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Against the Institution of War

ARTICLE | | BY John Scales Avery


John Scales Avery

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Among the topics discussed is the current crisis of civilization, to which the institution of war in an era of all-destroying thermonuclear weapons strongly contributes. Another issue that is discussed is the human emotional tendency that might be called “tribalism”. It is our tendency to be kind and altruistic towards members of our own group, and extremely hostile towards groups that are perceived to be competing with or threatening our own. Probably this tendency was built into the genes of our ancestors when they lived in small, genetically homogeneous tribes, competing for territory on the grasslands of Africa. Another important topic discussed is the need for effective and just global governance. It is argued that the United Nations should be strengthened by converting it into a federation, with a greatly increased income, and the power to make laws that are binding on individuals. The International Criminal Court, established by the Treaty of Rome, is discussed as an important first step towards individual accountability. It is my hope that this article will contribute to our understanding of Human Security.

The essay is divided into ten sections with the following titles:

  1. Science and Technology are Double-edged
  2. A Crisis of Civilization
  3. Civilians, Victims of War
  4. Indirect Costs of War
  5. War as an Institution
  6. Poverty, Disease and War
  7. International Governance
  8. The Success of Federations
  9. A New Global Ethic
  10. Love your Enemies

1. Science and Technology are Double-edged

As we start the 21st century and the new millennium, our scientific and technological civilization seems to be entering a period of crisis. Today, for the first time in history, science has given humans the possibility of a life of comfort, free from hunger and cold, and free from the constant threat of infectious disease. At the same time, science has given us the power to destroy civilization through thermonuclear war, as well as the power to make our planet uninhabitable through pollution and overpopulation. The question of which of these alternatives we choose is a matter of life or death for ourselves and our children.

Science and technology have shown themselves to be double-edged, capable of doing great good or of producing great harm, depending on the way in which we use the enormous power over nature, which science has given to us. For this reason, ethical thought is needed now more than ever before. The wisdom of the world’s religions, the traditional wisdom of humankind, can help us as we try to ensure that our overwhelming material progress will be beneficial.

2. A Crisis of Civilization

The crisis of civilization, which we face today, has been produced by the rapidity with which science and technology have developed. Our institutions and ideas adjust too slowly to the change. The great challenge that history has given to our generation is the task of building new international political structures, which will be in harmony with modern technology. At the same time, we must develop a new global ethic, which will replace our narrow loyalties with loyalty to humanity as a whole.

In the long run, because of the enormously destructive weapons, which have been produced through the misuse of science, the survival of civilization can only be ensured if we are able to abolish the institution of war.

While in earlier epochs it may have been possible to confine the effects of war mainly to combatants, in our own century the victims of war have increasingly been civilians, and especially children. For example, according to Quincy Wright’s statistics, the First and Second World Wars together cost the lives of 26 million soldiers, but the toll on civilian lives was much larger: 64 million.

3. Civilian Victims of War

Since the Second World War, despite the best efforts of the UN, there have been over 150 armed conflicts; and, if civil wars are included, there are on any given day an average of 12 wars somewhere in the world. In the conflicts in Indo-China, the proportion of civilian victims was between 80% and 90%, while in the Lebanese civil war, some sources state that the proportion of civilian casualties was as high as 97%.

Civilian casualties often occur through malnutrition and diseases, which would be preventable in normal circumstances. Because of the social disruption caused by war, normal supplies of food, safe water and medicine are interrupted, so that the population becomes vulnerable to famine and epidemics. In the event of a catastrophic nuclear war, starvation and disease would add greatly to the loss of life caused by the direct effects of nuclear weapons.

4. Indirect Costs of War

The indirect effects of war are also enormous. Globally, preparations for war interfere seriously with the use of tax money for constructive and peaceful purposes. Today, despite the end of the Cold War, the world spends roughly two trillion (i.e. two million million) US dollars each year on armaments. This enormous flood of money, which is almost too large to imagine, could have been used instead for urgently needed public health measures.

The World Health Organization lacks funds to carry through an anti-malaria program on as large a scale as would be desirable, but the entire program could be financed for less than what the world spends on armaments in a single day. Five hours of world arms spending is equivalent to the total cost of the 20-year WHO campaign, which resulted in the eradication of smallpox. For every 100,000 people in the world, there are 556 soldiers, but only 85 doctors. Every soldier costs an average of 20,000 US dollars per year, while the average spent per year on education is only 380 US dollars per school-aged child. With a diversion of funds consumed by three weeks of military spending, the world could create a sanitary water supply for all its people, thus eliminating the cause of almost half of all human illness.

A new and drug-resistant form of tuberculosis has recently become widespread, and is spreading rapidly in the former Soviet Union. In order to combat this new form of tuberculosis, and in order to prevent its spread to Western Europe, WHO needs 450 million US dollars, an amount equivalent to 2 hours of world arms spending. By using this money to combat tuberculosis in the former Soviet Union, WHO would be making a far greater contribution to global peace and stability than is made by spending the money on armaments.

Today’s world is one in which roughly ten million children die each year from diseases related to poverty. Besides this enormous waste of young lives through malnutrition and preventable disease, there is a huge waste of opportunities through inadequate education. The rate of illiteracy in the 25 least developed countries is 80%, and the total number of illiterates in the world is estimated to be 800 million. Meanwhile every 60 seconds the world spends roughly 4 million US dollars on armaments.

It is plain that if the almost unbelievable sums now wasted on armaments were used constructively, most of the pressing problems now facing humanity could be solved and the world will be moving towards a better state of human security, but today the world spends more than 20 times as much per year on weapons as it does on development.

5. War as an Institution

Because the world spends 2 thousand billion dollars each year on armaments, it follows that many people make their living from war. This is the reason why it is correct to speak of war as a social institution, and also the reason why war persists, although everyone realizes that it is the cause of much of the suffering that harms humanity. We know that war is madness, but it persists. We know that it threatens the future survival of our species, but it persists, entrenched in the attitudes of historians, newspaper editors and television producers, entrenched in the methods by which politicians finance their campaigns, and entrenched in the financial power of arms manufacturers, entrenched also in the ponderous and costly hardware of war, the fleets of warships, bombers, tanks, nuclear missiles and so on. Science cannot claim to be guiltless: in Eisenhower’s farewell address, he warned of the increasing power of the industrial-military complex, a threat to democratic society. If he were making the same speech today, he might speak of the industrial-military-scientific complex. Since Hiroshima, we have known that new knowledge is not always good. There is a grave danger that nuclear weapons will soon proliferate to such an extent that they will be available to terrorists and even to the Mafia. Chemical and biological weapons also constitute a grave threat. The eradication of smallpox in 1979 was a triumph of medical science combined with international cooperation. How sad it is to think that military laboratories cultivate smallpox and that the disease may soon be reintroduced as a biological weapon!

The institution of war seems to be linked to a fault in human nature, to our tendency to exhibit altruism towards members of our own group but aggression towards other groups if we perceive them to be threatening our own community. This tendency, which might be called “tribalism”, was perhaps built into human nature by evolution during the long prehistory of our species, when we lived as hunter-gatherers in small genetically homogeneous tribes, competing for territory on the grasslands of Africa. However, in an era of nerve gas and nuclear weapons, the anachronistic behavior pattern of tribal altruism and intertribal aggression now threatens our survival.

Fortunately, our behavior is only partly determined by inherited human nature. It is also, and perhaps to a larger extent, determined by education and environment; and inspite of all the difficulties just mentioned, war has been eliminated locally in several large regions of the world. Taking these regions as models, we can attempt to use the same methods to abolish war globally. For example, war between the Scandinavian nations would be unthinkable today, although the region once was famous for its violence. Scandinavia is especially interesting as a model for what we would like to achieve globally, because it is a region in which it has been possible not only to eradicate war, but also poverty; and at the same time, death from infectious disease has become a rarity in this region.

6. Poverty, Disease and War

If we consider the problem of simultaneously eliminating poverty, war and frequent death from infectious disease, we are led inevitably to the problem of population stabilization. At the time when poverty, disease and war characterized Scandinavia, the average fertility in the region was at least 6 children per woman-life. Equilibrium was maintained at this high rate of fertility, because some of the children died from disease without leaving progeny, and because others died in war. Today, poverty and war are gone from the Nordic countries, and the rate of premature death from infectious diseases is very low. The simultaneous elimination of poverty, disease and war would have been impossible in Scandinavia if the rate of fertility had not fallen to the replacement level. There would then have been no alternative except for the population to grow, which it could not have continued to do over many centuries without environmental degradation, bringing with it the recurrence of poverty, disease and war.

In Scandinavia today, democratic government, a high level of education, economic prosperity, public health, high social status for women, legal, economic and educational equality for women, a low birth rate, and friendly cooperation between the nations of the region are mutually linked in loops of cause and effect. By contrast, we can find other regions of the world where low status of women, high birth rates, rapidly increasing population, urban slums, low educational levels, high unemployment levels, poverty, ethnic conflicts and the resurgence of infectious disease are equally linked, but in a vicious circle. The three age-old causes of human suffering, poverty, infectious disease and war are bound together by complex causal relationships involving also the issues of population stabilization and woman’s rights. The example of Scandinavia shows us that it is possible to cure all these diseases of society, but to do so we must address all of the problems simultaneously.

Scandinavia was once a region that was famous for its violence. Today, war within Scandinavia would be unthinkable. This fact demonstrates the malleability of human nature. Under changed circumstances, and with changed education, people who were once extremely violent have become very peaceful. Scandinavia’s low birth-rate has contributed to this transition.

7. International Governance

Abolition of the institution of war and achieving human security will require the construction of structures of international government and law to replace our present anarchy at the global level. Today’s technology has shrunken the distances, which once separated nations; and our present system of absolutely sovereign nation-states has become both obsolete and dangerous.

Professor Elie Kedourie of the University of London has given the following definition of nationalism: “..a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. It pretends to supply a criterion for the determination of the unit of population proper to enjoy a government exclusively its own, for the legitimate exercise of power in the state, and for the right organization of a society of states. Briefly, the doctrine holds that humanity is naturally divided into nations, that nations are known by certain characteristics which can be ascertained, and that the only legitimate type of government is national self-government.”

A basic problem with this doctrine is that, throughout most of the world, successive waves of migration, conquest and intermarriage have left such a complicated ethnic mosaic that attempts to base political divisions on ethnic homogeneity often meet with trouble. In Eastern Europe, for example, German-speaking and Slavic-speaking peoples are mixed together so closely that the Pan-German and Pan-Slavic movements inevitably clashed over the question of who should control the regions where the two populations lived side by side. This clash was one of the main causes of the First World War.

Similarly, when India achieved independence from England, a great problem arose among the regions where Hindus and Muslims lived side by side; and even Gandhi was unable to prevent terrible violence from taking place between the two communities. This problem is still present, and it has been made extremely dangerous by the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan.

More recently, nationalist movements in Asia and Africa have derived their force and popularity from a reaction against the years of European political and economic domination. Thus, at first sight, they seem to deserve our sympathy and support. However, in building states, the new nationalists have often used hate for outsiders as mortar. For example, Israel is held together by hostility towards its Arab neighbors, while the Pan-Arab movement is held together by hostility towards Israel; and in this inflamed political climate of mutual fear and hatred, even clandestine nuclear weapons appear to either side to be justified.

A basic problem rooted in nationalist mythology exists in the concept of sanctions, which treat nations as if they were individuals. We punish nations as a whole by sanctions, even when only the leaders are guilty, even though the burdens of the sanctions often fall most heavily on the weakest and least guilty of the citizens, and even though sanctions often have the effect of uniting the citizens of a country behind the guilty leaders.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the concept of the absolutely sovereign nation-state is an anachronism in a world of thermonuclear weapons, instantaneous communication and economic interdependence. Probably our best hope for the future lies in developing the United Nations into a World Federation. The strengthened United Nations should have a legislature with the power to make laws which are binding on individuals, and the ability to arrest and try individual political leaders for violations of these laws.

The World Federation should also have the military and legal powers necessary to guarantee the human rights of ethnic minorities within nations. A strengthened UN would need a reliable source of income to make the organization less dependent on wealthy countries, which tend to give support only to those interventions of which they approve.

A promising solution to this problem is the so-called “Tobin tax”, named after the Nobel-laureate economist James Tobin of Yale University. Tobin proposed that international currency exchanges should be taxed at a rate between 0.1 and 0.25%. He believed that even this extremely low rate of taxation would have the effect of damping speculative transactions, thus stabilizing the rates of exchange between currencies. When asked what should be done with the proceeds of the tax, Tobin said, almost as an afterthought, “Let the United Nations have it”. The volume of money involved in international currency transactions is so enormous that even the tiny tax proposed by Tobin would provide the World Federation with between 100 billion and 300 billion dollars annually. By strengthening the activities of various UN agencies, such as WHO, UNESCO and FAO, the additional income would add to the prestige of the United Nations and thus make the organization more effective when it is called upon to resolve international political conflicts.

8. The Success of Federations

A federation is, by definition, a limited union of states, where the federal government has the power to make laws that are binding on individuals, but where the laws are confined to interstate matters, and where all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government are reserved for the several states. In other words, in a federation, each of the member states runs its own internal affairs according to its own laws and customs; but in certain agreed-on matters, where the interests of the states overlap, authority is specifically delegated to the federal government.

For example, if the nations of the world considered the control of narcotics to be a matter of mutual concern; if they agreed to set up a commission with the power to make laws preventing the growing, refinement and distribution of harmful drugs, and with the power to arrest individuals for violating those laws, then we would have a world federation in the area of narcotics control.

If, in addition, the world community considered terrorism to be a matter of mutual concern; if an international commission were also set up with the power to make global anti-terrorist laws, and to arrest individuals violating those laws, then we would have a world federation with somewhat broader powers. If the community of nations decided to give the federal authority the additional power to make laws defining the rights and obligations of multinational corporations, and the power to arrest individuals violating those laws, then we would have a world federation with still broader powers; but these powers would still be carefully defined and limited.

In 1998, in Rome, representatives of 120 countries signed a statute establishing a Permanent International Court, with jurisdiction over war crimes and genocide. Four years were to pass before the necessary ratifications were gathered, but by Thursday, April 11, 2002, 66 nations had ratified the Rome agreement, 6 more than the 60 needed to make the court permanent. The jurisdiction of the Permanent International Court is at present limited to a very narrow class of crimes. The global community will have a chance to see how the court works in practice, and in the future, the community may decide to broaden its jurisdiction.

In setting up a federation, the member states can decide which powers they wish to delegate to it; and all powers not expressly delegated are retained by the individual states. We are faced with the problem of constructing a new world order which will preserve the advantages of local self-government while granting certain carefully-chosen powers to larger regional or global authorities. Which things should be decided locally, or regionally, and which globally?

In the future, overpopulation and famine are likely to become increasingly difficult and painful problems in several parts of the world. Since various cultures take widely different attitudes towards birth control and family size, the problem of population stabilization seems to be one which should be solved locally. At the same time, aid for local family planning programs, as well as famine relief, might appropriately come from global agencies, such as WHO and FAO. With respect to large-scale migration, it would be unfair for a country which has successfully stabilized its own population, and which has eliminated poverty within its own borders, to be forced to accept a flood of migrants from regions of high fertility. Therefore the extent of immigration should be among the issues to be decided locally.

Security and controls on the manufacture and export of armaments will require an effective authority at the global level. It should also be the responsibility of the international community to intervene, to prevent gross violations of human rights. Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations has more and more frequently been called upon to send armed forces to troubled parts of the world. In many instances, these calls for UN intervention have been prompted by clear and atrocious violations of human rights, for example by “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia and by genocide in Rwanda. Long and complex diplomatic negotiations were required to muster the necessary political and physical forces needed for intervention, by which time the original problems had become much more severe. For this reason, it has been suggested that the UN Secretary General, the Security Council and the General Assembly ought to have at their disposal a permanent, highly trained and highly mobile emergency force, composed of volunteers from all nations. Such an international police force would be able to act rapidly to prevent gross violations of human rights or other severe breaches of international law.

"One can hope for a future world where the institution of war will be abolished, and where public opinion will support international law, a world where international law will be seen by all to be just, impartial and necessary, a well-governed global community within which each person will owe his or her ultimate loyalty to humanity as a whole."

In evaluating the concept of an international police force directly responsible to the United Nations, it is helpful to examine the way in which police act to enforce laws and to prevent violence and crime at local and national levels. Within a community which is characterized by good government, police are not highly armed, nor are they numerous. Law and order are not maintained primarily by the threat of force, but by the opinion of the vast majority of the citizens that the system of laws is both just and necessary. Traffic stops when the signal light is red and moves when it is green whether or not a policeman is present, because everyone understands why such a system is necessary. Nevertheless, although the vast majority of the citizens in a well-governed community support the system of laws and would never wish to break the law, we all know that the real world is not heaven. The total spectrum of human nature includes evil as well as good. If there were no police at all, and if the criminal minority were completely unchecked, every citizen would be obliged to be armed. No one’s life or property would be safe. Human Security is as much about Individual and personal security as it is about collective and community security. To achieve human security for all would mean changing the paradigm from a selfish ego-centered paradigm to one that focuses on the well-being of every individual and society. Not one at the expense of the other but one that complements and aids the other.

Within a society with a democratic and just government, whose powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a small and lightly armed force of police is able to maintain the system of laws. One reason why this is possible has just been mentioned—the force of public opinion. A second reason is that the law acts on individuals. Since obstruction of justice and the murder of policemen both rank as serious crimes, an individual criminal is usually not able to organize massive resistance against police action.

Edith Wynner, one of the pioneers of the World Federalist movement, lists the following characteristics of police power in a well-governed society:

  1. “A policeman operates within a framework of organized government having legislative, executive and judicial authority operating on individuals. His actions are guided by a clearly stated criminal code that has the legislative sanction of the community. Should he abuse the authority vested in him, he is subject to discipline and court restraint.”
  2. “A policeman seeing a fight between two men does not attempt to determine which of them is in the right and then help him beat up the one he considers wrong. His function is to restrain violence by both, to bring them before a judge who has authority to determine the rights of the dispute, and to see that the court’s decision is carried out.”
  3. “In carrying out his duties, the policeman must apprehend the suspected individual without jeopardizing either the property or the lives of the community where the suspect is to be arrested. And not only is the community safeguarded against destruction of property and loss of life but the rights of the suspect are also carefully protected by an elaborate network of judicial safeguards.”

Edith Wynner also discusses the original union of the thirteen American colonies, which was a confederation, analogous to the present United Nations. This confederation was found to be too weak, and after eleven years it was replaced by a federation, one of whose key powers was the power to make and enforce laws which acted on individuals. George Mason, one of the architects of the federal constitution of the United States, believed that “such a government was necessary as could directly operate on individuals, and would punish those only whose guilt required it”, while James Madison (another drafter of the US federal constitution) remarked that, the more he reflected on the use of force, the more he doubted “the practicability, the justice and the efficacy of it when applied to people collectively, and not individually”. Finally, Alexander Hamilton, in his “Federalist Papers”, discussed the confederation with the following words: “To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised... Can any reasonable man be well disposed towards a government, which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itsel—a government that can exist only by the sword? Every such war must involve the innocent with the guilty. This single consideration should be enough to dispose every peaceable citizen against such a government... What is the cure for this great evil? Nothing, but to enable the... laws to operate on individuals, in the same manner as those of states do.”

The United Nations is at present a confederation rather than a federation, and thus it acts by attempting to coerce states. Whether this coercion takes the form of economic sanctions, or whether it takes the form of military intervention, the practicability, the justice and the efficacy of the UN’s efforts are hampered because they are applied to people collectively and not individually. What is the cure for this great evil? “Nothing”, Alexander Hamilton tells us, “but to enable the laws to act on individuals, in the same manner as those of states do.”

Historically, confederations have always proved to be too weak; but federations have on the whole been very successful, mainly because a federation has the power to make laws which act on individuals. At the same time, a federation aims at leaving as many powers as possible in the hands of local authorities. Recent examples of federations include the United States of America, the United States of Brazil, the United States of Mexico, the United States of Venezuela, the Argentine Nation, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of Canada, the Union of South Africa, Switzerland, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the European Federation. Thus we are rich in historical data on the strengths and weaknesses of federations, and we can make use of this data as we attempt to construct a good government at the global level.

Looking towards the future, we can perhaps foresee a time when the United Nations will have been converted to a federation and given the power to make international laws which are binding on individuals. Under such circumstances, true international law enforcement will be possible, incorporating all of the needed safeguards for lives and property of the innocent. One can hope for a future world where the institution of war will be abolished, and where public opinion will support international law to such an extent that a new Hitler or a future Milosevic will not be able to organize large-scale resistance to arrest, a world where international law will be seen by all to be just, impartial and necessary, a well-governed global community within which each person will owe his or her ultimate loyalty to humanity as a whole.

9. A New Global Ethic

Besides a humane, democratic and just framework of international law and governance, we urgently need a new global ethic to achieve human security,—an ethic where loyalty to family, community and nation will be supplemented by a strong sense of the brotherhood of all humans, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Schiller expressed this feeling in his “Ode to Joy”, the text of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Hearing Beethoven’s music and Schiller’s words, most of us experience an emotion of resonance and unity with its message: All humans are brothers and sisters—not just some—all! It is almost a national anthem of humanity. The feelings which the music and words provoke are similar to patriotism, but broader. It is this sense of a universal human family, which we need to cultivate in education, in the mass media, and in religion.

Educational reforms are urgently needed, particularly in the teaching of history, to achieve human security for all. As it is taught today, history is a chronicle of power struggles and war, told from a biased national standpoint. Our own race or religion is superior; our own country is always heroic and in the right.

We urgently need to replace this indoctrination in chauvinism with a reformed view of history, where the slow development of human culture is described, giving adequate credit to all those who have contributed. Our modern civilization is built on the achievements of ancient cultures. China, India, Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and Jewish intellectual traditions all have contributed. Potatoes, corn and squash are gifts from the American Indians. Human culture, gradually built up over thousands of years by the patient work of millions of hands and minds, should be presented to students of history as a precious heritage—far too precious to be risked in a thermonuclear war.

In the teaching of science too, reforms are needed. Graduates in science and technology should be conscious of their responsibilities. They must resolve never to use their education in the service of war, or in any way which might be harmful to society or to the environment.

In modern societies, mass media play an extremely important role in determining behavior and attitudes. This role can be a negative one when the media show violence and enemy images, but if used constructively, the mass media can offer a powerful means for creating international understanding. If it is indeed true that tribalism is part of human nature, it is extremely important that the mass media be used to the utmost to overcome the barriers between nations and cultures. Through increased communication, the world’s peoples can learn to accept each other as members of a single family.

10. Love your Enemies

Finally, let us turn to religion, with its enormous influence on human thought and behavior. Christianity, for example, offers a strongly stated ethic, which, if practiced, would make war impossible. In Matthew, the following passage occurs: “Ye have heard it said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say unto you: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that spitefully use you and persecute you.”

This seemingly impractical advice, that we should love our enemies, is in fact of the greatest practicality, since acts of unilateral kindness and generosity can stop escalatory cycles of revenge and counter-revenge such as those which characterize the present conflict in the Middle East and the recent troubles of Northern Ireland. However, Christian nations, while claiming to adhere to the ethic of love and forgiveness, have adopted a policy of “massive retaliation”, involving systems of thermonuclear missiles whose purpose is to destroy as much as possible of the country at which the retaliation is aimed. It is planned that entire populations shall be killed in a “massive retaliation”, innocent children along with the guilty politicians. The startling contradiction between what the Christian nations profess and what they do was obvious even before the advent of nuclear weapons, at the time when Leo Tolstoy, during his last years, was exchanging letters with a young Indian lawyer in South Africa. In one of his letters to Gandhi, Tolstoy wrote:

“The whole life of the Christian people is a continuous contradiction between that which they profess and the principles on which they order their lives, a contradiction between love accepted as the law of life, and violence, which is recognized and praised, acknowledged even as a necessity.”

“This year, in the spring, at a Scripture examination at a girls’ high school in Moscow, the teacher and the bishop present asked the girls questions on the Commandments, and especially on the sixth. After a correct answer, the bishop generally put another question, whether murder was always in all cases forbidden by God’s law; and the unhappy young ladies were forced by previous instruction to answer ‘Not always’—that murder was permitted in war and in the execution of criminals. Still, when one of these unfortunate young ladies (what I am telling is not an invention but a fact told to me by an eye witness) after her first answer, was asked the usual question, if killing was always sinful, she, agitated and blushing, decisively answered ‘Always’, and to the usual sophisms of the bishop, she answered with decided conviction that killing was always forbidden in the Old Testament and forbidden by Christ, not only killing but every wrong against a brother. Notwithstanding all his grandeur and arts of speech, the bishop became silent and the girl remained victorious.”

As everyone knows, Gandhi successfully applied the principle of non-violence to the civil rights struggle in South Africa, and later to the political movement, which gave India its freedom and independence. The principle of non-violence was also successfully applied by Martin Luther King, and by Nelson Mandela. It is perhaps worthwhile to consider Gandhi’s comment on the question of whether the end justifies the means: “The means may be likened to a seed”, Gandhi wrote, “and the end to a tree; and there is the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.” In other words, a dirty method produces a dirty result; killing produces more killing; hate leads to more hate. Everyone who reads the newspapers knows that this is true. But there are positive feedback loops as well as negative ones. A kind act produces a kind response; a generous gesture is returned; hospitality results in reflected hospitality. Buddhists call this principle of reciprocity “the law of karma”.

The religious leaders of the world have the opportunity to contribute importantly to the solution of the problem of war. They have the opportunity to powerfully support the concept of universal human brotherhood, to build bridges between religious groups, to make intermarriage across ethnic boundaries easier, and to soften the distinctions between communities. If they fail to do this, they will have failed humankind at a time of crisis.

It is useful to consider the analogy between the institution of war and the institution of slavery. We might be tempted to say, “There has always been war, throughout human history; and war will always continue to exist.” As an antidote to this kind of pessimism, we can think of slavery, which, like war, has existed throughout most of recorded history. The cultures of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome were all based on slavery, and, in more recent times, 13 million Africans were captured and forced into a life of slavery in the New World. Slavery was as much an accepted and established institution as war is today. Many people made large profits from slavery, just as arms manufacturers today make enormous profits. Nevertheless, in spite of the weight of vested interests, slavery has now been abolished throughout most of the world.

Today we look with horror at drawings of slave ships, where human beings were packed together like cord-wood; and we are amazed that such cruelty could have been possible. Can we not hope for a time when our descendants, reading descriptions of the wars of the twentieth century, will be equally amazed that such cruelty could have been possible? If we use them constructively, the vast resources now wasted on war can initiate a new era of happiness and prosperity for the family of man. It is within our power to let this happen, to make human security achievable soon. The example of the men and women who worked to rid the world of slavery can give us courage as we strive for a time when war will exist only as a dark memory, fading into the past.

About the Author(s)

John Scales Avery

Fellow, World Academy of Art and Science; Chairman, Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs