What are the assumptions we hold about the nature of violence and the practices of war?
- Approximately 1 hour per discussion (up to 2 hours)
PREPARATIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- Watch the introductory video above by Paul K. Chappell, Peace Leadership Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
- Read AGSS: “Debunking Old Myths about War” (2016: pp. 67-71 / 2017: pp. 69-71)
- Read AGSS: “Compassion and Cooperation are Part of the Human Condition” (2016: p. 21 / 2017: p. 23)
DISCUSSION GOALS & OBJECTIVES
- Identify, reflect and analyze assumptions of war, violence and conflict
introducing study and action partner: Paul K. Chappell, peace leadership director – nuclear age peace foundation
Captain Paul K. Chappell is an international peace educator who serves as the Peace Leadership Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Lecturing across the United States and internationally, Paul presents clear and compelling insights into human nature and the myths that perpetuate war and conflict. He also teaches courses and workshops on peace leadership and peace literacy. You can read his full bio here.
Two discussion topics/guides are presented below. Each discussion should take approximately 1 hour. You are invited to do both and follow any sequence relevant to your purposes. If you are to choose only one discussion we encourage you to start with “Discussion 1 (Essential).”
Discussion 1 (Essential): Countering the Myths of War
In preparation for this discussion watch the introductory video above and read the corresponding sections of AGSS.
Start with a general discussion on myths of war using the following questions as prompts: ( 15 min)
- Referring to the AGSS section “Debunking Old Myths about War”, what myths about war and conflict are you most surprised by? Why?
- Where did these myths come from? How were they created? How have they been sustained?
- What arguments against these myths do you find most compelling?
Challenging the myth that war makes us safe. Paul Chappell describes three simple myths of war (all of which are also explored in the AGSS section “Debunking Old Myths about War”): 1) Humans are naturally violent (“war is in our genes” or “war is natural”), 2) war is inevitable, and 3) war makes us safe. The last of these, “war makes us safe” is often used as a rationale and premise for engaging in violent conflict. ( 45 min)
- Using current events/conflicts as an example, what arguments or rationales are politicians and the media making in support of military action in response to conflict? Try to find 2-3 recent news articles to analyze.
- Consider the counter-arguments you would make against these proposals for aggression. How might the proposed military intervention actually make us less safe? How would you present your ideas in a public forum or in the form of a letter to the editor?
POSSIBILITIES FOR ACTION
- Building on the discussion above, prepare an OpEd or letter to the editor as a response to one of the articles analyzed. A good resource for publishing such OpEds is PeaceVoice, a distributor of OpEds, articles and commentary written from a perspective of conflict resolution, positive peace and nonviolence.
- Prepare a list of the ways war makes us less safe – from the local to the global. Turn this list into a mind map or visual infographic and use it as a public education tool. (Share your creations in the discussion forum below!)
Discussion 2 (Going Deeper): War is not natural
In preparation for this discussion watch the excerpts of Paul Chappell’s speeches “Why World Peace is Possible” & “Why War is not Inevitable” (below); watch the interview with Howard Zinn on Human Nature and Aggression (below); review the sections of AGSS; and review “The Seville Statement on Violence” (found in the additional resources below).
“While it is true that humans have a capacity for aggression as well as cooperation, modern war does not arise out of individual aggression. It is a highly organized and structured form of learned behavior that requires governments to plan for it ahead of time and mobilize the whole society in order to carry it out.” (AGSS 2016, p. 22)
The myths that humans are innately violent and that war making is natural are constantly used as excuses and rationale for the inevitability and necessity of engaging in armed conflict (i.e. “making war for making peace”). The fallacies behind these myths must be debunked for the possibility of alternatives to emerge.
Why World Peace is Possible
Excerpt of an August 2016 speech by Paul Chappell at the Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, New York. ( 10 min excerpt)
Why War is not inevitable
Excerpt of 2011 speech recorded by Pirate TV ( 16 min excerpt)
Howard Zinn on Human Nature and Aggression
( 9 min)
Debunking the myth that humans are innately violent and war is natural. ( 60 min)
- List the arguments presented by Paul Chappell, Howard Zinn, AGSS and the Seville Statement on Violence countering the myth that violence is a fundamental part of human nature.
- Which of these arguments do you find most challenging to your personal understanding of violence? Why?
- Which arguments provide the greatest potential to culturally and politically challenge the myth? Why?
- What evidence might be presented, or arguments made, in support of humans being naturally peaceful?
POSSIBILTIES FOR ACTION
- Take an “observation walk” and map your local community to identify institutions, practices & monuments that either 1) uphold the myths and institutions of war or 2) challenge these myths/institutions by demonstrating the predominantly peaceful side of human nature. For example, you might identify war monuments, police stations, and Army recruiting stations as institutions upholding the institution of war – at the same time you might observe parks and other spaces that bring people together. You might also observe human behavior in general: how are drivers able to navigate rush hour traffic without killing each other?
- The Seville Statement on Violence (pdf)
The same species that invented war is capable of inventing peace. This is the conclusion of the Seville Statement on Violence, drafted by leading scientists from around the world during the UN International Year for Peace in 1986. The scientific arguments are based on evolution, genetics, animal behavior, brain research and social psychology.
- For a more extensive overview on Zinn’s perspective on human nature and aggression read chapter 3 of Passionate Declarations: Essays on War and Justice (Harper Collins, 2003)