If history is any indication, the United States may be subject to the violence of war within my lifetime, I am 42. Military scholars say that war and its resulting violence on a civilian population is unavoidable. We are told that peace just isn’t obtainable in the Middle East, or in other war torn countries across the globe; that violent conflict will always be a fact of life as we try to control territory and natural resources. We are given example after example how, throughout history and including today, violent conflict is inevitable and in some cases necessary.

Some people are quick to defend the notion that there is nothing to be done about civilian death and destruction caused by violent conflict, that in times such as these, war is best left to the experts. It is true that only war experts know how to successfully conduct war, that to win a conflict is to win by any means, and that includes civilian casualties. Talking heads for the military tell us that they are working to reduce the number of civilian casualties through more efficient means of killing-smarter bombs, better technology. But, the truth remains that while any military is good at killing, it is inept at not targeting civilians. After all, to target civilians is to terrorize a population and to attack an enemy’s infrastructure. With this illogic, there is no such thing as a non military target.

Yet, if we leave war to the war experts, who will oversee the peace process? Who are our peace experts? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld? They have been buddies since their early thirties, and they have amassed power by putting their friends in important positions throughout the government and the military. They are war experts dictating military policy for this country, yet there is not a diplomat for peace between the two of them. There is no peace equivalent to the Department of Defense, we have no such office or branch of government that we can go to in times such as these. Our nonexistent Department of Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution Services didn’t just get an additional $40 billion infusion into an already huge capital, operating, and maintenance budget-that was our Department of War. Blind military spending appears to be a priority for our country, with no visible way to counteract or slow it down. The peace dividend has long since been chucked out the window.

And, what has become of our domestic programs that deal with our children’s education; our failing health care system, our weakened social security, our declining environmental health, and our loss of morale as citizens of this country?

It wasn’t the destruction of the twin towers on September 11, 2001 and the threat of terrorism that is causing this country’s morale to plummet. It is the lack of hope that things will ever get better in the lifetime that is ahead. There is no clear way out, no end in sight.

That is because we are spending billions of dollars on high tech toys of destruction for a group of people who want to see major conflict, so that they can use their toys against military targets, and civilians if necessary. They want to see this conflict happen just like a six-year-old boy with a firecracker wants to see it explode.

Civilian Casualties

Let the facts speak for themselves: World War II resulted in killing 61 million people, 67% of those killed (40 million) were civilian. Violent clashes and wars world wide for the 1950s resulted in 4.6 million people killed, 50 percent being civilian (2.3 million). In the 1960s, 6.5 million people were killed, 56% were civilian (3.64 million). The 1970s saw fewer people killed (3 million), but most of them were civilians (2 million). The 1980s saw 5.5 million people killed through violent conflict around the world, with over 4 million being civilian. Conflict and wars of the 1990s left 5 million people killed worldwide, half were civilian. From WWII to 2000 we have seen 85.6 million killed, with 63 % of those being civilian (54 million).

The Gulf War

The Gulf War has seen 200,000 casualties, both civilian and military, by the end of the conflict. But, ten years after the end of this conflict, 10,000 American service men and women had died from the Gulf War Syndrome. Of the 600,000 troops that had served in the Gulf War, 230,000 have applied for medical assistance since the end of that conflict. A combination of things are suspected causes of this widespread illness. It is believed that either untested anthrax vaccinations, the transfer of toxic poly-hydrocarbons from plastic packaging of MRE’s (meals ready to eat), or troop use of depleted uranium munitions (which was never disclosed to the troops who were using them) have caused severe illness. Whatever the cause, this is a better kill and injury rate than any enemy could hope to level on our troops.

Because of sanctions on Iraq, 500,000 children have died from diarrhea and malnutrition from the lack of clean water, a direct result of targeting civilian infrastructure by the U.S. military.

Why are these numbers significant?

As technology improves and as dollars increase, the efficiency of killing also improves. But improving the efficiency of killing doesn’t reduce the number of civilian deaths, it increases the number of civilian deaths. The number increases because there is a greater tendency to use these weapons on lesser known targets. If it can be claimed that a “smart bomb” (remember- bombs are only as smart as the people who use them) can “surgically” remove a military target within tight civilian quarters with minimal civilian casualties, then the tendency to use these weapons in tight civilian quarters will increase, resulting in higher numbers of civilian deaths.

The myth of Peace

Civilians do not wage war. Indeed, war and military police actions are argued as necessary to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. So, civilians agree to support the military in promise that the war will not touch them. Civilians are confident that their families will not suffer the losses of their enemies. Most civilians who have experienced war however, come to know that war only means to reduce profits and production, bringing only pain, suffering, and agony down the road. But nonetheless, these civilians have been convinced that their experts have exhausted all other diplomatic avenues and have come up empty handed. The leaders come back to say “Sorry, war is inevitable. Prepare for war,” and the civilians feel they have no other choice.

How many times have you heard someone say that it is in our “human nature,” to go to war? That the human species is violent and war like and there is nothing that we can do about it? That might makes right, to the winner goes the spoils?

To say that it is in our human nature to kill others and that war is inevitable perpetuates the myth that war is forever our way. It is not our nature to kill others who don’t agree with us or who think differently from ourselves. But, it is our human nature to be fearful of others who have opposing ideas or who are different from ourselves. This fear may go in two directions: Our fear may sway into curiosity or it may sway into anger and violence.

Another trait of our “human nature” is to divide ourselves into leaders and followers. Leaders can choose to go to war for entire populations and will not hesitate to call upon the followers to do the dirty work. It is not our human nature to go to war, but it is in our human nature to be led into war.

Therefore, if we can be led into war, we can be led into peace.

People are not warlike creatures. It is the random individual who sees value in herding the masses into violence. Every war is lead by someone who has convinced a critical mass of people that war is the only option. This is true with either side of any war or violent conflict. And, it is the same for peace. In any conflict that has not escalated into violence or where violence has ceased, a leader has led a critical mass of people to great change.

The war in the Middle East is being perpetuated not because Israel and Arab leaders can’t come to an agreement, but because the concept of peace is being used incorrectly. The myth of peace begins within the very roots of the Judeo-Christian religion. Peace in this religious sense is an unattainable time/place. Peace is symbolized by the phrase, “when the lion lays down with the lamb,” which indicates that all life on Earth will be as one, living in harmony for the rest of all eternity.

This peace does not exist, nor will it ever exist on this Earth inhabited by our wonderfully fallible human species. Peace is not the cessation of conflict, and a resulting agreement in totality. For the Mideast, the lion may never lay down with the lamb. Peace is a continuing evolving process that produces nonviolent results. Peace can revert to war or it can be sustained through constant communication, but it can never be stagnant or absolute.

Peace begins when violence ends. That doesn’t mean that the conflicting ideas will suddenly disappear. It means that when people stop doing violence to each other-stop killing-negotiations can begin. In the simplest terms, peace is a process where no one is dying from an act of aggression. This is a real living peace that is attainable and quite possible when built upon the hard work of conflict resolution and diplomacy. Peace is not a time/place. Peace is a process that is ongoing and never without tension.
*Dane Spencer, a Landscape Architect by profession, has been active with peace issues since 1986 when he became involved with the Seattle/Tashkent Peace Park. Constructed in the fourth largest city in the Soviet Union and the capital of Uzbekistan, the Peace Park is an example of citizens working together to promote diplomacy instead of tired war rhetoric and cold war politics. Recent U.S. posturing has rekindled Dane’s interest in the promotion of non-violence and his contemplation of peace.