From WAR to PEACE
The war system of dispute settlement has benefits that are myriad, massive, and addictive. These addictive benefits are of two kinds, profits and tradition.Addictions to profits and addiction to tradition operate differently. Both are both important.
The U.S. has the technology to replace the war system with a world peace system, and has the capability to declare peace on the world, and make it stick. But a peace system is very cheap compared to the war system. This means switching to world peace is politically impossible. Beneficiaries of business as usual, including the war system, have the clout to protect themselves from change.
The way to make transition to world peace possible – even easy – is to recreate the benefits of war within the peace system. The human family is under threat from climate change and other global threats. War can no longer keep us safe.
Transitioning to world peace will require bravery of a new sort, not to fight wars but to challenge the status quo, which has become obsolete. We face not “bad guys,” but people like ourselves who are addicted to the benefits of war. We must again become “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
There’s nothing wrong with peace, love and happiness (or with children’s lunchboxes decorated with peace signs, hearts, and smiley faces). As adults, however, we should understand that even doing our best to follow our better natures will not get us to a future of rainbows and unicorns. The system does not want to change. Its evolution is too slow to save our civilization.
To avoid a dystopian future, we will have to deal with climate change, nuclear threats, overpopulation, resource shortages, and the hubris of decision makers. Our society is addicted to the status quo, including the war system. As long as human nature is what it is, we can’t simply expect national leaders to “act nice,” and shouldn’t ask citizens to be more trusting.
This essay argues that the war system of dispute settlement can and must be transformed into a system to guarantee world peace. Actually, in the real world. The goal is not a recess between wars, but a reliable way to resolve international disputes without war.
Every country is now sovereign, meaning no higher authority can prevent countries from harming each other or the planet. National sovereignty must go. We must make it illegal for national leaders (or groups of rebels) to wage war anywhere in the world. The world peace system will do that.
Getting to world peace may be messy. America fought the bloody Civil War before it got to peace among the states. But the war system is messier. We can and must build a peace system for the world.
ADDICTION TO WAR
World War II left the United States militarily powerful, with our cities intact, and with unparalleled industrial might. “War is hell,” but World War II produced benefits for a lot of people. We alone had nuclear weapons, and moved to continue as a military superpower, to ensure our security.
We have fought several wars in the 70 years since then, but none of them has been to protect our country from attack. The military-industrial-
congressional complex has become increasingly sophisticated and powerful, leading to personal power and advancement for leaders in industry, government, and the military.
The $1 trillion our country spends every year on the war system is powerfully addictive. Money, and the power that comes with it, are strong reasons for decision makers to want new wars. However patriotic, many who profit from war don’t want peace to break out.
War pays, but why would ordinary people go along with expensive and disruptive wars? Let’s consider war’s other addictive benefits:
BENEFIT: SELF PROTECTION
The stated benefit of the war system, of course, is to protect our country against foreign attack. Before the world became interconnected by telephones, radio, TV and the Internet; most Americans didn’t have much experience with people from other countries. But jet planes, international commerce, and global tourism have unified the world.
We have seen the Earth from the moon, and learned that people are pretty much the same the world over. Now all threats of foreign attack arise directly from our aggressive military policies. As we will explore, the way to operate the world peacefully is known, and completely within the power of the U.S. Therefore, war is no longer needed for our self protection.
For thousands of years we humans have fought wars. Traditions have grown up around war fighting: militarized security, glory, honor, bravery, uniforms, medals, weaponry, strategy, fanfare, flags, music, and organizations. These traditions are important to our view of who we are. Before the world became interconnected, there were wars no one knew how to avoid. Societies therefore honored the bravery of their soldiers, and war itself, which were needed for protection.
Our children grow up “knowing” the world is “good guys versus bad guys.” They play at war, value bravery, and sometimes can’t wait for their chance to serve. Some grow up with the expectation that they will continue a family tradition of military service. The notion of good fighting against evil is widely accepted as a religious theme, and personal moral instruction. Some religions also promise a heavenly afterlife for soldiers killed in battle.
Some believe our country is chosen by God for special favor, so that our overwhelming military power serves a divine purpose. Some believe nuclear weapons may be part of God’s plan for His Armageddon war. Saluting the national flag symbolizes belonging and solidarity. It has always been a survival characteristic to identify with and protect ourselves, our families, neighbors, and country.
Traditions are comforting. We don’t have to consider, for example, whether people in other countries deserve the same high standard of living we enjoy. Such a question could only distract a soldier, and has no place in the war system. Tradition does not require that a given war be justified; every war is legitimate if it is profitable and convenient. Doomsday weapons need not be justified.
As long as the war system continues, past war deaths, injuries and suffering do not need to be justified. We can honor and memorialize war deaths without questioning the purpose of their sacrifice. What would we tell wounded veterans and their families if wars were discontinued?
BENEFITS TO YOUNG MEN
Young men benefit from a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. They get to leave home, see the world, experience new things, test their courage, and prove themselves as men without help from their families. Of course, young women share in some benefits. For example, military service may provide training leading to jobs in civilian life, and may pay for college.
Many kids finish school without a clear idea of what to do with their lives. Military service and military discipline may help young people gain a larger perspective, learn leadership, learn cooperation, and to set and achieve goals. Resulting maturity may help young men attract mates.
Upon entering the military, the young man’s symbols of class, wealth and individuality are stripped away. Basic training is a shared, equal opportunity experience. Everyone becomes part of something greater. Everyone wears the same uniform. Everyone salutes, is honored, and everyone belongs. Young men bond with their platoon, sometimes feeling closer to them than to their own family. Service men may make lifelong friends, or business contacts.
The military can be a meritocracy, giving poor and/or minority youth a chance to prove themselves. Medals and insignia represent rank earned within the system. Members have an outlet for their desire to be recognized and to progress. Hierarchical organization helps achieve complex objectives.
War is exciting, and the toys are fun! We men and boys love swords, guns, missiles, drones, planes, bombs, submarines, ships, and technically interesting weapons. War provides clarity: We are the good guys, standing for the right things. When our way of life is attacked, we must fight and prevail!
The world spends about $2 trillion per year on the war system, with about $1 trillion per year spent by the U.S. This money buys weapons systems, ammunition, salaries, clothing, food, fuel, buildings, hospitals, surveillance, lobbyists, and political favors. Some of the money goes for corporate profits, including war profiteering.
But the money also pays the salaries of at least 4 million Americans, and indirectly employs millions more. While automation and outsourcing lead to unemployment, the military becomes an employer of last resort. The military provides weapons jobs in every congressional district. Medical and other benefits for veterans are a big part of the national budget, and provide many people jobs.
Passenger jetliners, radar, the GPS system, medical advances, integrated circuits, powerful computers, communication satellites, rockets to the moon, and the Internet were made possible by the war system. Such is our cultural bias for militarism, however, that people rarely ask what technological, and social, advances we have given up by using our brightest researchers for war instead of peace.
A large standing military can have the capability to rush emergency aid to disaster areas. But, societies organized around enmity, fear, and violence are also spinoffs of the war system.
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE TO WAR?
We’ve looked at the spectrum of benefits from the war system. We have not considered the costs. But if wars are unavoidable, it follows that we must be prepared to fight them successfully, no matter the costs and benefits. For militarily weak countries, war may sometimes be unavoidable. The U.S., by contrast, has extraordinary military power. We always have alternatives to war.
Since real threats exist, what could we do for security if we gave up the war system? When our 13 colonies accepted the Constitution that created the U.S., they joined together in a federation: government in layers. States kept their right of self-government, but gave up the right to go to war with each other. Our Constitution provides a way to protect citizens without the option of wars between states.
Nuclear weapons and climate change are now global threats, against which no single country can protect itself. The world needs to add a global governmental layer, with executive, legislative and judicial functions, and a bill of rights for citizens. A democratic world government, with a written constitution, is needed to protect people in every country, without waging war.
The United Nations is not a government, and does not deserve the powers of government because it is not democratic. The U.N. cannot provide its member states with security. Consider that when China invaded Tibet and committed atrocities, the U.N. could do nothing.
A democratic world government will have laws binding on everyone, including national leaders. Conspiracy to commit war will become a punishable crime, like robbing a bank. Then national leaders will have no more ability to start wars than state governors in the U.S. do now.
Individual criminals would be subject to arrest, but could not wage wars. How do we get to a world peace system, based on democratic world government?
THE WHOLE ALTERNATIVE.
The global war system of dispute settlement costs about $2 trillion per year. By comparison, a world peace system might cost only 10% as much. There would be the cost of government, and world police to protect everyone, and arrest criminals. But no armed forces would be maintained, no weapons systems built, and no massive reconstruction after wars needed.
In a sense, a world peace system is too simple and inexpensive to be possible. The other 90% of the money supports a lot of families, creates fortunes, and has friends in high places. In the U.S., it is a major part of the economy. It is addictive.
We must assume that world peace will cost just as much as the present war system, because the money must still be spent.
Our household budgets do not prepare us for this conclusion. Paying the family bills, we look for ways to save. But we cannot “save” the money war used to cost. Spending money now powers the war system, and spending money must also power world peace, if we are to have it. To pay for wars we have had to borrow against the future, and not count the cost. World peace requires no less.
Jobs must be provided for all military personnel and weapons makers when world peace is realized. We can’t get it done over the protests of people afraid for their jobs. In other words, we must transition the massive global military infrastructure, and spending, into peaceful enterprises. And in some cases we can leverage military organization and discipline.
Remember that protection of our country and jobs / profits are only two of the addictive benefits of the war system. We need new traditions, and sources of certainty, stability and personal power. We will still have young men coming of age, and veterans to take care of. Since we must spend the money anyway, what can we buy? What inspiring missions for good, worldwide, can we sponsor for the future, with the rest of our $2 trillion per year?
We need massive new projects to employ former warriors, and to profit former war investors. In the best case, these projects will directly support a prosperous and sustainable world. After all, world peace will be easier to create when everyone has enough healthy food, clean water, energy security, clothing, shelter, health care, transportation, and meaningful work.
Consider the notion of reforesting the Sahara Desert. Whether practical or not, the idea is large enough to spend massive amounts of money, take many years, provide jobs, offer young people international and cooperative experiences, and require training and research in a range of disciplines. There could also be competition among international teams to achieve goals.
there were a desire to provide free healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, to everyone in Africa, or Asia? Or everyone on Earth? That would employ people and spend money. There could be projects to protect the carbon storage capacity of the Amazon rainforest.
Massive photovoltaic panels could be installed to protect permafrost from thawing and releasing greenhouse gases. Young people could travel the world, installing rooftop electrical or hot water systems.
Neighborhood-sized water purification plants could be promoted and installed, wherever needed. Local youth could be trained and employed.
Once we allow ourselves to think of ways to do social good instead of violence, projects can be found. And once projects are found, people will profit from them. Once investors understand that peace projects are replacing military projects, they will follow the profits. As military jobs are phased out and peace projects are hiring, the society will settle into the new “normal.”
KEEP NO ENEMIES
In the old thinking, we imagine that whatever America is doing is OK, and anything going wrong must be the fault of some enemy, and so must require military force. “War keeps us safe.” “Freedom isn’t free.” Regular people do not want war, and don’t like to think about it. So we delegate thoughts about war and peace to leaders who promise to keep us safe. Those leaders tend to gather personal power, and get a pass for misbehavior, if the people are agitated about crazy terrorists under their bed.
In our money-oriented culture, it’s hard to fault the weapons makers and military brass for doing what they do. But the time has come for the rest of us, who are made poorer and less safe by militarism, to reconsider our support for the tradition of war. Conflict is part of life. And we can’t allow ourselves to be threatened or stolen from by others. We need to be protected.
People see the reasonableness of resolving conflict through diplomatic discussion, arbitration, or legislation. You don’t need to consider others your enemy in order to protect yourself. Win-win resolutions are easiest to achieve when we don’t allow ourselves to be stampeded by anger or fear.
People in a lifeboat would be unwise to threaten each other with hand grenades, whatever their complaints. All things being equal, most people (including military people and the rich) would rather do good works and prosper in a peaceful world, than have enemies and do harm. People would rather make a place for themselves where the world is heading, than be left behind.
NEW THINKING IS REQUIRED
The momentum of our $1trillion national military budget, and our warlike traditions, are like a flywheel, making changing direction seem impossible. The power, profits and traditions of the war system make it seem weak, or treasonous, or crazy, to give up the capability to conduct wars.
We need, then, new traditions to serve present global needs. Our beliefs must catch up with the present reality. Some tipping point will be reached, after which public opinion will no longer support the old solutions. Right now solar and wind electricity is becoming less expensive than fossil fuel energy in many markets. At the same time, there is rising concern over floods, droughts and super-storms from greenhouse gases. The American public is disillusioned by the foreign wars, widely believed to be about foreign oil. Our economy is weak and buoyed up by a debt bubble.
Whatever the tipping point is, it is likely to be sudden, and accompanied by economic disruption.
The corporate news media will try to cover it up, but the Internet will not, and large numbers of regular people will rethink their commitment to the status quo. We’ve noted the addictive benefits of the war system, and the challenge of supplying allthe benefits without killing anyone (or injuring, stealing resources, destroying property, or keeping enemies).
Within the status quo, this would be impossible. But thinking about our situation in a new way makes the way forward clear, if not easy. Tradition has it that the Sunnis hate the Shia, the Arabs hate the Jews, the Irish Protestants and Catholics can’t get along, and so forth. There are political, historical, religious, racial, and economic differences that have been used to set one group against the other.
Eliminating war will not automatically eliminate prejudice, fear, distrust, and anger; but it will help.
Our American tradition is to feel a patriotic kinship with 320+ million Americans, some living at great distances from us, almost all of whom we will never meet. Why not count all 7.4 billion human beings on Earth as our countrymen? We will share the fate of human civilization with every country.
We must accept that war is addictive. The extraordinary benefits society receives from continuing the war system have us hooked. We will have to break free from the myriad enticements: the story that we are always right, our proud traditions, and the massive flow of money and power to decision makers. We must break the war habit.
We must be willing to give up war, and make it illegal. We have accepted a comfortable status quo, while decision makers pursued their short term interests. The enemy is no longer “them,” but global problems we have helped create.
We must accept world peace, based on democratic laws binding on all individuals. The world is too interconnected and its problems too serious to allow aggressive leaders to distract us with wars.
We must find better ways to spend the same money. Beyond creating a world peace system, we must spend on projects to educate people, feed the hungry, repair the environment, and do very large scale cooperative projects around the world.
We must keep no enemies. Neither citizens of foreign countries nor people in our military establishment are “bad guys,” though they may do things that can harm us. We must protect ourselves without considering anyone our enemy.
We must be brave. “The land of the free and the home of the brave” has gone along with the assumption that we can muddle through to the future using military might and private profits.
WHAT CAN ONE PERSON DO?
First, consider the “New thinking” above. Make no mistake: confronting our beliefs is real work, and critical to realizing the future we want. Decide whether you believe the world is coming to a point where new directions and new social organization will be necessary.
Second, talk to others who may be prepared to think new thoughts about a peaceful future. Not everyone is ready to examine what they think. After all, things have been pretty good for our whole (white, middle class) lives. People you talk to may not agree with you, especially not right away. We all learn from discussion.
Third, understand that as social systems become increasingly unstable, more and more people will be prepared to think new thoughts. Don’t be discouraged.
Fourth, ask Google. Find out about democratic federal world government. Read Major General Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket (1933), written before the permanent war system was established.
Fifth, when leaders move to peace system thinking into social or political action, support them.
New times bring new challenges, and require new thinking:
1. Accept that war is addictive,
2. We must give up war, and make it illegal,
3. We must accept world peace, based on democratic laws binding on individuals,
4. We must find peaceful ways to spend the same money,
5. We must keep no enemies, and
6. We must bravely consider a peaceful world future.