By Joe White
Can there be a year without war? Test your knowledge.
Attempting to stop war, even for one year, is like trying to stop:
C. small pox
(See bottom of article for correct answer.)
Which did you choose? If you are amongst those who think that war is best understood as a natural phenomenon, e.g. war is simply a part of nature, you may have chosen one of the first three as the best analogy. While earthquakes, hurricanes and small pox are all naturally occurring phenomena that have had devastating effects upon humanity, there are significant distinctions amongst these natural phenomena, which in turn have profound implications regarding the cessation of war, if, indeed, war is a natural phenomenon. So, if you think generally that war is just a part of nature, what might you actually be thinking specifically?
If you selected A. earthquakes, then perhaps you think that war is unpredictable and uncontrollable. If the global campaign, 2020 A Year Without War, is indeed like a global campaign against earthquakes, 2020 A Year Without Earthquakes, then there is obvious futility in 2020 AYWW. However, the analogy of war to earthquakes, while perhaps psychologically persuasive for some, is bad logically.
While earthquakes, unlike hurricanes and small pox, are still unpredictable, wars now seem rather predictable in their unfolding. War seems more like a “gathering storm”, to borrow from Winston Churchill. Conditions of militancy, oppression, intolerance, expansionism, belligerent rhetoric and fear all serve as fertile grounds for the outbreak of war. War seems to visibly build up, unlike the sudden occurrence of an earthquake. So, perhaps, if you think war is a natural phenomenon somewhat predictable, the better analogy for you might be that war is more like a hurricane.
With hurricanes, satellites detect the initial churning of meteorological conditions in our oceans and we get some rough predictability concerning movement and intensity. We see the forces coming together and then we watch and prepare not unlike the belligerent conditions building up prior to the “shot heard round the world” in the 1770’s American colonies, the mid-nineteenth century violent skirmishes and rhetoric building up to the American Civil War, the web of European treaty entanglements and rhetoric prior to WWI, and the military build-up and rhetoric of the Nazis prior to WW II or presently, the Islamic Sunni ISIS jihadists in Syria making incursions into Iraq, taking control of key cities in response to the past few years of apparent bias and corruption of the Shi’a central government in Baghdad.
However, those familiar with the history of war realize that the historical prevalence of war in Europe, dating back to at least the Romans, is today nearly unthinkable. England invading France or Germany invading Belgium, Spain or the Netherlands, is today not a part of European Union diplomacy. On the European continent as well as nearly all of North and South America, war is apparently no longer a desirable means of inter-state conflict resolution. In these geographical areas, humans have gone a very long way to eliminate the apparent natural scourge of war. If Professor Steven Pinker is correct in his historical analysis,The Better Angels of Our Nature, war and violence are actually historically receding. So, unlike both earthquakes and hurricanes, if one persists in considering war to be a natural phenomenon that has been effectively eliminated in some areas of the world, war seems much more like small pox or other natural disease entities, which are both predictable as well as controllable in their having been managed or eliminated through human effort.
While the natural occurrence of small pox had devastated human beings for centuries this natural occurring disaster has now been effectively eliminated globally through human choice and cooperation. Humans, on the small pox front, came together to rid themselves of something that had no obvious benefit to them. So, if one insists that war is simply a natural malady, apparently more like small pox than either earthquakes or hurricanes, why can’t the human community come together and choose to eliminate the pox of war? Thus, if you believe that war is a natural phenomenon, such a naturalistic view of war alone does not undermine the feasibility of 2020 being a year without war. After all, there was that first year without small pox and human beings continue to celebrate the ensuing years of a world free from small pox. While the analogy to a natural disaster like small pox engenders a sense of optimism for 2020 AYWW, is war best understood as a natural phenomenon?
Bottom-line, war is not a natural phenomenon. War does not blindly strike humans indiscriminately like disease or hurricanes or earthquakes. Rather, war is a social phenomenon with a long, complex history in which there is at least a core belief that some advantage is to be gained or some disaster is to be avoided by some group through the use of violence. Thus, any analogy of war to naturally occurring disasters such as small pox, hurricanes or earthquakes is very weak at best since no naturally occurring disaster involves a choice of wreaking havoc via violence as a means to some gain. With the role of choice in using violence for some gain, perhaps war is more like the social blight of rape.
Somewhat paradoxically, eliminating social ills, such as rape, complicates the feasibility arguments regarding 2020 AYWW. In the social realm, a program’s being unfeasible in eliminating some social ill, does not undermine our duty to work diligently for that unfeasible program’s success. With regard to the case of rape or similar social ills such as assault, robbery and the like, the goal may be to eliminate the social ill but on a practical level that program’s goal tends to subtly morph from its desired goal of elimination to a practical goal of vigilant, persistent confrontation. Consider how futile a program dedicated to A Year Without Rape would be or an even more credulous program of completely eliminating rape? Here we have a seemingly ageless, violent, chosen act of seeming gain on the part of some over others. And while rape occurs globally, it is also globally reviled with a variety of legal prohibitions and punishments in all nations. The revulsion, the prohibitive laws, the policing and the prosecution of rape have not stopped rape but significantly this failure to stop rape has also not stopped the persistent attempts to stop rape. This historical failure to eliminate rape is not considered a cogent argument for each of us to cease attempting to eliminate rape.
The consensus over the horrific act of rape is that the attempt to eliminate rape is something that civilizations must be committed to but something whose resurgence requires constant vigilance and prosecution. So, if rape is the apt analogy for war, then, while elimination might be an ideal goal, the fact that the goal is ideal, even unfeasible, does not undermine our duty to continuously attempt to eliminate war. Hence the feasibility of the ideal of 2020 AYWW, on this analogy, would not absolve any of us from the duty to attempt to eliminate war for one year. But is rape the best analogy regarding the elimination of a social ill like war since war, unlike rape, is typically today a collective act typically involving large groups confronting other large groups? It therefore seems more reasonable to compare the social ill of war to the once collectively condoned social ill of slavery where a collective choice by one group to violently impose its will upon another group occurred apparently throughout human history until a crescendo of abolitionism in the 19th century.
Today, slavery is globally illegal. That is not to say that there are not slaves today but the estimated 21 million slaves today are captives due to criminal behavior. Nowhere does a collective of human beings have open, state sanctioned slave markets or the open practice of slavery. Slavery has been forced into the shadows. State sanctioned slavery is extinct while socially sanctioned slavery is fast historically receding. The case of slavery is the strongest analogy to creating a year without war and here is the feasibility of 2020 A Year Without War. Humanity can collectively say “Stop!” regarding the deliberate, group decisions to choose war as a means of resolving our inevitable social and political conflicts. Humanity has collectively, through the United Nations, unanimously chosen September 21 as the International Day of Peace. Humanity has collectively, through the United Nations, unanimously chosen since the early 1990’s a global truce during the duration of the winter and summer International Olympic Games.
2020 A Year Without War is attempting to unify the hundreds of millions of war abolitionists around the world to focus and stop war for just one year. One year constitutes a workable, limited goal with a deadline. 2020 AYWW is a grand social experiment only now possible given humanity’s technological capacity to create a global community dedicated to and engaged in tipping human history away from the antiquated, crude means of conflict resolution that has been and is war. So, we need YOU to JOIN AYWW to build that global community to begin to do to war in the early 21st century what our forbearers began to do to slavery in the early 19th century. 2020 can be a year without war. The 21st century can be the historical moment in which humanity stopped its own industrial self-destruction and redirected its trillions of dollars spent on self-destruction into its now urgent need for global self-salvation. It’s our choice!
The Correct Answer: E.