2018 will be the centenary of the end of World War I. But even 100 years after the end of this slaughter which killed millions of people it might seem that not many of those in power today, in politics, state, economy and society, are aware of what war really means. So there are still enough occasions and reasons to think about war and peace and to ask the question: What can citizens do for peace and against war?
Also before World War I there were warnings of a great war. Bertha von Suttner who received the Nobel Prize for Peace for her efforts is only one prominent name among many. Similarly before World War II. And in our times? Many will remember the protests of millions against the imminent Iraq War in March 2003. But even these protests have been unable to prevent the war. Is there nothing we can do?
Wars have many causes. Sometimes it takes decades of research to get a clear picture – important sources are kept secret for a long time; it may happen that the pieces of the puzzle can be put together only years after the end of a war. But historians and other interested persons concerned about peace are researching the causes of wars also hoping that people might be able to act preventively in future. Are there any insights providing an important role for the citizens?
It does not take a lot of knowledge for one insight: No war can be led if no citizen contributes to it. But this assumption is somewhat utopian. In addition, there are now weapon systems which allow waging a war with less and less active soldiers. The times of mass armies are over. A few thousand of mercenaries are sufficient to cause devastating damage and to put our planet on fire.
But: War lords and ladies of all times have attempted to justify their wars. They were searching approval for their wars. This is called war propaganda. War lies might be a more appropriate term. At least in their own country they are indispensable for the war lords and ladies. “The first casualty when war comes is truth”. We have all heard this 1914 quote from US Senator Hiram Johnson. Of course, it is also valid in the years preceding a war.
We are witnessing this again today. Enemy stereotypes en masse. To start in our own house: Just read the new US security strategy, the declarations of the EU states regarding questions of security policy or speeches of German politicians regarding Germany’s global role. Read the mainstream media. There are not many honest statements, oral or in writing. It is hard to bear how biased and distorted issues are presented, how important facts are omitted. Each war has an ideological side.
The insight is not a new one. The preamble of the UNESCO Constitution, the Constitution of the United Nations Organisation for Culture and Education states: “Since wars are created in the minds of people, also peace has to be rooted in the minds of people.” There are good reasons for this.
The world has changed since 1918 (or since the years preceding 1914). The United Nations have banned war. The wording at the beginning of the Charter of the United Nations of 26 June 1945 cannot be cited too often: “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind...” The world could take up Bertha von Suttner’s works and those of the many personalities who have taken a stand for peace, without success in their times but giving orientation for later generations. The global protest against the United States’ Vietnam War was not without consequences. The protests against the Iraq War and the political ignorance of the US and their “coalition of the willing” have documented for the world that injustice is under way. The former “Western leading power” has lost its reputation. Word is around that the US and the other NATO states are leading illegal wars. The ugly face of war has become obvious.
Sure, the education for peace in our schools has lost substance. In the past years, peace in our own country has become natural. The many wars elsewhere seemed to be far away. To take a stand for peace seemed to be a job for hardened idealists, for unworldly dreamers. There were more important things to do. But still: The majority of citizens did not and still does not want war. It was never possible to cover up the misery of war.
This is why politicians and media never say: We want war! Instead they say: We need to deter, we have to show strength, we must be prepared.
German politicians prefer the phrase: We need to take more global responsibility.
But the problem should always be the others.
Or they twist logic: We have to wage war for peace. We need to protect human rights with mass murder. We introduce democracy with a coup d’état. US President Woodrow Wilson justified his country’s entry into World War I with the logical nonsense “the war to end all wars”. We know what became out of it.
Again and again we are served up with a very big lie: The myth of the wrong “appeasement policy” by France and Great Britain before World War II. This is why we hear now: If the other has “evil” plans, we may not concede anything. And surely we should all believe that Putin is a “new Hitler” (Hillary Clinton). “Trump is kicking in Putin’s shin” we can read on page 1 of the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 27 December 2017. The US government has decided to deliver anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian government. The newspaper stated that for Ukraine “the restitution of its sovereignty and territorial integrity” were at stake – and the forcible suppression of the other in Eastern Ukraine … and the advance of NATO towards the Russian border. But of course this is not stated. Just like it is not stated that the British policy before World War II had no real interest in peace but instead was aiming towards a mutual destructive war of National-Socialist Hitler-Germany versus the Communist Soviet Union, thus going any length to pull off the “Hitler project”.
Personalities like Matthias Platzeck or Gabriele Krone-Schmalz are among the people looking for means to stop the increasing tension and the imminent escalation. This is why they try to put themselves into the shoes of the “others” in order to understand their positions (cf. Current Concerns No 32, 31 December 2017). And they arrive at interesting conclusions: indeed, Hitler did have “evil” designs – which could be used. But Vladimir Putin and Russia (and also China) do not have “evil” plans. On the contrary! In spite of all weaknesses and flaws: Russia and also China are seeking a global order based on equality and international law. They are open-minded, looking for agreements which could be advantageous for all parties. And: Putin for example is representing a people which wants to live in peace … but in its own style: respected in its dignity and self-determinination.
Moreover: If there are aggressive, “evil” designs to expose, then in our own camp. This has been proven again and again, for example by Gabriele Krone-Schmalz. Indeed: The greatest contribution for peace would be a democratic change in our own countries.
This insight is also a chance: There is no longer a need to brood about what to do with the “evil” others. The crucial step is to keep your own country in order.
How can we succeed? The direct path is currently closed. The NATO states’ parliamentary system does not provide sufficient means for direct influence. But there is also an indirect way: to support and to strengthen all those who want peace – and to thwart enemy stereotypes. International understanding has many devices: reading good books about our and other countries and peoples, personal encounters in travel, visits and invitations, building up equal partnerships, between persons, clubs, institutions, communes, cities and so on.
In the beginning we have the will: Yes, I will make 2018 the year of international understanding. It should be a matter of course. Today it is a big matter, a matter that has a meaning – and also a delightful matter. •
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