Peace is a dynamic process of nonviolent social interaction that results in security for all members of a society.
Peace is not a subject matter taught in many schools. I have often heard it said that the curriculum is too full to add more, but what could be more important than learning about making peace? I think the “full curriculum” is a justification for not wanting to challenge the status quo and teachers are not rewarded for bringing new material into the classroom. I am a proponent of bringing peace into every classroom. Basic questions need to include: How can this problem be solved peacefully? Or, how could this problem have been solved peacefully?
Blase Bonpane, who received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2006 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award, suggested that when students study wars in history the only meaningful question is: How could this war have been avoided? We need to stop glorifying war in our cultures and our classrooms. If we want to support our troops, we don’t send them to kill and be killed. If politicians choose war, shouldn’t they also participate in the war? Why are there so few children of political leaders participating in the wars they initiate?
We live in a culture of militarism that takes war as the norm. How can we change this norm? How can we make peace the norm and war the aberration? Why does our society allocate so much of its resources to the military? Does the money that goes for “defense” really defend us?
Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century, was among the intellectual leaders who understood that nuclear weapons made war too dangerous to continue. Einstein was among those who called not only for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but for the abolition of war. In the Nuclear Age, war puts the future of civilization and the human species at risk. The Earth could go on without humanity, but we cannot go on if we do not bring our dangerous technologies, most prominently nuclear weapons, under strict and effective international control.
Our schools teach nationalism and they do so at a historical junction when the world needs global citizens. How many students understand, for example, that there is no global problem that can be solved by any one country, no matter how powerful that country is? How many teachers understand this? Think about it, every global problem – ranging from global warming to terrorism to the nuclear arms race – requires international cooperation.
The United Nations takes a serious beating in the US media, and of course it has its shortcomings, but if we didn’t have the United Nations we’d have to invent it. Its major purpose is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war….” It is a safe environment where representatives of countries have a chance to talk to each other. It is a place where representatives of governments can deliberate on the great problems facing humanity, where they can plan for the future and speak for future generations.
An important question to ask is: Who has the responsibility to create and maintain peace? The answer, most obviously, is that “we” do, we being all of us. It is easy, though to become lost in the collective “we,” and therefore it must include each of us. Beyond responsibility, there are questions of accountability. That was the great lesson of the Nuremberg Tribunals following World War II, where individual leaders were held to account under international law for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. With leadership goes accountability. This is the principle on which the International Criminal Court was established – to bring Nuremberg into the Nuclear Age.
In teaching peace, there are three documents with which every student should be familiar: the United Nations Charter, the Principles of Nuremberg and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without a firm grasp of these 20th century innovations, one cannot be considered educated in the 21st century.
Let me suggest ten ways of teaching peace that hopefully will make the lessons more compelling and real to the students.
1. Tell stories. One of the stories, a true one, that I like best is the story of the Christmas Truce during World War I. The British and German soldiers came out of their trenches, shared food and drink, showed each other photos of their families and sang Christmas carols together. They saw each other as human beings, and only returned to their trenches, resuming the fighting, after being threatened by their officers.
Another story is that of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who was exposed to radiation poisoning when the US bombed Hiroshima. Ten years later Sadako came down with Leukemia. She tried to regain her health by folding 1000 paper cranes, a Japanese symbol of longevity. On one of the cranes she wrote, “I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.” Unfortunately, she died before she finished folding the cranes. Her classmates finished the folding and today there is a statue in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park dedicated to Sadako and other children who died in the atomic blasts. The statue is always surrounded by tens of thousands of paper cranes sent from all over the world.
2.Use Peace heroes as role models. There are many amazing peace heroes, living and dead, who have made significant contributions to peace during their lives. You can read sketches of some of these heroes at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s website: www.wagingpeace.org. You can also study such leaders as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Caesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and others in greater depth. When examining problems of peace, it is always helpful to ask the question: What would Gandhi do? Or, fill in the name of your favorite peace hero.
3.Infuse drama, art and poetry. Through literature, art and poetry there is much to be learned about peace and war. Lists of books, movies and poems can be found in the Peace Issues section of www.wagingpeace.org. Some of the classic books are All Quiet on the Western Front, Johnny Got His Gun, and Dr. Strangelove. My favorite anti-war movie is The King of Hearts. Such books and movies can open the door to important discussions.
4.Teach critical thinking. Young people have to learn how to ask questions and probe deeply, rather than just accepting the word of authority figures. They also have to learn how to gather evidence, how to evaluate the source of information, how to apply logic, and so on.
5.Global perspective. Young people need to break the bonds of nationalism and think globally. Applying a global perspective allows one to see the world as a whole, rather than from the narrow vantage point of a single country. We badly need education for global citizenship. Just as many symbols are used that connote nationalism (the flag, monuments, historical perspectives, etc.), we need to also use symbols that connote global citizenship, such as the flag with the beautiful representation of the Earth from outer space.
6.Reverse the Roman dictum. The Roman dictum says, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” The human species has followed that dictum for the past 2,500 years, and it has always resulted in more war. We need to reverse the Roman dictum and prepare for peace if that is what we truly desire. We prepare for peace by building a culture of peace, within our nations and in the world. Peace is not only the absence of war, but also positive actions to improve health, education and human rights.
7.Reexamine historical myths. Most countries have developed myths about their own goodness which are not historically accurate. History is told through stories of battles, but there is far more to history than this. These myths need to be exposed to the fresh air of investigation. We will likely find that wars are not glorious and victories are often built on unacceptable atrocities.
8.Teach peace as proactive. Many people confuse peace with solitude, meditation and contemplation, but peace is not passive. It is a dynamic set of forces kept in balance by individuals and institutions committed to solving conflicts without violence. Peace requires action. You cannot sit back and wait for peace to arrive. Individuals must proactively work for peace. It is not a spectator sport. Anything that one does to build community and cooperation is a contribution to peace.
9.Engender the ability to empathize. Young people must learn to empathize with others, to feel their pain and sorrow. One way of killing empathy is to brand members of a group, including whole countries, as enemies, and dehumanize the members of that group. Empathy begins with the realization that each of us is a miracle, unique in all the world. How can one miracle kill another or wage war, committing indiscriminate mass murder?
10.Teach by example. To the extent that a teacher can model peace in their own life, their lessons will be more authentic. As well as teaching peace, we should try to live peace, making empathy, cooperation and nonviolent conflict resolution part of our daily lives.
I hope that some of these ideas may be helpful in making peace a subject of study, concern and action, both in the classroom and beyond. Peace has never been more important than in our nuclear-armed world, and we each have a responsibility to study peace, live peace and teach peace. We should also keep in mind that peace is a long-term project that once achieved must be maintained. Peace requires persistence and a commitment to never giving up.
Hamill, Sam (ed.), Poets Against the War, New York: Nation Books, 2003.
Ikeda, Daisaku and David Krieger, Choose Peace, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age, Santa Monica, Middleway Press, 2002.
Krieger, David (ed.), Hold Hope, Wage Peace, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 2005.
Krieger, David, Today Is Not a Good Day for War, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 2005.
Krieger, David (ed.), Hope in a Dark Time, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 2002.
McCarthy, Colman, I’d Rather Teach Peace, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.
Rees, Stuart, Passion for Peace, Exercising Power Creatively, Sidney, Australia: University of New Wales Press, 2003.
Wells, Leah, Teaching Peace, A Guide for the Classroom and Everyday Life, Santa Barbara: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 2003.