Inventing peace

Cora Weiss
18 March 2004

Why war?

Since the very purpose of the United Nations is to prevent the scourge of war, and since in the eleven years between 1989 and 2000 alone there were 111 armed conflicts, can we say there has been a mammoth failure of the international community? Is it a dream to say that the time to end war has come?

“Nothing happens unless first a dream,” said our great poet, Carl Sandburg. But is it possible? After all, say most folks, history is replete with one war after another. Most national monuments are of men on horseback with rifles, or dedicated to the fallen heroes in wartime. Battlefield cemeteries are tourist attractions. War is inevitable. It may even come with our DNA, they say. But the UNESCO Seville statement on violence of 1989 says:

Read also Scilla Elworthy on practical ways to resolve conflict peacefully

“We conclude that biology does not condemn humanity to war... Wars begin in the minds of men...the same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace.”

People once thought slavery inevitable, and laws and taxes supported it.

People once thought colonialism inevitable, and again, it was supported by laws and taxes. And so too, apartheid.

These three major historic institutions were rejected after struggle. I submit that the institution of war, protected by laws, so called humanitarian laws, and paid for by taxes, can and must be put on the shelf of history alongside slavery, colonialism and apartheid. I do not come to this view from the ideology of pacifism. Rather from pragmatism. The world has moved in fifty-five short years from being nuclear-free to supporting a nuclear club and now has become a nuclear bazaar. Neither humanity nor the planet Earth can survive nuclear omnicide.

A quick scan of today’s, or any day’s newspaper shows one photo after another of children, civilians, dead from gun fire. Women mourn. Small arms are a big problem. As long as there is a barely restricted availability of guns they will be used to kill. We need to rid the world of manufacture and sale of guns except for police defensive use.

War and the preparation for war rob resources from human security. As long as we honour war and warriors we maintain fear and hate, always based on ignorance; and fear is the enemy of learning, it gives ignorance its power. As long as we misplace money for weapons – we keep water polluted, we keep far too many women illiterate and unskilled, we prevent health care and education from being universally enjoyed – we promote poverty. These are among the root causes of violent conflict.

We are not the first women to raise the question of the illegitimacy of war.

In the tradition

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic and invented Mother’s Day, said, “From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up and says, Disarm, Disarm.” “In the name of womanhood and humanity”, she called for “a congress of women without limits of nationality to promote the amicable settlement of international questions and the great and general interests of peace.” (September 1870)

Bertha von Kinsky persuaded Alfred Nobel to turn the profits of his invention, TNT, into a peace prize. In 1897, Emma Goldman said, “When you are educated, when you know your power, you’ll need no bombs, and no dynamite or militia will hold you.”Marie Curie, a Nobel laureate with her husband in 1903, and again alone in 1911, was a great women’s and peace advocate. Eleanor Roosevelt, mother of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, warned that if we want to rid the world of war we would have to think of an alternative activity for young men who were attracted by the excitement of war and the idea of becoming heroes.

Shirin Ebadi, from Iran, the first Muslim woman to become a Nobel Laureate said in her acceptance speech:

“If the 21st century wishes to free itself from the cycle of violence, acts of terror and war, and avoid repetition of the experience of the 20th century – that most disaster ridden century of human kind, there is no other way except by understanding and putting into practice every human right for all mankind, irrespective of race, gender, faith, nationality or social status.” (10 December 2003)

The latest initiative, 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize is a clear demonstration of the work of women working against war and for peace.

A woman’s place

Women help hold societies together and are attacked for this. The deliberate bombing of the market place in Sarajevo, Bosnia is a dramatic example. Rape as the latest weapon of mass destruction, is evidence of the war makers need to destroy, humiliate, disempower women and by infecting them with HIV/Aids, to kill them and their children. That is why I firmly believe that it will be women, acting together, acting strategically, teaching, and organising who will be responsible for enacting the “culture of peace” that will be necessary for the survival of humanity.

The “culture of peace” has become a well-worn phrase and indeed is a UN “law”. “It is a set of values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations.”

So how do we get from a culture of violence which defined this past century to a culture of peace which must define this new century?

I am reading the biography of a refugee from Iran, and she tells of her grandmother, who, “seeing the potential of an untimely argument, summoned everyone to dinner.” Conflict prevention begins at home. How many mothers break up fights among children? We read the report from the Middle East, where Palestinians joined Israelis to block bulldozers from destroying olive orchards to construct the wall. “An elderly Palestinian woman in a white head scarf paused atop a heap of rocks to help a grey haired Israeli woman. Together they cleared the way and kept holding hands as they walked toward the crowd.” Conflict prevention. Non-violent, practical doable immediate acts that buy time, that divert violence.

Teaching peace

To raise new generations of people with the skills, values and knowledge to create and maintain peace, we need peace education. Peace does not come with our DNA. It must be learned. Peace education is not a separate course. It is a holistic participatory process that includes teaching for and about human rights, non-violence, social and economic justice, gender equality, environmental sustainability, international law, disarmament and human security. It prepares us for democratic participation and is based on values of dignity, equality and respect.

The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century is a fifty-point programme for getting from a culture of violence to a culture of peace. It is a guide to conflict prevention and conflict resolution. We can use it, study it, discuss it, add to it...we have the tools, we have the women. Let’s move forward from 1325 to a petition calling for the abolition of war. Let’s get to work. Your children will thank you.
- Cora Weiss

You can learn more about how to integrate the values and skills of peace education into classrooms, community and families from the web site, www.haguepeace.org.

An important opportunity to prevent the reignition of violence comes with the end of a conflict. Peace agreements are important places to not only announce the rules that will end the violence, but to promulgate the way to build a sustainable peace. We believe that peace education must be part of every peace agreement. It appears in none. We have a template that is available for any peace accord that was prepared by an Israeli woman and Palestinian man who direct MECA, which trains teachers and monitors textbooks. It is available for comment, amendment and enactment. Teachers will have the task to help students understand the peace agreement reached, and should be among the negotiators at any conflict resolution table.

A place at the table

Of all the peace agreements reached since the end of the cold war, only the Irish Good Friday agreement, South Africa and Guatemala have had women at the table. In each case a substantial difference was made. The Irish women never let the negotiators forget their commitment to human rights. The South Africans have a constitution that insists that 30% of parliamentarians be women.

Public opposition to the illegal act of war against Iraq may provide us with the moment to move into gear to raise the issue of the legitimacy of war from the halls of the CSW at the UN to every village and town where the women will return. It is time to have this discussion replicated in schools, at parent and teacher meetings, in city halls, at town council meetings, in the parliaments of the world and in the Security Council.

Why war?

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