Notes on the Invention of Peacemaking
by Michael True
As human beings, we have been persistent and sophisticated in developing means of killing one another, most recently with weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons and drones that have victimized hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Strategies for war-making date from about 2,500 years ago, with the publication of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” which has been updated, reprinted, and translated hundreds of times in many languages.
In contrast, we are only beginning to develop strategies for peacemaking and to commit ourselves to learning the skills that it requires.
In “The Invention of Peace” (2001), Sir Michael Howard, a major English military historian, points out that the concept of peace in international and public affairs dates from the publication of Immanuel Kant’s 1795 treatise, “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,” only just over two centuries ago.
In that book, Kant proposed a politics based upon reason, rather than patriotism and politics that was active, reformist and optimistic. It gave us, as professor Martha Nussbaum wrote, “something far better to do with our time than to contemplate the horrors of war, which are many, while waiting for the end of time.”
Since Kant, several inventive and heroic people have worked to find ways of abolishing war as a response to conflict, as well as ways of resolving and transforming conflict without resorting to violence. That includes Adin Ballou, an abolitionist, Unitarian-Universalist minister, and founder of a utopian community in Hopedale. His groundbreaking pamphlets and books include “Christian non-Resistance,” 1847, which may be the world’s first extended discourse on nonviolence.
Later activists and researchers who explored ideas and developed strategies associated with peacemaking through nonviolent action include Leo Tolstoy in Russia, Mahatma Gandhi in India, and Martin Luther King Jr. in the U.S. And in 1973, Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, Boston, published “The Politics of Nonviolent Action,” a groundbreaking work that activists and scholars regard as a classic in the field. Since then, Sharp has published a host of books and pamphlets translated into 40 languages.
Sharp’s research on strategy — what works, what doesn’t work, and why — has been essential to nonviolent activists and movements that successfully brought down brutal dictatorships in the Philippines, Yugoslavia, and other countries in Eastern Europe. “How to Start a Revolution” is a documentary film about these nonviolent struggles. As with Sharp’s various publications, it is available at www.einstein.org.
More essential than public and academic discourse on peacemaking are the men and women who often risk their lives in confronting tyrants and repressive regimes. As with feminists, abolitionists and workers in the mid-19th century, as well as students in the U.S., China and the Middle East, they worked to redirect the priorities of their own governments.
Since 1960, researchers and scholars have studied all manner of conflicts, after recognizing that we actually know little about it. That realization was something of a shock, since conflict is basic to our daily lives, in interpersonal relations, families, neighborhoods, national and international governance.
Conflict resolution, like nonviolent action, transforms conflict and potentially violent confrontations to restore personal relations and the international order.
The Center for Nonviolent Solutions, initiated in 2009, offers courses in conflict resolution, peer mediation, and the history of nonviolence for students and teachers in the Worcester Public Schools. A local initiative, it reflects recent achievements in nonviolence and peacemaking, including the growth and development of peace, conflict, and nonviolence studies since 1965. Assumption, Holy Cross, Clark, and over 400 academic and research institutions around the globe offer programs in this new inter-discipline.
In his brilliant essay “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about nonviolence in a very practical manner. In doing so, he documented the injustices that led to the civil rights movement and described aspects of peacemaking that rely on nonviolent direct action.
As Dr. King said, nonviolent resistance is sometimes necessary to make injustice visible when it remains hidden or unacknowledged, as it did in his time. He said that through conflict resolution, we move beyond confrontation to accommodation so that the parties involved may achieve mutual consent and even cooperation. King is the greatest apostle of nonviolence in U.S. history, but many others — Dorothy Day, David Dellinger, and Elise Boulding — have contributed to the invention and development of peacemaking. Their stories have informed and inspired people, including the students and teachers associated with the Center for Nonviolent Solutions.
Michael True is emeritus professor, American literature, Peace, Conflict, and Nonviolence Studies, Assumption College, and the author of An Energy Field More Intense Than War: The Nonviolent Tradition and American Literature (1995).