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Questions and answers on disarmamentWhy do you insist on the fact that working for peace is of fundamental importance today?
Because this is a dilemma that admits no half-measures: there will be either increasing peace, or increasing destruction.
Nevertheless, there are very few wars going on today.
At this moment there are 28 conflicts going on, which have cost the lives of more than five and a half million people
(*). If we add to these the number of wars which have finished during the last five years ( Sierra Leone, Liberia, southern Sudan, Congo Brazzaville, Eritrea-Ethiopia, and Casamance, in Senegal) the total number of victims rises to seven million, seven hundred thousand dead.
(*) Today, people are shooting and dying in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Chechenya, Georgia, Algeria, Chad, Darfur, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda, Burundi, D.R.Congo, Angola, Pakistan, Kashmir, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, and Lebanon. And not only these. (source: peacereporter, 30/08/2006)
At any rate, these are limited wars, not general destruction.
If you take that number of dead, plus the injured and permanently crippled, and multiply them by the number of surviving parents, children, couples and relatives, you will discover how many people are directly affected by the action of physical violence and that the number is far in excess of the total populations of several countries. It’s unnecessary to describe the devastated countryside, towns and cities; massive emigrations and numbers of refugees; and the hunger, sickness and despair as the direct result of physical violence, in order to understand that there can only be said to be “peaceful situations” many miles away from these points of conflict. In any case even this peace has become fairly relative, because even in countries far away from these conflicts, people live in fear of possible attacks.
Despite everything, a third world war hasn’t broken out yet.
True. However, the theory of the “military balance of power” allows armaments to build up but not to be reduced. Why not direct the balance of power towards the achievement of disarmament instead of the other way around? The reason is because the arms industry is big business, and is a necessary, integral part of the appropriation of all the planet’s natural resources by the economically strongest powers. Basically, the arms race is a form of economic warfare where one faction tries to subtract productive resources from another. Then, all the out-dated or left-over war material has to be transferred to other areas so as to get as much return on earlier investments as possible. The major powers, especially the United States, are increasing their military potential, developing conflicts on their periphery, and generating economic dependence around them. Furthermore, as everywhere in the world becomes a so-called “point of vital interest”, each giant power will have to, directly or indirectly, guard them with arms. Today it may be their own frontier, tomorrow their access to means of communication, then the high seas, the sources of oil and vital raw materials.., and so on until we arrive to outer space. The most recent and emblematic case is the war in Iraq: a so-called “humanitarian” war that began for reasons that turned out to be non-existent (to search for, and put out of use, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction). In reality it has been a war to control oil resources by the United States. In this whole situation, there is also the danger of actual “nuclear terrorism”, seeing that it is so easy to obtain and transport atomic weapons today. Many countries in fact possess the technology and the capacity to be able to manufacture atomic weapons, and this complicates the situation enormously.
Supposing that even if things are like that, no country would be the first to drop an atomic bomb.
Unfortunately, this is not true, because it has already happened once (in the Second World War) and not for reasons of defence. It is true that no-one wants a total war in which everything would be destroyed; but limited nuclear war is considered feasible. Moreover, the nuclear monopoly is finished, and no-one is free from the risk of an accident provoked by others, or from the blackmail that could be exerted by a small group. It is true that the inevitability of a nuclear holocaust has not been proved, but it isn’t such a remote possibility either, so every reasonable person should act to help make peace possible. If things continue as they are going, no-one will be exempt from being trapped in an area of limited nuclear conflict, or in a conventional clash, as a result of military actions begun by some country or other.
If we consider the arms build-up in these terms, how could a group of people, or a current of opinion, stop them?
It is not a question of the will of one person or one group. It is a question of the social crises that accompany military development. For example, debts might not be paid and the financial system could collapse; particular essential resources could run out; military alliances could be broken... the economic restrictions on people could bring about a change in the direction of the system they live under. Daily violence would then reach such a level, and contaminate daily life so much, that personal safety would be considerably reduced in any city, even in broad daylight. Terrorism, delinquency, aggression and injustice at all levels could lead people to a social explosion.
In a generalised crisis of the system, the mechanisms of control break down and people tend to act in the direction against the factors which have made them suffer. Most people like peace, but if their rulers illegitimately drag them into conflicts, then people will repudiate them, even violently. It is not a question of will: the general crisis of the system is indissolubly linked to weapons development, which in turn creates conditions whereby the system as a whole will be actively rejected. The point is that it is necessary to become aware and make others aware of the urgent need to develop social change, and to repudiate violence in every form.
If even the big powers saw the problem from this point of view, and began a policy of disarmament, there would remain the problem of terrorism.
Terrorism has developed inside a political and social situation characterised by big tensions and violence, and strong conflicts between countries and cultures. In a climate of relaxation between countries, and a real intention to resolve conflicts of interest between everyone, and with support and respect for the resolutions of the United Nations, the reasons for the very existence of terrorism would cease. In more difficult cases, opportunities would be found to cooperate to resolve the situation. But in any case, the direction should be towards relaxation, collaboration and non-violence.
Violence is inherent in all animal species, and is part of human nature, not a particular way of life.
It is not a question of discussing what is supposed to be “human nature”: such an idea goes against human progress. The truth is that peace is possible at this crucial time, and in the near future, if people become aware that violence is part of the method of the present social system. Consequently, the crisis can be overcome by opposing it with the method of non-violence. If the world had opposed Nazism with non-violence, it would be on its knees today under a bloody dictatorship. Certainly not. At that time, dictatorships were possible because violence was rampant (almost as much as at present). How could fascism develop in a non-violent environment? No phenomenon can be isolated from its context. If you take Nazism as it had already developed, and confront it with a non-violent environment, you are mistaking the problem. Things are the other way around: dictatorships cannot develop in a non-violent environment.
According to that idea, non-violence is inappropriate because the environment is already highly violent. .
That is true in principle. But as the general crisis becomes more acute and people’s safety is evidently in danger, vast numbers of people almost instinctively get involved with peace movements, as happened during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. On that occasion millions of people all over the world demonstrated for peace. In this sense we have arrived at a truly new stage. Certainly, such developments have not been organic, but it seems obvious that forces in favour of peace are beginning to polarise.
Supposing we wanted to produce a change in the global situation based on non-violence, what would have to be done?
We must reply as before: it is not a question of the will power of individuals or groups. It is inevitable that the general crisis of the system will be accompanied by the strengthening of pro-peace movements in such a way that, through social pressure, they will begin to change the orientation of states in a direction opposite to the one they follow today. As for participation in such a current, there are two activities to bear in mind: clarification and mobilisation. That is: clarify oneself, clarify others about the problem and at the same time mobilise the environment where you live, in the direction of peace. Not many people know how many millions of dollars are spent every minute on arms. Few know how many tons of explosives are distributed per capita among the 6,500 million inhabitants of the world. The great majority ignore how many hospitals, schools, universities and research centres could be built with the defence budget. Only a few specialists are in a position to appreciate the quantity and quality of food products (in any case phenomenal amounts) that could be produced with such capital; the infertile areas which could be fertilised, and the eroded land which could be recovered. And, of course, we still have not seen the complete awakening of an ecological consciousness which in time will help to banish crimes against human nature, and nature itself; crimes especially nurtured by the voracity of belligerent groups, indifferent to radioactive and chemical contamination.
The boost which will be given to less advantaged areas on the day when armaments are melted down into tools of progress is something which the average citizen simply does not consider, since this kind of information has deliberately not been made available. Finally, neither has any effort been made to inform people how much higher their income would be, how much better their standard of living, how much wider their horizons of security and possibility if the armaments stock-pile were to decline. To work in favour of peace is to help to clarify others about these topics, effectively informing the environment where we live and work, and the religious and political communities in which we participate, with accurate data, and spreading this information through every available means to work in favour of peace.
Very well, but how can we clarify and mobilise in a sustained and effective manner?
Through organisation: an organisation that can clarify our great human faults: physical, economic, ethnic and religious violence. An organisation that can create centres of direct communication (not just indirect, as with the mass media). Finally, an organisation that allows each of us to communicate with ourselves and can teach us how to dismantle the bomb of violence that all of us human beings may carry within ourselves. And so we need an organisational structure based on centres of direct communication between people, where every participant can adopt a new position towards life inspired by non-violence. This organisation must be able to orientate ever-increasing sections of humanity towards a common front against violence. And it must be built in the same environment where we carry out our everyday activities: places of both manual and professional work, and study; as well as in the neighbourhood, and among the general population, and in families and groups of colleagues.
There is no doubt that wherever daily activities take place there are different expressions of oppression and violence. It is in these environments that we should best be able to clarify and mobilise against physical, economic, ethnic and religious violence. The greatest and most far-reaching ideal is to achieve a society of peace; but each different environment offers particular and concrete possibilities of action to clarify, mobilise and pledge our wills in the same direction. General conclusions are frequently drawn from particular cases. Therefore, from the places of our daily activity, by means of non-violent teaching and action against injustices suffered, we can begin to understand the general problems of society, and finally, of all humanity. The ideal of a world of peace will begin to take place in actual practice, by a daily commitment to the environment where everyone lives, and where everyone must fight to achieve positive transformations.
According to what has been explained, we need to distinguish two levels: one of pacifism in general, and one of non-violence in the daily environment.
Pacifism as a spontaneous response to war is a good start. However, expressions of this kind are unstructured unless they are accompanied by the fight for justice, anti-discrimination and international fraternity among everyone. The masses of people that gather to express their opposition to the bomb later disperse and individually return home to continue with their daily activities as though they existed in a world separated from the major problems. This gap between general pacifism and daily activity should be bridged in a coherent manner. Non-violence is the active method of pacifism, and therefore is the best tool to liberate us from social suffering. Non-violence works through a “vacuum”; prompting the denunciation, repudiation and non cooperation with violence; and finally, civil disobedience too if confronted by institutionalised injustice. If pacifism initially aspired towards a world without war, non-violence develops this idea even further to attempt to humanise the earth. However, this humanisation must begin in everyone’s immediate surroundings in an effective, sustained and, therefore, organised way.
Campaign for a World Without War