Starting the Peace Train in a Warrior Culture

I’ve been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is. Why must we go on hating? Why can’t we live in peace?

Pacifists like me face a seemingly insurmountable challenge in our long-term fight against war. Not public opinion (what normal person actually desires war?), and not even the war profiteers that seem to have driven our excursions for the past forty years. No. The challenge that we face is overcoming our warrior culture. Aside from the obvious glamorization of war on television and in movies, we constantly encounter subliminal marketing for war. Want to buy a football? Go to G. I. Joe’s. Have a roach problem? Buy some Raid. Debaters and athletes alike talk about offence and defense, taking ground, and slaughtering the opposition. Even completely non-violent products like chewing gum are branded with the name “bazooka” and government social programs are labeled the “war on poverty” or the “war on obesity.”

We have identified the problem. We knew it long ago. Bill Watterson even lamented the fact in Calvin and Hobbes. What we have failed to find is the solution, which surprises me. As a newly declared rhetoric major and a history buff, the answer comes easily. Change the audience.

When women sought suffrage in the late 19th century, and realized that the male establishment would not succumb to their pressure while the majority of mature women did not yet support suffrage, they built a base of young women who continued the work of their mothers, sisters, and mentors. When radical conservatives were all but shut out of government after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, people like Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson built a base of young men like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith.

We must recognize that “peace in our time” may not be a realizable goal. Just as Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not live to see the 19th amendment passed, and we still face enormous hurdles in the fight for racial equality forty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King’s death, we will likely die before the cannonballs are forever banned. Our children do not have to.
Teach. Ask history teachers if you can give a talk on the history of warfare from our perspective. Encourage school districts to adopt textbooks other than the gung ho military histories we were taught with (Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is a good place to start). Ask professors to teach classes on peace and the roots of violence: three times as many universities offer ROTC classes than offer classes in peace. Weave pacifism into conversations to convert friends. Fight back.

If this sounds like indoctrination, it is. But teachers indoctrinate whenever they talk about the courage of soldiers and ignore the courage of men and women who faced jail and ostracism rather than support a warrior culture. Parents indoctrinate every time they buy a G. I. Joe doll or toy rifle, and our culture indoctrinates with every episode of Future Weapons and every showing of Top Gun. Children are already being indoctrinated; we just don’t see it because they are being indoctrinated into the culture that we see every day. But if we take advantage of the open minds of children and the natural human aversion to causing pain to others, we can start to change our warrior culture. So never, ever give up hope that we can and will change the world.

I’ve been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one. And I believe it could be, some day it’s going to come.

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