural Jane Addams Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Social Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Dr. Shirin Ebadi, J.D., was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote human rights, in particular, the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran.
She is the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and only the fifth Muslim to receive a Nobel Prize in any field.
Dr. Ebadi was one of the first female judges in Iran. She served as president of the city court of Tehran from 1975 to 1979 and was the first Iranian woman to achieve Chief Justice status. She, along with other women judges, was dismissed from that position after the Islamic Revolution in February 1979. She was made a clerk in the court she had once presided over, until she petitioned for early retirement. After obtaining her lawyer’s license in 1992, Dr. Ebadi set up private practice. As a lawyer, Dr. Ebadi has taken on many controversial cases defending political dissidents and as a result has been arrested numerous times.
In addition to being an internationally-recognized advocate of human rights, she has also established many non-governmental organizations in Iran, including the Million Signatures Campaign, a campaign demanding an end to legal discrimination against women in Iranian law.
Dr. Ebadi is also a university professor and often students from outside Iran take part in her human rights training courses. She has published over 70 articles and 13 books dedicated to various aspects of human rights, some of which have been published by UNICEF. In 2004, she was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. In January 2006, along with sister Laureate Jody Williams, Dr. Ebadi took the lead in establishing the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
Martti Ahtisaari is the former President of Finland, an internationally recognized mediator and peacebuilder, and recipient of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. He joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in 1965, holding various posts in the Ministry’s Bureau for Technical Cooperation from 1965 to 1972, and serving as Assistant Director from 1971 to 1972. He was Deputy Director in the Department for International Development Cooperation between 1972 and 1973, and a member of the Government Advisory Committee on Trade and Industrialization Affairs of Developing Countries from 1971 to 1973.
Prior to joining the United Nations, Ahtisaari served as Ambassador of Finland to the United Republic of Tanzania(1973-1976) and was also accredited to Zambia, Somalia and Mozambique (1975-1976). He served as a Member of the Senate of the UN Institute for Namibia between 1975 and 1976. Ahtisaari served as United Nations Commissioner for Namibia from 1977 to 1981. He was appointed Special Representative of the Secretary General for Namibia in July 1978.
Martti Ahtisaari served from 1984 to 1986 as Under-Secretary of State in charge of International Development Co-operation in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, as well as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Namibia. He was Governor of the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and in the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as in the International Fund for Agricultural Development for Finland. During that period Ahtisaari was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Finnish Industrialization Fund for Developing Countries. In January 1987 Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar appointed Ahtisaari as Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management. Ahtisaari retained his functions as Special Representative of the Secretary General for Namibia and led the UN operation (UNTAG) in Namibia (1989-1990).
Ahtisaari’s position as Under-Secretary General ended in June 1991. In 1991, Ahtisaari served as Secretary of State in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in Helsinki. From September 1992 to April 1993, Ahtisaari served as Chairman of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Working Group of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia(fYR Macedonia). On July 1993, Ahtisaari served for a period of four months as Special Adviser to the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia (fYR Macedonia) and to the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for former Yugoslavia (fYR Macedonia). From March 1994 to February 2000, Ahtisaari was President of Finland. Upon leaving office, Mr. Ahtisaari founded the Crisis Management Iniatiative, where he is now the Chairman of the Board.
After his term as President Ahtisaari was Chairman of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group from 2000 to 2005. He is a Member of the Joint Advisors’ Group for the Open Society Institute and Soros Foundations Network. Ahtisaari is also Chairman of the Balkan Children and Youth Foundation and the Global Action Council of theInternational Youth Foundation, as well as of the International Board of the War-Torn Societies Project. Until 2003 he was also a Member of the Board of Directors of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). Ahtisaari has been appointed the Personal Envoy of the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE for Central Asia and UN Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa. Ahlisaari other post-presidential activities have included inspection of the IRA’s arms’ dumps with fellow inspector Cyril Ramaphosa, and the drafting of a report on the human rights and political situation in Austria as a member of a group of “three wise men“.
In addition, former President Ahtisaari is Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Finnish National Opera, Member of the Board of Trustees of Averett University, an Honorary Chairman of the Pro Baltica Forum, Honorary Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Eurasia Foundation, an Honorary Chairman of the International Committee of Vyborg Library, a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Inter Press Service International Association, a Member of the Board of Naantali Music Festival, an Honorary Trustee of the American-Scandinavian Foundation, and a Member of the Steering Committee of the Northern Research Forum. He is also a Patron of the Koeppler Appeal and Member of the Board of EUSTORY. Ahtisaari has received numerous decorations. In 2002 he was appointed as an Honorary Officer in the Order of Australia. In 2004 he was awarded with the Order of the Companions of Oliver Tambo (Supreme Companion) by South Africa.
Former President Ahtisaari graduated from the University of Oulu, Finland in 1959 and received an Honorary Doctorate in 1989. He holds an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts; of Political Science from Kasetsart University, Bangkok; of Social Sciences from University of Turku; of Economics and Business Administration (Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration); of the University of Palermo (Argentina); of Philosophy from the University of Helsinki; of the University of Moscow (MGIMO); of Pedagogy from Kyiv; of Technology from University of Technology, Espoo; of the University of Namibia; of Laws from Columbia University of New York; of Social Sciences from University of Jyväskylä; and from the Averett College in 2001.
In 2005 Ahtisaari received an Honorary Degree Doctor of Humane Letters from the American University in Bulgaria and in 2006 he received the Honorary Degree Doctor of Political Sciences from the University of Helsinki.
Lech Wałęsa is the legendary leader of the Solidarity (“Solidarność”) movement, who led it to a non-violent victory over the Communist regime in Poland in the late 1980s. His life has been inextricably linked with the history of Solidarity and the Polish road to freedom.
Lech Wałęsa was born on September 29th, 1943. The first mention of Wałęsa’s dissident activities goes back to 1968, when he encouraged his fellow workers at the Gdańsk Shipyard to boycott the official rallies condemning students’ strikes. From that time on, he started to be increasingly active in social affairs in Poland. He actively participated in the Strike Committee during the December 1970 protests and was offered the post of the President of the Committee.
After the tragic developments of the 1970 strike, which resulted in the death of 39 workers, he swore that he would never allow for such a situation to take place again. Soon afterwards Wałęsa became strongly committed to the dissident Free Trade Unions. He organized Shipyard workers’ activities, distributed underground leaflets, and held meetings to teach workers about their rights and self-education.
He was one of the main instigators of the August protests in 1980 at the Gdańsk Shipyard. His personal stance, tenacious negotiations, and campaigning for the strikers’ demands led to the establishment of the Solidarity Free Independent Trade Union. It was the first bloodless victory in Polish history. This was also the time when the eyes of the entire world were on Gdańsk and Lech Wałęsa.
The totalitarian regime reacted to those developments by introducing martial law on December 13th, 1981. Lech Wałęsa was among the first individuals to be interned.
All the way through the dark time of martial law and the difficult period after the ban of Solidarity, when the Union was delegalized and few people retained any hope for victory, Lech Wałęsa was the one who would not surrender. He remained the living symbol, spokesperson, and propagator of the idea of solidarity. Despite fabricated rumours about him and continued repression by the Communist Poland security police, he did not give in. His struggle was recognized both in Poland and outside the country. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, freedom had to wait.
By the end of the 1980s, Lech Wałęsa sat down to negotiate with the Communist authorities at the Round Table as the head of the delegation of the democratic opposition. His determination and courage led to a compromise with the already weak, but still dangerous Communist regime. The compromise resulted in the elections of June 4th, 1989 and the establishment of the first non-Communist government on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.
On December 22nd, 1990 Lech Wałęsa became the first democratically elected President of Poland, in a general election. While in office and after completing his Presidential term, Lech Wałęsa remained the spokesperson for the Polish cause on the international arena.
He continued to strive for Poland’s accession to NATO and the European Union. In 1995 he founded the Lech Wałęsa Institute, whose mission is to popularize the achievements of Polish Solidarity, educate young generations, promote democracy, and build civil society in Poland and around the world.
Today Lech Wałęsa continues his mission as the spokesperson for solidarity. He travels around the world, retelling the story of the Polish experience and the non-violent struggle for peace and democracy. Through his lectures and dialogue with young people, he calls for the building of a modern world founded on universal values. Being a supporter of globalization and seeing the opportunities offered by new technologies and the development of civilization, he encourages the establishment of new structures of a peaceful cooperation of nations in the 21st century.
Lech Wałęsa has received numerous awards and honours for his peaceful struggle for freedom and his work as an ambassador for international solidarity. He is a Knight of the Order of the White Eagle and the Order of Polonia Restituta. In 1989 he was awarded the highest U.S. honour bestowed upon a foreigner – the Medal of Freedom. He is an honorary doctor of over 45 universities and honorary citizen of over 30 cities in the world. In 2004, he represented the ten newly acceded EU countries during the official accession ceremony in Strasbourg. In October 2008, he became a member of a high-level reflection group called the EU “Wise Men” Group. In the same year, he founded the “Lech Wałęsa Award”. The laureates of the award include include, among others, Alexander Bialacki, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Marina Cantacuzino is an award-winning journalist who in 2003, in response to the imminent invasion of Iraq, embarked on a personal project collecting stories from people who had lived through violence, tragedy or injustice and sought forgiveness rather than revenge. In 2004, she founded The Forgiveness Project (www.theforgivenessproject.com), a charitable organisation that uses real personal narratives to explore how ideas around forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution can be used to impact positively on people’s lives. In 2012, Marina spoke at the UN General Assembly about the work of The Forgiveness Project and, in 2015, she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion.
Benjamin B. Ferencz was born in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania in 1920. When he was ten months old his family moved to America. His earliest memories are of his small basement apartment in a Manhattan district – appropriately referred to as “Hell’s Kitchen.” Even at an early age, he felt a deep yearning for universal friendship and world peace.
After he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1943, he joined an anti-aircraft artillery battalion preparing for the invasion of France. As an enlisted man under General Patton, he fought in every campaign in Europe. As Nazi atrocities were uncovered, he was transferred to a newly created War Crimes Branch of the Army to gather evidence of Nazi brutality and apprehend thecriminals.
On the day after Christmas 1945, Ferencz was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army with the rank of Sergeant of Infantry. He returned to New York and prepared to practice law. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited for the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The International Military Tribunal prosecution against German Field Marshal, Herman Goering and other leading Nazis was already in progress under the leadership the American Prosecutor, Robert M. Jackson on leave from the US Supreme Court.
The U.S. had decided to prosecute a broad cross section of Nazi criminals once the trial against Goering and his henchmen was over. General Telford Taylor was assigned as Chief of Counsel for 12 subsequent trials. Ferencz was sent with about fifty researchers to Berlin to scour Nazi offices and archives. In their hands lay overwhelming evidence of Nazi genocide by German doctors, lawyers, judges, generals, industrialists, and others who played leading roles in organizing or perpetrating Nazi brutalities. Without pity or remorse, the SS murder squads killed every Jewish man, woman, and child they could lay their hands on. Gypsies, communist functionaries, and Soviet intellectuals suffered the same fate. It was tabulated that over a million persons were deliberately murdered by these special “action groups”.
Ferencz became Chief Prosecutor for the United States in The Einsatzgruppen Case, which the Associated Press called “the biggest murder trial in history.” Twenty-two defendants were charged with murdering over a million people. He was only twenty-seven years old. It was his first case.
All of the defendants were convicted. Thirteen were sentenced to death. The verdict was hailed as a great success for the prosecution. Ferencz’s primary objective had been to establish a legal precedent that would encourage a more humane and secure world in the future.
In 1970, with the United States sinking ever deeper into the quagmire of Vietnam, it was only natural that his mind should turn to the need for a peaceful world. After careful deliberation, Ferencz decided that he would gradually withdraw from the private practice of law and would dedicate himself to studying and writing about world peace.
His book Defining International Aggression-The Search for World Peace was published in 1975. It seemed to him that there was little sense in denouncing aggression, terrorism, and other crimes against humanity unless these offenses became part of an accepted international criminal code enforced by an international court. He wrote another two-volume documentary history, An International Criminal Court-A Step Toward World Peace, which was published in 1980. It was intended to be a tool that nations could use to build a structure for peace.
While still at Harvard, he had studied jurisprudence with Professor Roscoe Pound, one of the most learned jurists in the world. The results of his research were recorded in another two-volume book, Enforcing International Law-A Way to World Peace, which was published in 1983. In order to spread the word to a larger audience, he condensed the gist of his thinking into a small, inexpensive paperback, A Common Sense Guide to World Peace. The title was influenced by that great patriot, Tom Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense had inspired the American Revolution.
In 1988 Ferencz wrote PlanetHood with Ken Keyes, Jr., to offer practical steps for the average citizen to take to help establish international law and urge U.N. reform. Receiving critical acclaim from its readers, with over 450,000 copies printed and served as an inexpensive and easy-to-read “Key To Survival and Prosperity.”
With the coming of the 1990s and the end of the Cold War, the international community finally proved ready to discuss seriously the possibility of establishing an international criminal court, and Ferencz remained a voice of optimism. When the Rome Statute was affirmed by vote in 1998, Ferencz addressed the Conference asserting that “an international criminal court – the missing link in the world legal order – is within our grasp.” Since Rome, Ferencz has been active at Preparatory Commission sessions for the ICC, monitoring and making available his expertise on current efforts to define aggression. Ferencz has continued to mobilize support for the ICC, take on media punditries and inform an oft-misinformed media about the ICC. With the progress that has been made since Rome, Ferencz’s goal of replacing the “rule of force with the rule of law” seems imminent.
He lives with his wife, Gertrude, in Florida and New York. They have four grown children. He continues to write and speak worldwide for international law and global peace.
Bertie Ahern retired as Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) in May 2008 having enjoyed the unique distinction in modern Irish politics of being the first person in over sixty years to have been elected to that office on three successive occasions.
He served as a member of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) for almost 35 years. He was first elected to the Dáil (Parliament) in 1977 for the constituency of Dublin-Finglas and he represented Dublin Central from 1981 until 2011.
He was Minister for Labour from March 1987 to November 1991 and was appointed Minister for Finance on three separate occasions from November 1991 to December 1994. Bertie Ahern was first elected Taoiseach in June 1997, he was re-elected in June 2002 and again in May 2007. In 1997 his party was elected to government in coalition with the Progressive Democrats. This minority administration was supported by a small number of Independent members of Parliament. Bertie Ahern received widespread praise for his political skills in ensuring that this administration served its full five year term and delivered on real political and economic progress for the Irish people.
The defining moment of this period and a defining moment in Irish history was the successful negotiation by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair of the Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish Governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland in April 1998.
The Good Friday Agreement transformed relations for the better between Ireland and Britain, between Ireland, North and South, and between different traditions within Northern Ireland. It instilled a new ethos of tolerance and respect into politics on the island of Ireland and between diplomatic relationship between the islands of Ireland and Britain.
Q: What is conflict and what is war?
[Prof. Jody Williams] When The Nobel Women’s Initiative decided to create the international campaign to stop rape and gender violence in conflict, we spent quite a long time debating whether to call it conflict or war. We decided that conflict was the right word, being all-inclusive. Socio-political conflict can result in violence, and may not reach the stage of war and violent armed conflict. Look at the femicides and so called ‘drug wars’ in Latin America, they are not declared as being ‘wars’ the traditional sense, yet there is a tremendous amount of violence.
I think a better understanding of the continuum of violence would be very beneficial in trying to talk about why armed conflict breaks out, and what its roots are. When I think about violence and the continuum thereof, I think about situations ranging from the very personal to the decision to invade a country. For example; when a person decides to beat his wife- he is making a choice of violence.
It’s constantly drummed into our heads that human beings are violent by nature, and that sometimes ‘whoops!’ they get out of control and violence happens. There’s an element of truth in that- you see discussions in this sense around fight and flight. After a certain point, it’s also an issue of choice. When we state that violence is a part of our humanity, we abdicate our responsibility for recognising that choosing violence is a choice.
If we better understood the continuum of violence and the various examples of points where people choose a violent response rather than some other response, it’s possible to contemplate the very real possibility that we could live in a world without war.
Q: Why do war and conflict exist in society?
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] War remains humanity’s most profitable trait; and we see that many economic crises have been resolved through war. Many people lose their lives simply to enable the rich to become richer.
[President Martti Ahtisaari] There are many reasons for wars and in recent years we have witnessed wars even on our own continent, not just in the developing world. However, thinking on this question I start to wonder as to why we have not seen any such conflicts in my country (Finland). We have been at peace for over 70 years. We have been living in relative unanimity for many years. People feel that institutions work for them and that civil servants work for them. There is trust between people and institutions, and many enjoy more than 80% support.
In different parts of the world we see a raw and uncontrollable desire for power, where people create wars and conflicts. We have now started getting the concept of responsibility across, which the UN General Assemblyapproved a few years ago and was used for the first time in Libya– albeit not terribly successfully. The principle nevertheless, was historic- that if governments mistreat their citizens… the international community has a duty to respond.
It may make sense to think of this question the other way around and debate why conflict doesn’t exist in some nations; and I feel it is through the maintaining of fair and just societies. If you have enormous inequality, it easily creates conditions where violence is the only way out.
We have enough statistical evidence to show that fair and just societies have less violence.
[Marina Cantacuzino] Conflict and violence exist because human beings are hardwired to experience love and loss. If we didn’t suffer pain from losing a loved one, or our identity, or our home, or even ourselves we wouldn’t feel resentment and hate or the need then to take revenge. My work has shown me that forgiveness grows out of loss and damage. You must have lost something in order to forgive – whether that’s a loved one, your hope, yourself or even just your moral indignation and your justified right to retaliate. So the paradox is that without experiencing some sort of damage, or loss, or injustice, there would be nothing to forgive.
[Lech Wałęsa] Conflicts exists where there are poorly developed regions, where there are still problems with basic needs. These developmental differences cause conflicts.
In the old-days, humanity struggled for the land to make their countries bigger… so I call this epoch the Era of Land.
Now in modern civilization, where we spend more money for intellectual things than for food and clothes, we become merchants to other nations. They are not interested in eliminating us. They need us to buy their goods, cars, computers etc. If we equal the development levels the risk of conflicts will be much lower.
[Bertie Ahern]: Armed conflict is an anathema to how the world should work, but often it’s the result of unsurmountable issues that cannot be resolved by negotiations, or because people don’t put the effort into conciliation, arbitration or dialogue. We frequently see conflicts that occur as a result of governments or people that are afraid to move positions that are held due to historical differences, or bad policies.
Some of our world’s most protracted and brutal armed conflicts are also the result of governments, in nations with vast mineral resources, giving contracts out to other countries or private companies, without consulting or involving people on the ground, or locally – the Niger Delta is a typical example of just such a conflict.
Unfortunately, the mechanisms of conflict resolution or conciliation often don’t come into play until wars are in-play, or until they have got to impossible positions, and that is, I think, the sad thing about so many conflicts.
Q: Are conflict and violence a part of human nature?
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] Just as aggression and envy can be inherent in all human beings, the same can be said of violence and war.
It is possible through education and training, to harness these inherent sensations in human beings and prevent them. Unfortunately in the schools of today, lessons of history tend to praise war rather than condemn it. Personally I think it’s very important to change school curriculums if we want to change the status quo.
[President Martti Ahtisaari] If it was not a part of human nature, we would not have these conflicts in the first place. There are also however, practical reasons for conflict. It may be that some people have lost their land or water through climate change or land-grabbing. I don’t think it makes it any more justifiable to draw arms in these situations, but it can explain why these occasions occur.
Q: How can war make normal people commit atrocities?
[Ben Ferencz] War itself is a negation of law.
I was a combat soldier for several years in World War 2, and I can tell you that when soldiers are in war- combatants disregard war more generally because- in that moment- they are fighting for their own lives. Under those circumstances, with no means of enforcement other than the combat which is taking place, they are certainly tempted to do whatever they feel inclined to; and that doesn’t just mean killing your opponent, it can mean atrocities such as the rape of women. There has never been a war without rape, there never will be a war without rape – all because the social controls and laws governing social behaviour are inapplicable at time of war.
If you want to have a lawful society, don’t make war – make law.
Q: Can war or conflict ever be justified?
[Prof. Jody Williams] I debate this a lot. As we sit here, a big point of contention is a potential military response to Syria’s supposed use of chemical weapons in the civil war. Can that be justified? Or has the US backed itself into a corner by stating that there is a red-line that cannot be crossed… and now that it has been crossed… are they left without a choice?
If we look at the US and its military actions in the Middle-East and North Africa; bombing Libya, drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia, invasion of Iraq, involvement in the Iran-Iraq war… and so on… it’s hard to imagine how anyone from that region- or with ties to that region- could think of the US as anything other than an outright aggressor with no moral high-ground.
I suppose the biggest example of a justified war, and one that is always waved out-there is World War II, but have any wars been justified since that time? I’m not so sure….
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] Hitherto in my life, I have not come across an eventuality in which war can be justified because war breeds violence.
If you look at the history of the past 20 years, wherever there has been a war, it has never been followed by peace and tranquillity. For instance, look at Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan…
[President Martti Ahtisaari] War can be justified, when it is a defensive one. I am an eternally displaced person, luckily in my own country. I was two years of age when the Soviet Union attacked Finland, and we lost 11% of our land… but we were never occupied. 400,000 of us from Karjalohja where I come from, including my family and relatives, had to be resettled in the rest of Finland. That, I regard as our right. Many countries in our neighbourhood decided to do otherwise but I’m very proud that we defended ourselves.
In 1918- the first year of our independence- Finland had a civil war. We fought against each other. This may have been a reflection of our conflict with Russia, but there were also many complaints. Farmers did not have land and inequality was very high.
We got out of that and became an inclusive society where everyone had a chance to participate in the political process. In 10 years, those who lost the war were eventually in government. It was the Social Democrats who were pushing for egalitarian policies, but a long time ago- every political party accepted. The whole of society felt it was good to give every child a fair opportunity, to give them good healthcare before and after they’re born, to give them a decent education wherever they live. Children do not ask to be born into poor families, so it should not matter whether they are or not, they have every right to those things.
[Lech Wałęsa] Violence is always bad choice. I always look for peace as the method. But I understand that there can be situations in the world where- to stay alive- you need to kill someone else. We are responsible for that because we should help them by creating save environment to not have to make that choice.
[Marina Cantacuzino] I’m not a pacifist and for me yes there are occasions when violence can be justified – I’m talking about situations that involve self-defence and protection. Too often however violence and conflict is used by individuals as a means of gaining power and control but that only traps you in the cycle of vengeance. Hurt people hurt people. I started The Forgiveness Project because I went on the peace march of 2003 in London to protest against the imminent invasion of Iraq. I was furious – convinced that the harder you come down on an individual or group or country the more likely people are to reorganize and emerge in a toughened and more resistance way. In other words no matter how odious Saddam Hussein may have been I was convinced that attempting to bomb Iraq into a democracy and removing its dictator from power would almost certainly make matters worse. So you could say that The Forgiveness Project grew out of my anger at the futility of violence?
The Forgiveness Project is really a vehicle for sharing stories and these storytellers differ in their views about whether violence can be justified. Take the story of Jo Berry whose father was killed in the IRA Brighton bombing of 1984 and Patrick Magee, the former IRA activist who planted the bomb. They met after Magee was released from prison following the Good Friday Agreement.
Magee’s message is complicated because although he has frequently spoken out against violence and is a strong supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland, he refuses to renounce the use of violence as a political tool. “I could never say to future generations, anywhere in the world, who felt themselves oppressed, ‘Take it, just lie down and take it’”, he says.
It’s an argument not much different from that of Nelson Mandela who in 1985, in response to PW Botha’s address to the House of Assembly, described violence as the responsibility of the apartheid regime and said that with democracy there would be no need for it. Yet people have found it hard to hear Magee claim that in 1984 the British Government was a legitimate target, and that bombing the Conservative Party’s annual conference at Brighton led towards a more democratic path in Northern Ireland, and in the long run even contributed to the peace process.
For Jo Berry, a declared pacifist, this is the most problematic part of their conversation – a dialogue which has lasted for 17 years, ever since in 2000 a mutual friend set up a meeting between her and Magee in Dublin.
Q: Can nonviolent movements be effective against authoritarian regimes?
[Lech Wałęsa] There is no simple answer for that question. It always depends on situation.
In Poland in 1989 there was 200,000 Russian soldiers, tanks and rockets and we as a revolutionaries had only our faith and were determined for change political system. We had no chance to win in direct fight. Our nonviolent movement, Polish Pope and help from western countries led us to win. There is always possibility for peace movements and there is always a chance to win without killing. Humanity prefers peace than war.
Q: What are the key causes of conflict and war?
[Prof. Jody Williams] Different conflicts result from different elements of economics, politics and other social factors- or combinations thereof.
Race and religion are used as tools to inflame a populous to support or engage in war. I don’t think that religion in and of itself causes war. War is pretty much always about money and power.
The tools that are used to get to get the masses to engage in war can be race, religion, or anything that can make an enemy seem as ‘the other’ and seem ‘less’ than ‘we’ are; and therefore worthy of being killed in a war.
Climate change on the other hand does affect population flows and does contribute to conflict. If we look at the situation in Sudan and Darfur, part of this situation is down to the on-going desertification of the region, pushing nomadic groups further and further away from where they have been historically able to raise animals and into otherwise settled populations.
Economics are also very important. Many of the massive demonstrations throughout Europe have been about economic stagnation and collapse. There are certainly the seeds being sown there of violent conflict. Even in the US, we are faced with appalling disparities of wealth that exist here. I wonder when people will not be able to tolerate it anymore. At some point, if people cannot provide for the basic needs of themselves and their families- or feel they haven’t the potential for a hopeful future? It’s pretty easy to get them to resort to violence as a means of bringing about change.
It’s quite easy to get people motivated to engage in violence, but once you have divided a nation or peoples- it’s really hard to overcome those divisions. I see this in the US manifest as the polarisation between red and blue states, the tea-party, and congress. It comes from years of purposely dividing people. We’ve reached a pretty hideous state and god-knows where it’s going to go next.
Race is also an issue. Today is the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream…’ speech, and they’re expecting tens of thousands of people to come out and say that King’s work isn’t done. People feel that economic inequality and educational opportunity are the modern-day fuel of racial divide.
Q: What was the core concern you had about landmines?
[Prof. Jody Williams] When I was first asked to create a campaign, and we discussed the indiscriminate nature of landmines- that alone was enough to make one fired up.
Also there is a proportionality question. In theory, militaries are only supposed to use means and methods of warfare that give immediate (or near-term) gain; while balancing these methods against the immediate (and long-term) impact of civilians. Clearly in the use of landmines, no thought whatsoever was given to the long-term impact on civilians. When conflict ends, and the landmines don’t go home, everyone who’s killed is a civilian. To me, this was a hideously flagrant example of misuse of the so-called ‘laws of war’.
In the early days, when you tried to talk to the government about these issues? They would fall behind doctrine which sounded very pretty. You can make anything sound good, but the reality is something else. It was only when we were able to confront them with the great gaps between doctrine and reality that we were able to push them to ban the weapon.
This is the same approach we’re taking with things like cluster munitions and even (more recently) killer-robots.
Q: What are the threats to human and national security from robotic warfare?
[Prof. Jody Williams] In The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, we are talking about the next generation of legal-robots that can operate completely on their own, to the point where human-beings feed the kill-decision to a machine- giving it the deadly power to decide on its own, to kill a human being. To me, it’s completely mind-boggling.
I grew up during the ‘duck and cover’ days, practicing to roll-up into a ball under my desk in grade school (people thought it would help them withstand a direct atomic blast)- and that was terrifying. When I found out about the on-going efforts to move toward complete autonomy and further de-humanise war? I was more afraid than I have been much of my life about nuclear weapons.
Q: What are the threats to human security from drones?
[Prof. Jody Williams] I feel there is a significant moral and ethical case for stopping drones at least where they are not involved in the support of close-combat troops on the ground (as the fighter-jet is often used). Using drones in assassinations around the world shows moral and ethical confusion (if I am being polite) and depravity (if I am being honest).
I have recently been reading articles by Lt. Col. Doug Pryor, who has written extensively on the very-negative effect of US UAV use. He is an actively-serving military officer and speaks forcibly about continuing to lose whatever remaining moral high-ground we had, especially when we use them in assassinations and extrajudicial execution.
If the US didn’t have drones, what would they be doing in Yemen and Somalia? Would they be invading? Well… it’s possible they might, but drones have made it so-much easier for them to embark on campaigns of assassination. Imagine the next step therefore, where we have fully autonomous lethal weapons in the air, on the ground and at sea. It’s terrifying…
Q: What are the threats to human security from weapons of mass destruction?
[Prof. Jody Williams] There’s been a whole re-invigoration of campaigns to ban nuclear weapons. Norway has taken a lead in trying to shift the debate from just nuclear weapons as being weapons of mass destruction, to this being a humanitarian disarmament (ICANW). The US of course, was horrified when Norway decided to take the lead and has not attended one-single meeting about the humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapons.
The US dropping a nuclear bomb did not end World War II. It was Russia- who were on the verge of being able to turn their attention from Germany to Japan- and this in turn, scared the **** out of the Japanese. The Japanese were already in discussions to surrender when the US decided to test their nuclear weapons. I don’t believe the US dropped nuclear weapons to make the Japanese surrender, I believe they did it to test their weapons. If you think about it… the bomb they used Hiroshima was not the same kind they used in Nagasaki.
They were testing two different types of weapon.
We have to re-insert humanity into our discussion around weapons. It’s not just about weapons being powerful and being able to do things for our military…. It’s about what these weapons are doing to our humanity.
We need new and younger campaigners, not just the entrenched civil-intelligencia who have been debating the finer points about how to incrementally get rid of them. We need to say ‘enough already! These weapons are massively indiscriminate, grossly illegal, and we have to get rid of them now!’. We need to take-over the conversation and not just leave it to old-white-men who have been debating this to death using their egos, and having massive turf-wars about who is right and wrong.
Q: Has the existence of the firearm contributed to humanity’s propensity to engage in conflict?
[Prof. Jody Williams] One of the continuous threads in human history is our on-going search for bigger and better weapons. We started by creating weapons to kill the things we have to eat, and then began killing other humanoids going after that same food. Over time, it’s been a constant progression from direct-killing where people clubbed each other to death, or used sabres… to a point now where we can kill over incredible distances- dehumanising war (not that I think war is humanised!).
The further a person is taken from the act of killing, the easier it is for them to let their machines kill.
Q: What is solidarity as it relates to civil society?
[Lech Wałęsa] I give you simple example what is solidarity for me. If something is to heavy, to difficult, to hard for you and you can not do that alone you need ask someone else to help you. If they agree with you they will do that, they will be solidarity with you. And then you are stronger and you are able to do that.
Effective societies, movements and political groups- if they have the same goal- they can be solidary or sometimes they must be to win or stay alive. In our past revolution communism was to heavy to lift it up alone. But all together we did it. In new Era we need to be solidarity for example in ecology in other way one day we destroy our planet and we won’t be able to live here any more . So for example only way for our future is to be solidary in ecology.
Q: What is the start of the peace-building and reconciliation process?
[President Martti Ahtisaari] Conflict always leaves a mark, regardless of whether it was an internal exercise or whether external forces were involved. It becomes very clear in many cases that it’s very very difficult to start the reconciliation process.
There are so many examples. In my country it was winner takes tall… but inclusive policies came, and thank god we’ve done well. There are still however people who remember what happened in their families, and there is not always the same forgiveness we have seen in South Africa. There are also examples such as Bosnia and Herzegovina where they have three distinct histories; the Croats, the Serbs and the Bosniaks.
Even if you forgive, it still leaves bitterness because you cannot deal with the atrocities that have been committed. As a peace mediator, the best I can achieve in many cases is to achieve a change of behaviour in society; to make sure people know that what’s happened in the past will never be repeated. To think that I could correct all the wrongdoing in a society- wrongdoings which are very often committed by both sides? is impossible. In Northern Ireland for example, they are largely maintaining peace, but the reconciliation process has not gone through yet. If there is a conflict, one had better be prepared that it will take a long time to correct the problems it will create.
The first step is to simplify the process as much as you can. If you think that you can solve all the past atrocities? it won’t happen. You have to bid for the future. This doesn’t satisfy everybody, and can sometimes make it even more complicated to find peace. People feel that everything should be agreed before they sign a ceasefire. I witnessed that type of discussion in Myanmar with The Elders Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter.
Very often you need peace first to start a proper dialogue on all the grievances that exist in society, and you can never solve all of them.
When I got the Nobel Peace Prize, I said that we can solve every problem and conflict in the world… I don’t understand why situations as we have in Cyprus and Kashmir are still allowed to happen. I remember when I was negotiating in Kosovo, one visitor asked me why I was in a hurry as there were so many unsolved conflicts! I told him that he should never advise me or anyone else to have more frozen conflicts in the world, it’s a disgrace for the international community.
[Bertie Ahern]: Peacebuilding is a difficult task, and sometimes it’s a matter of timing. Often, war and violence are inevitable, and those combatants (whether illegal groups, paramilitary or government) are not prepared to have dialogue – and it takes a long time before anyone even starts to look at a strategy for peace.
There is a stage, where people are beaten… when they become weary of conflict… or when a hand of friendship is held-out by people who try to see the bigger picture… those are the glimmers of hope that I look for at a personal level in peace building. I look for broad acceptance by the parties involved in the conflict, that the status-quo is untenable, and that some form of agreement is better in terms of everybody’s interests.
If people don’t believe the status-quo is untenable, and if they’re not prepared to move-on, there’s very little you can do – and usually the conflict continues, indefinitely
Q: Is it important to have a coherent plan for a peace building process?
[Bertie Ahern]: You have to have a coherent plan – and must try to get everybody involved in the conflict resolution function to work to that plan. Often, the first step is to build intermediaries who understand what the conflict is about, understand the different positions, and can see who the key players are. These intermediaries can help to see where the opportunities exist for dialogue.
Much of that early stage in peace-building happens quietly, diplomatically, secretly, out of public media. If you put pressure and lights on these situations, it’s immensely hard to make any progress.
Q: How do you mediate peace between entrenched groups?
[President Martti Ahtisaari] I don’t think that a mediator can ever succeed if the parties don’t want peace. I will give you an example from my own life. In the Aceh negotiations… we had negotiated for three years to get a cessation of hostilities agreed. It was signed, monitored and half a year later it was broken. The Tsunami then hit Indonesia, and hit Aceh particularly hard. 170,000 people died… everybody lost somebody. The international community was very generous, and I sensed that both parties realised that if peace cannot be agreed quickly; they could never utilise the money that was generously available for reconstruction.
I finally arrived at a technique that could be agreed as there were very difficult issues to discuss. The parties agreed that nothing was agreed before everything was agreed. The parties accepted they would not go to press and announce anything until they were happy; by agreeing this, we knew they were serious about negotiation.
I very often hear people say that peace mediators should be impartial, but that’s utter nonsense… if you do? you will be sitting around till the end of your days. You have to come to the negotiating table with solutions if the parties fighting are unable to find their own. You have to be an honest broker, people have to trust you- even if you sometimes have to take-up an issue that may only be of interest to one side. As a mediator, you have to make judgement calls… When you start to get both parties to co-operate, you can move forward.
You must identify what the real problems are to identify what can be done. You must talk to everybody. You can’t just point the finger and say, “they are terrorists! I will never talk to them!” – an attitude which unfortunately, we see very often in the world. When I was involved in helping Namibia to become independent, we had over 8,000 UN people on the ground monitoring the election process. South Africans learned to know the SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) people and their negotiators, and talk to them. My South African friends say this helped to smooth the way for a more democratic South Africa, and perhaps- without this negotiation- Mandela would never have been released.
Q: What is forgiveness?
[Marina Cantacuzino] This is very hard to answer for the simple reason that everyone views forgiveness through a different and very personal lens. The limits and possibilities of what can be forgiven vary according to context and content. I try to avoid definitions as my understanding of forgiveness is constantly shifting but currently I’ve landed on this simple explanation, that forgiveness is making peace with things you cannot change. But of course this is incomplete as an explanation because forgiveness is more than letting go and moving on – it must involve a degree of empathy and compassion – either for the wrongdoer(s) or for yourself as in the case of self-forgiveness.
I like what the American author Mark Twain said – “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it”. It’s a description rather than a definition but for me it seems to sum up forgiveness because it shows that forgiveness can be messy, that it develops out of damage and that it’s potentially a healing balm.
Forgiveness is highly contested territory, entangled by assumptions and hypotheses. For instance some see it as an extremely weak quality, excusing an offence or rewarding harmful behaviour. But also others view it as a herculean quality practised only by the mentally strong, and the spiritually or morally superior. Some will tell you that to forgive is essential to your healing because without it toxic judgements will hold you a prisoner; while others will say you can still move on and be free of resentment without actually forgiving. In my mind forgiveness is more a behaviour and state of mind than anything else because you can say ‘I forgive you’ and yet act in a vengeful way, or you can say ‘I don’t forgive you’ and act in a profoundly forgiving way.
Whatever forgiveness means or doesn’t mean I know it to be immensely helpful as a pain management strategy because it allows people to break out of the cycle of vengeance; it mends broken hearts, and heals fractured relationships. Following hurt, pain, or atrocity, forgiveness can potentially bring resolution and freedom. It is a practical way of preventing the pain of the past from defining the path of the future. This applies whether you are forgiving others or yourself.
Q: How do you begin the forgiveness process?
[Marina Cantacuzino] There is decisional forgiveness and emotional forgiveness. You may recognise that other methods of dealing with pain are simply not working; as one survivor of childhood sexual abuse told me once “if I hadn’t forgiven I’d have taken my own life by now”. Or your forgiveness may be in an innate instinct to heal, for example as with Shad Ali who in 2008 woke up in his hospital bed following an extremely violent and unprovoked attack knowing that the only way to heal himself was to forgive (even though many family members were calling for revenge).
So what does it actually take to forgive? From the many stories I have collected and therefore analysed I’ve distilled it down to five key qualities.
- To know yourself or self-awareness. This means the ability to look into the dark parts of what it is to be human – fear, anger, shame and grief – and not to run away. As the Buddhist monk and writer Pema Chödrön has said: “Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.”So to line yourself up to forgive is to embark on a journey of self-discovery in order to understand yourself and others better.
- Curiosity is also a vital ingredient of forgiveness because it sparks the imagination to wonder why? Forgiveness requires an open mind. When your mind is open your perspective broadens and you are less black and white in your thinking.
- Curiosity leads to understanding and understanding leads to empathy. The character Atticus in To Kill a Mocking Bird describes empathy brilliantly when he say: “You never really understand a person until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
- And you have to give up hate and resentment in order to forgive. It requires giving up your justification to retaliate, giving up your moral indignation, giving up grievances and grudges. Letting go!
- And lastly in all the stories there seems to an element of making meaning which means to find some purpose and significance in the suffering. Forgiveness implies that where the wounds are, the gift lies. This coping strategy is to transform the impulse for revenge into a search for something larger. But just to be clear meaning-making doesn’t mean you can make sense out of something (most things that cause deep pain feel senseless) but rather that you find a purpose again by intensely pursuing what matters to you and this in turn puts meaning back into your life, builds confidence, and helps create a sense of belonging to society.
Q: Are some acts unforgivable?
[Marina Cantacuzino] Forgiveness is highly contested territory as I have said and again this is entirely personal. For some people forgiveness is conditional on remorse and apology. Others say apology or remorse might never be possible for multiple reason and therefore if you wait for it and expect it you are simply putting the power in the wrong hands; forgiveness therefore is an act of self-healing and empowerment. So, what is unforgivable for one person, may not be for the next.
Take Eva Kor for example, it’s hard to imagine how she could ever forgive the Nazi doctors, particularly Dr Josef Mengele, who experimented on her in Auschwitz as a child. And yet she does and she is very clear about what forgiveness is for her. She says “I forgive not because they deserve it but because I deserve it…. Forgiveness is really nothing more than an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It is free, it works and has no side effects.”
Actually the French philosopher Jacques Derrida believed that the only wrongdoing that calls for forgiveness is that which is unforgivable. By this he meant wrongs that can never be understood, overlooked or undone and therefore cannot be fixed by restitution or reconciliation.
Q: Can forgiveness take the place of revenge?
[Marina Cantacuzino] Jude Whyte whose mother was killed in Northern Ireland by an IRA bomb during the sectarian conflict says: “You could say my revenge for the murder of my mother is my forgiveness because it has given me strength.” That statement tells you that yes forgiveness can be used as a powerful form of revenge. Some perpetrators want to keep you trapped to them, forever burdened by the pain, and forgiveness cuts the ties. Take another example, Scarlett Lewis whose six-year-old son, Jesse, was one of 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. She has been on a long journey towards forgiveness and says: “Forgiveness felt like I was given a big pair of scissors to cut the tie and regain my personal power.”
Once you are able to do forgive the person or people who have hurt you they no longer have control over your state of mind. As the great Irish writer Oscar Wilde said rather flippantly but very accurately – “Forgive your enemies because nothing annoys them more.”
[Lech Wałęsa] Forgiveness is beautiful action but to do so is not so easy. Sometimes people experienced too much violence, lost families, houses and health . It is really-hard for them to forgive. The role of forgiveness is very important even if forgiveness means only stop retaliation.
Q: What do you see as the key-components in ending conflict?
[Prof. Jody Williams] Educating people that they have other choices and ending the glorification of war.
When I grew up, we were educated about US history through the magnificence of its conquests. If you boil it down… manifest destiny was that we went from sea to shining sea, killing those heathens who tried to stop us… today that would be called genocide.
This is a hard problem to fix as all-countries build magnificent mythologies of some aspects of their history. No country is particularly keen about talking truthfully about their history. Yes… Columbus and everyone else who came to the US were very brave, but on the other-hand the consequence was the massacre of millions of people.
We have to start talking about the reality of war. People in war can be heroic, but war itself is not heroic. War is a political decision by a group of people who decide to send some other people’s children to die.
Many politicians argue that if you want peace, you have to prepare for war- but I believe that you get what you prepare for. Therefore we need to start serious education from kindergarten about conflict resolution, about people working for peace, about what peace really means… it’s not just the absence of conflict, but freedom from want, freedom from fear, and more.
If you really want to dis-incentivise people from going to war? Make sure their stomachs are full! Make sure they have a decent education! Make sure they have a decent job that gives them some sense of dignity, and which allows them to provide for their families! Make sure people have hope for a better future!
It’s not rocket science, it’s just that those in power and those who make money from war would immediately be worse-off and they don’t want that.
Q:What is the role of forgiveness within peace building?
[Marina Cantacuzino] Forgiveness can be a critical ingredient in rebuilding broken relationships and repairing damaged communities. It can be an important part of any peacebuilding process, and sometimes the only thing that can help divided communities move forward. Festering trauma so easily has the capacity to become festering dehumanization; both sides may believe there is dire risk in achieving equality and therefore adopt fear-based thinking such as:“if you’re equal to me, then you may harm me.” Sometimes it takes something radical like empathy, reconciliation, and forgiveness to shift this impasse.
Forgiveness at a macro level and in large scale peacebuilding processes that involve two or more opposing social, ethnic or religious groups, can affect the future of a country, as it did in South Africa where politicians and civic leaders urged large groups of people to forgive other groups where previously they’d been locked in conflict. While forgiveness was never obligatory in South Africa, its value was upheld within the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In addition, several public figures spoke out in favour of forgiveness, thus modelling a way forward for the communities they represented. Nelson Mandela, by publicly forgiving those who had wronged him, became a global symbol for forgiveness, compassion, and peacebuilding. He famously said: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
But it’s essential to remember that forgiveness is a gift and loses its power as gift if we make it a duty – this is the case whether building peace between different ethnic groups or within the criminal justice setting, such as restorative justice. The route to forgiveness is usually through dialogue which builds understanding and empathy and reduces competitive victimhood where both sides feel they have been equally wronged. Scientists have actually shown that the competitive victimhood conundrum is resolved by drawing both parties’ attention to their common suffering.
[Ben Ferencz] Forgiveness is itself a very difficult concept. Who does the forgiving? When? Where? to whom? for what? We don’t have the answers to that, but I do recognise that forgiveness – or coming to terms with your enemy – is a very vital consideration in building peace simply because it’s the opposite of vengeance; and vengeance begets more vengeance, and that’s what’s been driving a great deal of the conflicts which exist in the world today.
It’s important to try to come to grips with the fact that when you say, forgive and forget – that you cannot forgive certain crimes which you cannot forget.
If you begin to recognise that the people you condemn as perpetrators are also human beings, your own feelings of compassion, compromise and trying to understand the other’s point of view come to the fore.
For your own mental health, it’s important not to dwell on past crimes, but to dwell instead on the future improvements you can make.
Q: What is the impact of not forgiving?
[Marina Cantacuzino] It depends – it’s perfectly possible to not forgive and not to hate. This comes back to my point about the complexities about definitions and what forgiveness means to people. The problem is when not forgiving means hating and being full of rage. Anger has a part to play in helping people feel heard, regaining a sense of self-worth or fighting for injustice, but lasting anger exhausts, just as lasting hate corrodes. Thus, if not forgiving means hating then certainly not forgiving becomes detrimental to your mental and physical health and will have an impact on your ability to sustain lasting and loving relationships.
Simply put, forgiveness is an excellent public health tool. Multiple clinical studies show that if you have a forgiving attitude you will feel happier and healthier. Research compiled and published by the American Psychological Association in 2006 analysed a number of research studies and found that forgiveness not only restores a victim’s sense of personal power but also improves physical and mental health. In other words if you have a forgiving nature you are will have better relationships, less mental health problems and also improved physical health. There is even one study called Forgive to Live which shows that being forgiving can extend your life by up to three years!
Q: What is the impact of forgiveness on the individual, the perpetrator, and the wider world?
[Marina Cantacuzino] Since, paradoxically, those we love are often the ones we are most likely to hurt, conflict resolution (of which forgiveness is an integral part) is essential to a successful relationship. The English poet and philosopher David Whyte said: “all friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness”.
I believe forgiving is the oil of personal relationships because it lies at the heart of compromise and softens hardened positions which lock us into an “I’m right/you’re wrong” dynamic. Forgiveness embraces the radical philosophy that we are all responsible for the world we create and therefore all have a responsibility to repair it.
In terms of the perpetrator. No one should expect forgiveness but when forgiveness is granted it can transform and rehabilitate. In fact forgiveness can spread a culture of non-violence. Arno Michaelis, a white supremacist turned peace activist from Wisconsin, explains that he chose to reject violence as a direct consequence of being forgiven by those he had once demonized. He says: “It was the unconditional forgiveness I was given by people who I once claimed to hate that demonstrated for me the way from there to here.”
Q: How can we proactively apply peacebuilding techniques to societies that are becoming divided?
[Bertie Ahern]: perhaps because I was involved in politics during the 80s, 90’s and 00s, I am a great believer in multilateralism. I have great regard and respect for the organisations that have been built-up over generations and which are multilateral – the UNDP for example.
It’s extremely worrying that the groundwork of multilateralism is being damaged and undermined, particularly so over the last 2 years.
It is more important than ever therefore, that conflict resolution organisations work together and build systems of multilateral connection- almost outside the government system. This isn’t ideal – it’s far better when governments are prepared to play a bigger role to help fund these issues. We have countries like Norway that do great work in this sense, but it’s harder than ever now because the hand of friendship is no longer being held out by all countries in an effort to resolve issues.
Q: How do human rights challenges relate to conflict and peace building?
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] Human rights are a very comprehensive concept. The rights of women, children, refugees and many other groups are part of the overall concept of human rights.
There can never be peace if some members of a nation have their rights subverted. The majority that have come to power in a free election must respect the rights of the minorities in their nation that have come to power. For instance, when we talk about freedom of expression, we are really talking about freedom of expression for the minorities as it is obvious that the majority that are in power are free to say whatever they want.
Q: How do you ensure fair justice for those being tried for war crimes?
[Ben Ferencz] I was a trained Harvard lawyer, and my respect for the law is paramount. In one particular group of cases where I was Chief Prosecutor at one of the subsequent Nuremberg Trials, I captured the evidence, reports from the front; these top-secret reports were then sent back to the headquarters in Berlin, describing that many people had been murdered by these various action groups. It was my determination that I would not talk to any of the defendants at all, and that I would simply rely upon documentary proof to avoid any possibility of contamination.
I might have been charmed by some of these mass murderers who were almost certainly perfectly normal people I was very careful to rely strictly on documentary proof and nothing else.
When you’re reading about the murder of thousands of children, you will of course be emotionally affected; but nevertheless, my job was to be objective when prosecuting the perpetrators.
Q: How can you appropriately punish war crimes?
[Ben Ferencz] It’s not difficult to conceive of the mechanisms, it is more difficult to create them in societies which don’t have such mechanisms. We don’t have the mechanisms yet to think in terms, and enforce in terms, of anything resembling world law.
We have at the moment a completely disjointed world society and law itself is the basic foundation for prescribing what rules will govern us, the people it’s supposed to protect.
To the extent that you have effective law, you have that kind of protection, to the extent the law is weak or adequate or not enforced, and you have the chaos that we have today.
We have to think not only of the mechanisms that we need, but the methods for creating and enforcing those mechanisms; and we are in the process of doing that now.
We do have, for the first time, The International Criminal Court in the Hague which is a follow-up to Nuremberg (which was more than 75 years ago). So, we are beginning to build those mechanisms but until we have built them to be more effective than they are today, we’ll continue to pay the price.
Q: Do we need to redefine war crimes in a world of ideological conflict and terrorism?
[Ben Ferencz] The idea of having rules to govern Man’s most inhumane military combat is an old idea which was very helpful in the days where, for example, you were told that you were not allowed to use poisoned arrows, or that you shouldn’t shoot a man who is wounded and lying down, or that you shouldn’t shoot a man who is willing to surrender.
These rules tried to bring a humane face to war and were embodied in things like The Hague Conventions.
Today’s modern warfare leaves these rules of law as totally irrelevant. You cannot say to a nuclear bomb ‘please, don’t hit women and children’ or ‘please don’t wound the wounded’.
The technology of modern war means that our assertion of humane treatment of the victims of war is a contradiction, and we have to recognise that.
The only real answer is to stop war making. We have to stop using armed forces to settle our differences, otherwise we’re going to have a continuation of the terrible crimes which are being committed everywhere.
Q: What are the characteristics of great political and social leaders?
[Lech Wałęsa] In my opinion all leaders who really made difference in a World were always determined on their goal. They spend whole time and energy to resolve that problems. But you cannot say their characteristics it depends on situation of their leading. You need different skills to fight against Communism and to fight with global warming. They also have some luck.
Q: How does democracy relate to peace building?
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] In my view what could lead to the establishment of peace in a society is democracy, albeit with a very specific definition. Democracy should not just be defined as victory in a free election, let us not forget that many dictators have come to power owing to democracy!
The majority that come to power in an election must observe the framework of democracy, and that framework consists of human rights.
Governments do not earn their legitimacy through the ballot box and the vote of the people. They gain legitimacy through the vote and by respecting the human rights of their people. If, in the world, we manage to establish democracy framed around human rights? We will reduce the threat of war significantly.
Q: Is it important to build governance and democracy quickly in post-conflict situations?
[President Martti Ahtisaari] You can’t build governance quickly, it is simply not done. Research from UNU-Wider institute shows how bad the situation is in many countries when it comes to governance issues. It’s a very long term process. When people come to power after there has been fighting- such as in Aceh, where there was fighting for over 30 years- you find that those who have been fighting, normally win the elections. Then… they find they want to employ their friends into government. Then… they learn they don’t know much, and they start to look for professionals to assist.
The UNU-Wider academics showed that with the aim of building well-functioning societies and institutions, so much money has been spent and so few results have been achieved. For countries like North Korea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Russia and Venezuala to achieve similar levels of bureaucratic quality and transparency (lack of corruption) as Singapore, at the average pace of improvement seen across all countries between 1985-2009 could take 350-500 years. At their own pace of improvement as has been seen? the measurements show it will never happen (by virtue of experiencing negative rates of change).
Q: What is the relationship of culture and religion to conflict and peace building?
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] Cross-cultural understanding is a part of the series of factors contributing to human dignity that, in turn, contribute to building peace.
If I live in a society that is unable to tolerate my culture or religion, that will undermine my human dignity.
[Lech Wałęsa] In our peace movement religion was something what unites us. I think that music, art , religion, culture is something what unites the people, help them think and feel similar. If the people are united they can build what ever they want.
Q: Is there a difference between peace and security?
[Prof. Jody Williams] I think you get more security through sustainable peace rather than constantly resorting to violence.
I believe fully that violence-breeds-violence. Who knows what the blowback is going to be from all the US’s invasions and murders of the past decade, to say nothing of the ones that came before. I think we really have to get a better understanding that real security comes from security in daily life. When I thought about the economic collapse of 2008, what were people most concerned about? having a secure future with a secure income and so on! They were not rushing around thinking Al-Quaeda was about to whack them… they were worried about their daily lives.
If you can provide for the basic needs of a majority of people, you will have a lot more security in the world than if you have gross-inequality.
Q: Why do we need worldwide perspectives?
[Ben Ferencz] The world itself is shrinking the growth of aviation, and technologies allowing people to communicate and work together means that we’re becoming one planet.
The decisions we take should be thought of in planetary terms, not nationalist or smaller groups.
This is the natural evolution of modern society, and the notion of having truly limited law is a very limited idea of the world as it used to be.
The internet, television, all our new communications tools are binding people together – and the time will come fairly soon where people who were totally illiterate in the past and unable to have an effective role in their own futures, will disappear. I don’t give it more than 25-50 years before the children in Africa and Latin America or wherever, are all watching the same shows.
The world has changed, our way of thinking of how we behave in this world has unfortunately not changed sufficiently, so we have the mess that we’re in.
Q: Can the world ever unite around universal values?
[Lech Wałęsa] I am sure it will happen. The question is how many wars humanity needs to experience to understand that peace is only the way for a happy and successful life. Our goal for this new era is to agree common values . There are many religions, many cultures , many political systems but we have to understand that we are the people. It takes some time but I believe it will happen. There is one nation and it is called the World and there is one race and it is called the Human race.
Q: What are your greatest worries for the next generation?
[Lech Wałęsa] My greatest worry is populism. We need to find the way to fight with populism and demagogues. It can not be like you can say what ever you want without any consequences . If the populists win gain power on the massive scale they can really do bad things for societies.
My biggest hope is that we find an answer for that era, find a new structure for new World and find that World is beautiful but we need to organize it well and be solidary
Q: What is the realistic definition of peace?
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] Peace is a collection of the conditions and circumstances by which human beings can live in a society while maintaining human dignity.
Security by itself is not enough. For example, in a society where someone is unable to pay to the mortgage on his or her home; there is no security for that person. Therefore security is just one of a number of factors that contribute to peace.
Any factor that undermines human dignity, from poverty to despotism, threatens peace.
Q: What is the role of our education system in peacebuilding?
[Bertie Ahern]: When I was at school, there was ‘civics’ on the curriculum, and that’s very important. I don’t care what anyone’s politics are, but it’s important to have politics, to have views and understand that the franchise of being able to use your vote and to have political differences matters.
There are so many parts of the world that do not have stable democracies, and visiting these places gives you an understanding of how good life is, how much we should value our freedom, our right to free speech. By ignoring the importance of our democracy, by losing interest in politics, we end up with dictatorship.
Q: What will it take for us to see a world free from conflict?
[Prof. Jody Williams] There are lots of individuals and organisations around the world who work on a daily basis for sustainable peace, not just the absence of war.
US Soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq are committing suicide at a rate of 22 a day… We call them our heroes and wounded warriors, applauding them at football games, yet the veteran’s administration- responsible for their wellbeing after war- is doing such a hideous job that 22 a day are killing themselves. We really need to talk about all the aspects of sending people to war- not just “Woohoo! We Won!” (or pretending we won).
Education is absolutely at the heart of this. There’s an organisation called PeaceJam that looks at the world of individual Nobel Peace Laureates and develops school curriculums around them. Students study this and at the end of a period of study, they get to spend a week with the laureate in question. It’s about looking at different roads to peace which each of us has contributed to… or not (in the cases of Obama and Kissinger).
Q: Will we see a world free from conflict?
[Prof. Jody Williams] If people really care, then this could definitely be achieved within the lives of our children or possibly our grandchildren. It is possible!
People have to stand up and say no to being cannon fodder for a few sitting in their capitals who send them to war for more power, money, resource and more.
[President Martti Ahtisaari] To answer this, I look at my part of the world. With the support of the population, inclusive policies and egalitarian policies- you can create an environment which gives opportunities for everyone and hence very little conflict.
If you look the percentage of the population in prison in countries such as the United States you see what happens when you don’t have egalitarian policies and you can’t move from one social class to another, and if education and opportunities are poor. In many cases you see families with multiple-generations of poor education and opportunity, and these individuals can easily become targets for criminal gangs, drug gangs and others.
One economist recently stated, “If you want to live the American dream? go to Sweden.” Many argue that this is due to homogeneity of the Nordic countries but this is not true. Sweden today is a less homogeneous society than the UK.
There are also many old-attitudes present in the world that are preventing progress. We have to send a very clear message to today’s Russia for example, that the Cold War is over. The West is no longer attempting to threaten them militarily, NATO doesn’t even have the capacity to do that… it should be the least of Russia’s worries! They could use that money to improve the rule of law, and the rest of the unilateral values in their society such as education.
We should be much more capable of co-operating to end the conflicts we have.
[Ben Ferencz] The answer to your question is very clearly no, but I don’t want you to walk away with that answer, because it is deceptive.
We are moving in the direction of peace, we will never have perfection and we shouldn’t expect it.
The fact that confined spots here and there are rotten should not misguide us into forgetting that we can make progress, we are making progress, and we have to continue to make progress. The progress we have made so far is inadequate, and the crimes that are being committed are outrageous.
There’s nothing you can do instantaneously to reverse what has been glorified for centuries. We have, for centuries, glorified the killing of people with whom you cannot reach an agreement – we don’t yet have the answers to prevent that.
Q: What are the most remarkable acts of forgiveness you have seen?
[Marina Cantacuzino] This question tests me because I’m very keen not to create a super league of forgivers. Occasionally I’m asked to nominate people for a ‘forgiveness’ award but I always politely decline. I don’t think it’s helpful to suggest that some people are better than others because they can forgive, or because they can forgive better.
I was struck a year or so ago by story in The Guardian newspaper from Iran of Samereh Alinejad – a mother of a murdered son, who said she had no intention of sparing her son’s killer, Balal, from being executed until the moment she saw the noose around his neck and found herself pleading for it to be removed. Perhaps what encouraged me most about this story is how it received far more attention (quickly going viral) than equally prominant stories of revenge and retaliation. I think that’s because this story provides people with a sense of hope and a belief in the possibility of a more peaceful future. My whole work has been about sharing these restorative stories, stories that humanize as opposed to demonize.
Q: What would be your message to the generation that follows ours in their efforts to build peace?
[Dr. Shirin Ebadi] Those seeking peace in their society must remember that what you wish for yourself, you should wish for others and that what harms you also harms others.
That would be my message for the next generation, or for any individuals who wish to create peace in their society.
Q: What would be your message to the generation after ours to build a peaceful world?
[President Martti Ahtisaari] I would urge the next generation to learn from our mistakes. What worries me sometimes is that we haven’t learned very much from history. We should study why we have landed into certain situations, as it would be totally possible to avoid making the same mistakes again.
It’s sad to see how much the populist movements get supported in today’s Europe, it’s a totally un-intellectual debate that we see that leads people to make those choices. I have learned in my life that it’s important to know the facts. You have to be able to analyse a situation and understand what is really behind it. Populism has no room for this approach.
The younger generation are much brighter than mine, and I have hope for them in the future.
[Lech Wałęsa] Our generation destroyed old roles, open the borders in Europe, unite Europe, and we open new era for your generation.
New era need new structures, new way of thinking and you have to rebuild everything for new era.
You have to understand that the technology development brought us to the era where our weapon can destroy whole World so only way for your future is to build peace and unite nations.
[Marina Cantacuzino] Keep sharing the humanising stories because we live in an age where hate is so easily amplified through social media, where who groups are dehumanized and demonized in a single second, and where the political rhetoric of the day is increasingly ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’.
And on the more personal front I’d like to draw readers’ attention to the wise words of the American Franciscan friar Richard Rohr when he said: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
[Ben Ferencz] After the war, we captured (in Berlin) records where the Nazi commanders at the front had been proudly reporting to their headquarters, how many Jews, Gypsies and other opponents they had murdered. They never used the term ‘murdered’, but ‘eliminated’. I consolidated those reports (I did it on a little adding machine) and when I realised that a million people had been killed, I flew with that evidence down from Berlin to Nuremberg with my boss, and said ‘you’ve got to put on a new trial’. He said ‘we can’t, there’s lawyers already assigned, we can’t authorise new trials’. He said ‘can you do it in addition to your other work?’ and I said ‘sure’, so he appointed me and I became the Chief Prosecutor to the largest murder trial in human history. I was 27 years old.
For 50 years I then tried to work in getting a permanent international court set up, and we finally did it, The International Criminal Court now exists at the Hague. When the ICC got to their first trial, a modern case, the Chief Prosecutor called me up and says ‘Ben, we’d like you to do the closing statement for the prosecution’. And I said ‘of course I will’. And so, aged 92, I went and made the closing statement for the prosecution.
I’m now in my 98th year, so that is simply to give you some feeling of the time it takes to go forward, and I’m still working on this – 7 days a week, 15 hours every day, trying to continue this work of creating a more rational humane world.
We have basically got to change the hearts and minds of people, particularly the young people.
Young people are the court of public opinion, they are the peoplewho will say ‘hell no, we won’t go’. The world is much more dangerous than it has been. We have the capacity from cyberspace now to cut off the electrical grid on planet Earth. We don’t have to invent such ridiculous terms as ‘collateral damage’ as though it was just a passing wind. Today’s weapons can kill everybody, or wipe out our whole city by just cutting off utilities without a sound. This is the world we’re looking at.
We have to have effective mechanisms to settle disputes, no matter what they are, without war. War should be treated with the contempt it deserves, and not glorified.
War is hell, I was there I’ve seen it, experienced it, and lived it.
Our governments aren’t fighting to end war – we still have diplomats who are quibbling and competing over who can build the most effective weapon to kill the most people. In my 98th year, it’s not my problem. But for the younger people, wake up, speak up, stop it!
To the young people of today, I give them three pieces of advice:
- Never give up.
- Never give up.
- Never give up.
And that’s the best advice I can give, and I am hopeful as I view the progress which has been significant over the years with the creation of the courts and the awakening of the human conscience. We are making good progress, but we have a long way still to go and it’s getting more dangerous every day.
We mustn’t be blinded by the problems and thereby ignore the progress. The progress we have seen since World War 2 very significant. We do have courts, we are teaching international criminal law in universities all around the world, we do have various declarations of human rights which are not honoured in full but nevertheless have had an impact.
There has been a real awakening of the human conscience and there has in fact been a movement for the international rule of law which will bind everyone equally. We made that point when I was 27, because the millions of people who had been murdered when I was the Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg were killed because they didn’t share the race and religion of the ideology of the executioners. I thought that was a horrible thing then, and I called upon the court to create a new international criminal law which would protect all human beings from the type of law I had before me in the trial.
I am not discouraged by the advances that we have made, but I am a little bit frightened about the lack of speed. Our methods of war are moving far quicker than the laws which protect us can catch-up, and that is something we must all be aware of.
Q: What would be your message to the generation after ours?
[Bertie Ahern]: Yitzhak Rabin said, ‘…you make peace with your enemies, not your friends’ and I think it’s very important for every society to not only have democratic politics and values, but to value people with different ideologies and views – allowing them to express those views at the ballot box. People should be able to debate and differ, but do so in a peaceful way. For society to succeed, we need open dialogue, we need harmony around debates, we need a free press, and for universities to allow these freedoms. We have to make people realise that freedoms of speech, consultations, debate and understanding keep conflict away; peace is not automatic.
I worry when I see that the turnout at our democratic polls is not what it should be. The free world should appreciate what we have, people often don’t vote because they feel that ‘all politicians are the same’ – when you take that view I’m afraid, it’s very easy to end-up in situations of conflict – and that’s exactly what’s happening in so much of our world.
“War is predominantly a cultural phenomenon….” Argues Alexander Moseley, “but to acquiesce in the belief that it is the product of something other than a man’s ideas is to acquiesce in determinism, which should be rejected. War is not something that just happens: we actively bring it about and maintain it as a cultural and political institution. But, more often than not, we engage in war because we are (consciously or not) imitating our culture’s perceived successes with wars in the past: we volitionally sustain the cultural inertia that maintains war.” He continues to expand that “…although the propensity to war resides within us biologically (for pacifismplainly does not), war is predominantly the product of our choices and beliefs. However, what is meant by ‘beliefs’ includes all particular aspects of human action that are learned, copied, or imitated, as well as considered explicitly by thought and language, argued over, and critiqued. Beliefs are resoluble into implicitly and explicitly held ideas, and imputed values as well as rationally-considered interests. Beliefs determine the values and interests we seek; they motivate as well as describe. In turn, ideas invoke a host of thoughts, conjectures, and fantasies that may or may not be consistently ordered into a governing philosophy in the mind and may or may not be reflective of reality. What is crucial to understand is that beliefs do not exist as ethereal (epiphenomenal) entities- they reside within thinking, acting, breathing, living beings, who design to exercise their minds, or not, and whose brains have evolved to participate in conceptual thinking to some degree or other. Above the murky area of our evolved biological instincts to defend or to aggress, war is an ideologically created institution. The problem is that many of its ideas may lie rooted in ancient but learned and chosen pre-rational structures. Succinctly, we believe that war is the way of the world, it is the way things are done, it resolves our disputes, it affirms our existence, it deters aggression, and so on.” (A Philosophy of War, 2003)
More than this, war has perversely become one of the elements shaping the lens of human culture. Let us not forget that we understand the very creation of our universe, solar system and planet in terms of ‘violent forces of creation’. The acclaimed journalist Chris Hedges wrote that, “War makes the world understandable, a black and white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought. All bow before the supreme effort. We are one. Most of us willingly accept war as long as we can fold it into a belief system that paints the ensuing effort as necessary for a higher good, for human beings seek not only happiness but also meaning. And tragically war is sometimes the most powerful way in human society to achieve meaning… War exposes a side of human nature that is usually masked by the unacknowledged coercion and social constraints that glue us together. Our cultivated conventions and little lies of civility lull us into a refined and idealistic view of ourselves. But modern industrial warfare may well be leading us, with each technological advance, a step closer to our own annihilation.” (War is a Force that Gives us Meaning, 2002)
War and conflict do not exist as natural phenomena apart from us. More than being instinctual, they are choices we actively make as a species against our own kind; and largely driven by cultural, economic, political and social factors along with unbridled examples of self-interest, which not only have been created by us, but which could be largely avoided.
We create a utopian vision of peace as being something in the future. An oasis visible on the horizon of the fog of conflict, but it is perhaps our own philosophy that means we cannot comprehend peace as existing in the present. We tend to define the value of morality in terms of evils that have been perpetrated and the value of tolerance by the hatred that has been levied. These modes of thinking are remnants of a history defined by war, conflict and its glorification… a mode of human development perhaps to be called ‘adolescence’.
In almost every way however, humanity is now ready to progress from adolescence into adulthood. We have the technology, knowledge and infrastructure to genuinely create an egalitarian world, rich in opportunity and free of many of the scourges that have ravaged us for centuries.
Plato mused that “…only the dead have seen the end of war”, but it will perhaps be the greatest victory of mankind to claim that vision for the living.