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Preventing War; Building Peace


Throughout history there have been many problems that people couldn't avoid: disease, pestilence, and natural disasters. But one of the greatest causes of suffering is caused by people themselves: war. Pretty much everyone agrees that war is not a good thing, but somehow people get involved in fighting anyway at various times and places.

Burning buildings, image by Brigitte Werner via Pixabay.com
Image by Brigitte Werner via Pixabay.com

Once a war begins, it is like a fire going through a forest, destroying everything in its path. Wars, like fires, are very difficult to put out, but fortunately they are much easier to prevent.

Although wars continue to occur, we see that many nations on Earth are peaceful, having both peace within the nation and with nations around it. Therefore, the means of having and sustaining peace must be known. If we collect this knowledge and disseminate it everywhere, that would prevent wars from continually arising.

To avoid war, it is not sufficient to simply avoid provoking it. Except with total separation, such as between the continents in pre-Columbus times, there will be interactions between people of different groups. Without agreed-upon rules and boundaries and objective judgement, there will inevitably be conflicts arising. Small conflicts don't necessarily result in war, but many humans tend to be a bit tribalistic, with trust strongest to those who are closest and most similar, and a general lack of concern for the welfare of those outside the tribe. This is like living in a dry forest, where any lightening strike or even a spark can put the whole forest on fire.

Preventing a fire requires proactive action, and likewise this is true for preventing war. In a forest the dry tinder and deadwood could be cleared out, firebreaks cleared, and water used strategically to dampen the riskiest areas. In a world of humans, war prevention involves building good-will between groups, so that they will feel like they are part of the same tribe. Furthermore, there needs to be rational means implemented for addressing conflicts that may arise, so that people do not revert to primitive violence as a means of resolving them.

To prevent war, it is necessary to actively build peace everywhere. Otherwise, war will happen sooner or later. With the modern capability for humanity to totally annihilate itself, that's a risk we can't afford to take any longer.

Fundamental Principles:

There are many steps needed to build peace, but they can be summarized into these basic principles:

  1. Goal of Mutual Happiness
  2. This is the most fundamental and important element of peace. If people seek this across all groups, they will find a way to make it happen. People don't want to fight against those who are their friends, so this is a powerful deterrent to war. Once a war begins, however, people tend to seek the opposite; at that point we no longer have prevention, and a solution becomes very difficult.

  3. Complete truth
  4. Truth is not just a casualty of war; the lack of complete truth is the primary cause of war. Dishonesty, half-truths and broken promises make it impossible to reach any kind of rational solution and to implement it successfully.

  5. Impartial justice
  6. Each side in a dispute or conflict has a "confirmation bias." They need an independent judgement to prescribe a fair solution. Prior to any dispute or conflict arising, the rules and method of dispute resolution should be decided collaboratively, and then when a judgement is made, the process is followed and each side accepts and implements the prescription.

  7. Adequate law enforcement and defence
  8. As there are inevitably a few people of weak morality who would form gangs or start wars for personal glory, there will always be a need to protect against that. Putting too much resources into military can create an arms race, however, which creates fear among the slower racers and arrogance among the faster ones. Moreover, it takes resources away from applying them to the above peace-making principles and other worthwhile pursuits. Therefore, it needs to be at a controlled level, or else it is dangerous and counterproductive to peace.

As the group size increases, the difficulty of achieving mutual happiness, truth, and justice also increases. This is why we have mixed success across the world on these matters. However, there has been progress over the history of the world on having cooperation on an increasingly larger scale, first among families, then clans, then city states, and then nations. It is reasonable to assume that we can continue this progress to a universal scale.

To make this happen, we must see other people as people, generally worthy of happiness as you would wish for ourselves. In a war situation, there is a tendency for combatants to discount the worthiness of the "enemy" to a value of 0. War creates injustice as innocent people are inevitably hurt, and very quickly the combatants are unwilling to stop.

To actually end a war voluntarily, one would have to follow Jesus Christ's prescription from two thousand years ago: "love your enemies." Few people seem to be able to do that, which is why it is crucial to prevent a war rather than supposing it can be stopped. When wars stop, it is more often because of a stalemate or of one side destroying the other.

Even when war ends with some sort of deal, there can be animosity and suffering that re-sparks the conflict later. We saw that between World War I and World War II. With the depression of the 1930s and reparations for Germany to pay, conditions were ripe for Adolph Hitler to get elected in Germany, and to pursue his ambitions to replay the world war.

At the end of World War II, however, the Allies had learned to treat Germany differently than after its World War I defeat. One example of this was the Berlin Airlift to supply food to Berlin citizens following the war, as an act of solidarity rather than abandonment or vengeance. Likewise, USA resolved to avoid the mistakes of the past in its defeat of Japan, by benevolence instead of retribution: enabling Japan to rebuild its economy, and building it into an independent democracy.

This is why those nations are on friendly, peaceful terms today. Building peace prevents wars, and it restores peace after a war.

Forgiveness is an essential element to go along with love as a solution.

To build peace, we need to understand our weaknesses that permit us to be dragged into war, in order to compensate for those weaknesses. Likewise, we need to strengthen our traits that support peace, and develop our skill and talent for cooperative solutions.

The Heritage of Instinct

Animal looking, image by Foundry Co via Pixabay.com
Image by Foundry Co via Pixabay.com

Are humans naturally cruel or naturally kind? Evidently we are evolved from simpler animals, so what traits might we expect?

We see that in many of the more sophisticated kinds of animals, there are tendencies toward altruism. Animals who help each other have an evolutionary advantage.

Nevertheless, animals can survive across generations even with some disadvantages. In some species, they reproduce in large numbers, of whom only a few survive.

People, however, wish not only to survive, but also to be happy--not in mortal danger!

It is easily demonstrated via a computer simulation such as Project NewWorld that Peace-making behavior is superior to warring behavior for survival and widespread happiness.

It seems odd, then, that people would kill each other. Some might say that war is a development unique to humans because of their sophistication. Solitary animals of the same species tend to be evenly matched in strength, so they are unable to make war; humans on the other hand can join forces into unevenly sized groups, which makes it possible.

However, in actual fact, there are other kinds of animals who kill others of the same species, and they are not especially sophisticated.

For example, lions form groups and they do kill each other. When one lion takes over a pride, cubs are killed off. Younger lions that reach mating age are ejected from the pride, and most die. Overall, 7 out of 8 male lions die, as reported in www.livescience.com.

Gorillas also form groups and a new dominant male will kill the prior offspring of the females. Male bears have also been known to kill their cubs.

Some species of ants make war against ants in other ant hills.

Although it may seem that these behaviors support evolution by promoting the most powerful and vicious among them, in fact it weakens the group as compared to a species that can cooperate on a larger scale. No lions, gorillas, or bears can survive in a contest against a large group of humans, who are weaker individually but powerful together.

Basically, the more primitive animals suffer an evolutionary disadvantage, causing suffering among themselves, but not such a great problem as to eliminate the species altogether.

Regression among humans

Because humans have the capability to cooperate, the intellect to develop mutually agreeable solutions, and an inclination to do so via natural altruism, why do they sometimes end up in fights?

Unlike two lone tigers who meet in a forest and fight over territory, two humans in that same situation can make an arrangement to avoid injury, such as "let's each turn to our right and take that territory."

So, what goes wrong?

One problem is cheating. He didn't actually want to limit himself to the "rightward territory," so he makes the promise but then secretly hunts in the other person's territory anyway. Eventually he gets caught at it. Now a rational solution is no longer possible, because no promise means anything when it is violated. Each of them falls back to instinct, and they prepare to fight.

It could be a simple fight, like between the tigers. But preferring to gain an advantage over each other, the individuals head back to their respective tribes to seek assistance. Within small groups, humans have developed empathy and trust, which gives them solidarity. So each combatant brings his tribe with him to "solve" the problem.

Now we suffer from another human weakness, that the tribe members lack a larger-scale empathy. They fail to understand that the "enemy" tribe members are just like them. They originally had no animosity toward them, but in each tribe the people get dragged into war by trusting a one-sided story. The tribe leader endorses the complaint, and soon he is leading them to war. In some cases, the leader was itching for a fight already as his ambition to increase the scope of his power, and this provides the excuse he can use to get tribesmen involved. Soon each side will not only fail to have compassion for the opposite-side strangers, but they will develop anger and hate against them as they all endure suffering.

This is a hypothetical story, but this same scenario has played out in larger nations, sparked by different complaints and led by presidents instead of tribal chiefs, in war that occurs even as this is being written. The same elements are present: lack of concern for those in the other tribe, dishonesty and broken promises, and inability to obtain or accept an impartial judgement.

The first three of the fundamental principles described above would prevent this problem if followed scrupulously by everyone. The fourth principle is a fall-back to protect against a situation where a few people insist on fighting regardless.

The problem isn't so much that people don't know better, but sometimes they think their personal goal is more important. Or perhaps they don't understand how breaking the principles eventually and inevitably produces misery, both for the people who violated the principles and many others along with them.

Strategies for individual citizens

Public demonstration, image by Kevin Snyman from Pixabay
Image by Kevin Snyman via Pixabay.com

Here's what individual people can do, to take individual initiative for a better world.

To see a detailed explanation for each item in this list, click the "Show Detail" button:

  1. Insist on free and impartial sources of information
  2. Choose honest leaders
  3. Choose leaders with virtuous personal lives
  4. Contribute to international charities
  5. Watch or participate in international sports
  6. Travel across nations
  7. Develop friendships and relationships across boundaries
  8. Learn a foreign language
  9. Participate in international education
  10. Sponsor a refugee
  11. Support Justice: Obey just laws.
  12. Protest injustice or war.
  13. Refuse to fight in an unjust war. This applies to soldiers too.
  14. Have courage: Be willing to support defence of your nation or of a nation unjustly attacked.
  15. Write a letter.
  16. Protect rights and fulfil responsibilities - behave ethically

What leaders can do

Democracy within a nation is an effective way to prevent fighting over leadership, and it also reduces the risk of war between nations, as citizens generally prefer to avoid the misery that comes with fighting. However, it needs to be an effective democracy, aimed an enabling each person to fulfil their "pursuit of happiness". Democracy is more than just voting. Leaders can improve their democracy, if their nation has one, or gradually transition their aristocracy or single-party system into one that becomes accountable to the citizens.

There also needs to be economic justice within the nation, whereby nobody is arbitrarily discriminated against, and all have the opportunity for success.

There needs to be effective and fair rule of law.

All of these things are necessary to prevent conflicts that, left unsolved, may escalate into worse conflicts.

As I first started to write this, I began to make a long list of steps leaders could take to improve their political and economic systems, and it turned out to be a very long list indeed! I finally decided to discontinue writing that here, as the content was more suitable for a book on political science or economics, and that information is readily available elsewhere.

There is a wide variety among nations of how well they do these things. Leaders can rely on social sciences to discover best practices, but progress is slow because people are wary of change. Some changes have been attempted in the past on a large scale that turned out to be terrible disasters (such as the implementation of collective farming by the Soviet Union and later communist China, resulting in mass starvation). So it makes sense to be cautious, and to start with pilot projects, or to copy successful examples from nations that have tested the practices.

There is a lot that can be done to implement solutions that literally build peace. Also, nations can help each other. There are organizations devoted to preventing war and building peace, that can offer ideas and assistance. Here are some examples:

warpreventioninitiative.org War prevention initiative.

www.visionofhumanity.org Vision of Humanity; Global Peace Index. Includes world map of peace vs war conditions

theowp.org The Organization for World Peace. Includes Actions to contribute to peace.

www.ucsusa.org/take-action/preventing-nuclear-war Preventing Nuclear War - Union of Concerned Scientists

Some nations have been quite successful at building peace within their nation, but the world overall is less successful at doing so on a global scale. The same methods that work well within nations need to be applied to the world overall. The United Nations was founded with that intent, but it was founded during a cold-war era in which the largest powers had opposing ideologies, so it was not as effective of a solution as we would wish. Nevertheless, many initiatives can be undertaken through the United Nations to address global warming or other mutual problems, and over time it could be evolved into a more effective organization for preventing war. It really depends on the state of progress within individual nations, and their level of willingness to adopt proven solutions for justice and democracy on a global level.

And here's a bit more advice to leaders...

To see a detailed explanation for each item in this list, click the "Show Detail" button:

  1. Use creative, benevolent solutions
  2. Support multi-culturalism; encourage cooperation.
  3. Support and implement new international agreements, including limits on weapons.

It is often said that "hindsight is 20/20" (clear). But once a "military solution" has been tried and turned into an endless war, it is too late to apply peace-making strategies that could have worked. Instead of friendship there will be hatred that will last for generations.

Every leader arises to his position from some particular situation, and often the leader doesn't know the best course to take, or doesn't have support to do it. A good analogy is this: To a carpenter with a hammer, every problem seems like a nail, and the solution is to hit it. Similarly, leaders with military or espionage careers tend to apply those methods that they are familiar with.

Instead, leaders need creativity, and focus on the welfare of all people regardless of their location or nationality. That is the first of the peace-making principles I stated at the outset, of which all are critical.

Moreover, leaders need to seek expert advice from far and wide, drawing on social science, and going well beyond the borders of their own party. There is a tendency in hierarchies for the lower levels to tell the leader what they suppose he wants to hear, and to edit their reports and advice accordingly. This leads to very myopic thinking, and decisions made on the basis of distorted or false information.

Much has been written about that phenomenon. It is sometimes called "groupthink". It has occurred in the lead-up to more than one war. It's not just problematic: it's dangerous. Leaders need to avoid it, and societies need to prevent it via open dialog and freedom of the press.

Reasons for Optimism

Handing over Earth, image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.com

The number of people who face death due to war has been on a downward trend, with some periodic reversals to that trend, but overall going down. See:

At the above site, notice in particular the graphs titled:

Note however that the above data only goes up to 2021. There has been an uptick in conflicts, as reported in March 2022 by the UN:

UN 2022 Conflicts

Although wars among people have occurred throughout history, there have also been regions of peace. The largest-scale regions of peace exist in modern times. Here's why the future doesn't have to be the same as the past:

Conflicts can occur between individual people, or between leaders of nations. In the latter case, the leader brings his nation into it, and the military and citizens typically follow, as it is their tradition that the leader should lead.

So, despite progress, we also see periodic setbacks. There continue to be armed conflicts in the world, and it is especially shocking to see large scale wars between nations that otherwise seem to be modern and well educated.

Creating a peaceful world basically requires each citizen to learn the fundamental practices of peace. There is also much to learn in all the social sciences: political science, economics, justice systems and judicial process, social justice, and the ethics specific to every domain of professional practice. This is too much for any one citizen to understand everything there is to know. However, individuals can take the actions listed above to promote peace, and engage all their collective knowledge to make a better world.

We live in a dangerous time, when technological capability exceeds the social development of people. We could easily destroy ourselves by nuclear war, by continuing global warming without ceasing, or by many other means. However, we also have a trend of social improvement. Social progress is slow, but if we can continue worldwide progress through two or three more generations without destroying ourselves, very likely we will have a very peaceful world. Moreover, it will be a wonderful world, as we already have the capability of a better lifestyle than has ever existed before.

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