"The only reliable resource for security in the world today is relationship. When relationships are healthy, you don't need any military to protect you. When relationships are unhealthy, even the largest military in the world won't make you safe."
John Burch, September 11, 2001
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WHAT ARE PEACEFUL ALTERNATIVES TO CONFLICT?
In our October 9 VFP49 chapter meeting, Siobhan McEvoy-Levy led us in a discussion about peaceful alternatives to conflict. This was a continuation of discussions we have been having for months about what we are for, as well as what we are against. For example, in our recent action regarding Iran, we advocated a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East as an alternative to a military attack on Iran. Siobhan is a member of our chapter and is a professor in the Political Science and Peace and Conflict Studies program at Butler University. The discussion focused on ways of thinking that lead to violent conflict, and how we can train ourselves and others to think differently about resolutions to conflict that promote peaceful alternatives to war.
Siobhan shared that common thinking about "conflict" includes several points:
* Most people think conflict is inevitable. This may be true, but violent or destructive conflict is not inevitable. Conflicts involve choices about how they are conducted. We also need to realize that conflict can even be positive when it stimulates personal and societal development. But we can choose to wage conflict nonviolently for constructive rather than destructive ends.
* Conflict is not a linear progression from one cause to one outcome. We need to be consciously aware that conflicts involve complex systems. There are multiple factors that cause conflict, and so solutions need to consider multiple interventions that can be effective in addressing the underlying causes.
* How we think about problems influences how we deal with them. This is illustrated in the saying that "people who are only good with hammers think every problem is a nail" (attributed to psychologist Abraham Maslow).
Given these views, Siobhan explained how we can train ourselves and others in alternative ways of thinking and acting:
* We can change our "war logic". A useful insight from anthropology is that like marriage and education, war is a social invention. So we can "reinvent" these phenomena, and explore other alternatives. It is not easy to change the system that influences our thinking. For example, the military-industrial-legislative-media complex promotes popular views that force is often required to resolve differences, and that the damage to people, economies and societies caused by war is either minimal or a "necessary evil". To give up war, people would need to be convinced that as an invention, as a tool, war is defective, and that better alternatives exist. We have to know how to change society's thinking on war over time.
* We need to broaden our understandings about what conflicts are really about. For example, we often look at deprivation of basic human needs (food, shelter, etc.) etc. as causes of conflict. But we also need to consider factors like identity and recognition, political participation, and economic access and development. She noted that sometimes it may be too late to stop a war. For example, the invasion of Iraq was in place before the popular protests took place. In such cases, it might be more effective to focus efforts on making this the last war.
* We need to broaden our understandings about what conflicts are really about. For example, we often look at deprivation of basic human needs (food, shelter, etc.) or greed and competition over resources as causes of conflict. But we also need to consider factors like identity and a desire for recognition and belonging, for political participation, and for economic access and development. She noted that sometimes it may be too late to stop a war. For example, the invasion of Iraq was in place before the popular protests occurred. In such cases, it might be more effective to focus efforts on making this the last war. Addressing the needs of returning combatants and working to change thinking about the logic of war are two of the ways we can do this. In considering alternatives for problem-solving, we need to examine win-win solutions (rather than fall back to "zero sum" thinking where for one side to win the other side has to lose). For example, how can we restore justice, mutually beneficial relationships, and build societal and individual capacities for peace through education, community development, and dialogue etc.?
* How do we actually change behavior? One model from Peace and Conflict studies (by Johan Galtung) examines how culture (values, attitudes, etc.) and social structures (institutions, barriers, etc.) form the basis for direct expressed behavior.
Direct Culture Structures
A model like this calls for changing culture and structures to promote new direct behaviors. Peaceful alternatives to war may emerge from transformations in culture (i.e. in the ideas, values, practices and beliefs that justify and legitimize violence) and transformations in structures (the institutions and systems cause and promote violence). To effect transformation in culture, for example, we can challenge and counter ideas about "our" exceptionalism or that demonize others. Structural transformations entail working to change unequal distributions of power and access to resources, for example, that provide the grievances and opportunity structures which promote violence. Siobhan passed out an information sheet on Strategic Peacebuilding, which itemizes the variety of alternatives that exist to using direct military force in resolving conflicts and that contribute to building a peace logic, rather than a war logic, over the longer-term. She also shared a handout on Thinking from Peace and Conflict Studies.
In the discussion, some points raised included that building a peaceful social system is a long-term effort, particularly with a popular sentiment that "leaders know best" (as indicated in a PBS Frontline report on Fusion Centers) and when it is often industry who decides there will be a war. We need to change the war mentality to "war is the absence of peace", that is, that peace is the normal.
We appreciate Siobhan sharing with us these principles that can help guide us in our efforts to promote Peace. As our own understanding develops, we hope to be more effective in building a peaceful America.