Working towards peace and sustainability

Making Real the Dream of Ending War

Can anyone living in our society really imagine the abolition of war? It’s a stretch, to be sure. But unless we can imagine it, identify it, and work to achieve it, we will never have it. And worse, a nuclear armed world that does not transform itself into one based upon cooperation and non-violence—one of real peace, real justice—is a world likely to destroy itself, sooner or later.

Why We’re Gathering for Peace on Armistice Day

November 11. While these days most call it Veterans Day, older folks still remember it as Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day. The holiday was established to mark the anniversary of an armistice; a halt to fighting. At its core, November 11 is a peace holiday, celebrating the end of war.

Exactly one hundred years ago—in 1918—on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, fighting ceased in what is now called World War I. In the course of four years and three months of combat, from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918, the warring nations mobilized 70 million military personnel.  

Of these, thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded and another seven million were taken captive during the conflict. Sixteen million people died in the war. And even more would die from a flu epidemic created by the war. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter, with tens of thousands falling in a day to machine guns and poison gas.

Despite massive propaganda campaigns that dehumanized the enemy and portrayed the war as a noble cause, after the war, more and more the truth began to overtake the lies. What had been called “The Great War,” became known as “The War to End All Wars,” and the world came together in the post-war period to create the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a 1928 international treaty to outlaw war.  

Sadly, that treaty has not prevented war. And today, mass slaughter and war-created famines and disease epidemics have become almost routine. Our country has had a permanent war economy for nearly eight decades, from the buildup for World War II to the present, and the Pentagon or other branches of our government have been involved in wars—overt or covert—and proxy wars for virtually this entire period. Young people growing up today have lived with wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other “hot spots” around the world every day of their lives. To them, it’s the norm.

But, it’s not “normal.” It’s not right. And we don’t have to stand for it. It is up to us to share with our fellow citizens a vision of a world living in peace.

We recognize that war is not the cause of our problems, but rather a symptom of a dominance and control-seeking mindset—a way of engaging the world that dualistically views almost everything through a prism of winners and losers—a zero-sum game that we really should not be playing. This “power over” paradigm is pernicious; toxic.

Humanity desperately needs to outgrow this way of thinking and adopt, instead, a culture of cooperation, caring and mutual support. We need to begin to recognize that we are one human family and we’re all in this together.

None of this will be easy to do, but the crises we face today, including climate change, pollution, water shortages, famines, population outstripping resources, mass migration, etc. hold the potential to be a wake-up call. Alternatively, they can lead to a more selfish response. Which way things develop depends, in large part, on what we—those who are engaged in addressing these issues—do to engage our fellow citizens and the body politic.

One key area we’ve been notably unsuccessful in to date is convincing our government or our fellow citizens that the U.S. military should be downsized, rather than expanded. This includes recognizing that the global “full spectrum dominance” that the military has aimed to establish for decades, is neither attainable nor desirable, and that the most appropriate role for any military is defense.

We need to advocate, among other things, that our government takes steps to move forward global efforts for mutual and verifiable disarmament, both in the nuclear and non-nuclear realms. We need to build support for arms limitations as steps toward incremental disarmament.

Moving such ideas forward will take effective public advocacy, educating our fellow citizens as well as elected officials. It’s a process that will take years so, just like the struggle to address climate change. We need to collectively commit to long-term activism around this agenda.

In the meantime, let’s salute those who went before us, including those who, in the wake of the “War to End All Wars” took action to mourn the dead and celebrate peace on Armistice Day. They began the work to create an international order based upon the rule of law and the abolition of war. It’s now up to us to carry this forward.