David KriegerThere have not always been wars; and there need not always be wars.  Before the onset of civilization, there may have been tribal skirmishes but there was not organized warfare between competing military forces. 

It was not until agriculture allowed for societal specialization, hierarchy and the generation of a warrior class loyal to a military or political leader or social system that wars began in earnest.  Agriculture required defense of boundaries and crops.  Such defense required the specialization of a warrior class organized into military forces.  Such forces required organization and a willing youthful pool of potential soldiers.  But legitimate purposes of defense can also be turned to offensive uses.  Leaders throughout history have been adept at justifying aggressive war in terms of defense. 

War is a byproduct of civilization, and it is made more likely by having distinct competing social entities, such as city-states or today’s nation-states.  In the 20th century, wars became global or nearly so.  In World War I, soldiers mostly slaughtered other soldiers.  In World War II, however, with the development of modern air warfare, cities and civilians became targets of warfare.  Some 20 million people were killed in WWI and some 50 million in WWII. 

The technology of warfare has increased in sophistication and lethality.  WWII ended with the destruction of two unprotected Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by two US atomic bombs, one dropped on each city.  This opened a new era, the Nuclear Age, in which it became possible to destroy civilization and complex life, including human life, on the planet.  By our own cleverness, we humans have created instruments capable of destroying ourselves.  The creation of nuclear weapons has made the world too dangerous for warfare. 

Warfare requires a high level of social organization, but peace requires an even higher level of social organization.  The United Nations Charter prohibits the use of force between nations except under very limited conditions of self-defense or when the Security Council authorizes the use of force.  Of course, this prohibition against the use of force has not been very successful, largely because the major powers have relied upon the law of force rather than the force of law. 

We have created a situation in which either warfare or humanity is obsolete.  We humans can choose.  We can choose to put an end to warfare, or we can continue to run the risk of warfare putting an end to us.  This is the way that Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein put it in a 1955 statement calling for an end to warfare due to the power of thermonuclear weapons: “Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.”

But people must face this alternative.  Peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age.  It is both a right and responsibility.  The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can get on with the necessary task of abolishing nuclear weapons and building a warless world.  In doing so, we will free up vast resources that can be used to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals to end poverty, improve health, protect the environment and better the lives of people everywhere.

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