I would like to live in a world without war. I think it’s possible to live in a world without war. I think that even now we are developing the tools that would allow us to live in such a world.
I think that in most peoples’ minds this is a very radical idea – that it might be possible to end war. I think the reason this seems like a radical idea is that we have a very convincing set of stories that we tell ourselves about why we wage war. In general we believe these stories, and so we wage war not because we want war, but because we are resigned to war – we see no alternative.
So what stories do we tell each other that lead us to our faith in war? The main story we tell is the one where the country or organization against whom we intend to wage war is a villain. You hear this in the justification for Israel’s attacks on Gaza, in our bombing of Kandahar shortly after the September 11 attacks, in our invasion of Iraq, and we were hearing it again about Iran towards the end of the Bush presidency.
What I mean by villain is that our opponent can’t be reasoned with. They have no goals. They are just evil. So peace isn’t an option – if we choose not to fight them, they will just keep attacking us. There is no solution to the problem other than war, so, reluctantly, we take up arms and begin the necessary killing.
One of most amazingly clear-cut examples of this in recent years is the Somalian Pirate situation. We’ve been hearing a very one-sided story on the news. Somalia is a lawless country. Full of violent warlords. These warlords are taking advantage of the situation. Their only goal is plunder. They must be stopped. We must stop them.
Let me be clear: I don’t know that this article is telling the truth. But what is said here is certainly plausible, and is something I’d never heard before. And this shading of information, where we hear only one side of the story, is a very common theme in our public discourse.
If we really want peace, if we want to seek alternatives to war, it is not enough that we who want peace pay closer attention to the stories being told. It is not sufficient even that we publicize these stories. What we need to fight is the culture of story-telling that justifies wars. We need to start seriously trying to create and spread a culture of critical thinking. It’s not enough to deny the stories once they come out – we need to actually inoculate people against these kinds of stories.