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Getting On : All My Politics

Pacifism-learning peace

from moon beam - Saturday, November 12, 2005
accessed 1524 times

Some dictionary definitions:

Pacifism: the conviction that war should be abolished.
Pacifism: opposition to war and violence as a means of settling disputes
Pacifism: complete renunciation of violence, even in self-defence, in settling disputes.
Pacifism: advocacy of opposition to war through individual or collective action against militarism.
Pacifism: the doctrine of opposition to all wars, including civil wars. Its most obvious feature is the personal commitment to non-participation in wars, except possibly in a non-combatant role. Pacifists also advocate efforts to maintain peace and support disarmament.


Disasters make news. Television and newspapers show us the pictures: the destruction, the injured survivors, the dead. What we don't see, unless we're the victims of an earthquake or flood or volcano ourselves, is what life is like afterwards. We rarely get glimpses of survivors struggling to cope with grief and illness or disability, in makeshift conditions and facing years - maybe even a lifetime - of deprivation and loss.

There is another kind of disaster: war. Pictures from war zones show the same tragic scenes, the same dreadful aftermath. But war is worse. When war is going on, help for its victims may be slow in coming, or never arrive at all. The victims can themselves become pawns of war: deliberately driven from their homes, abused or tortured, their towns and villages bombed or burned. Large areas of land become uninhabitable, poisoned by dangerous chemicals and littered with unexploded weapons that go on killing for years to come. Some people - often children - are forced by governments or self-appointed leaders to join in the fighting and commit brutal acts and killings themselves. In war zones law and order disappear, and no-one is safe.

Unlike earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions, war is a disaster created entirely by people, against people. It is never an accident: making war is always somebody's decision. Nations spend vast amounts of money on training soldiers to fight and kill. They spend even more on devising and manufacturing weapons and machinery for fighting and killing. That is not the only expense. Huge sums are also needed for dealing with the damage when a war is officially over. ('Officially', because the effects of war continue long after the truce has been signed.)

From this evidence alone, it ought to be clear to everyone that there's little to be said for war. But little has been done to liberate the world from it. War still fascinates and excites some people, though it fills many others with revulsion and horror. Too many people - and too many of their leaders - still think that war is defensible, and that it's not actually wrong for people to learn how to kill each other in large numbers.

For all these reasons, and more, the invention of war is one of humankind's greatest blunders. It needs to be put right.
The bottom line of pacifism is simply this: human beings invented war, and human beings should make it obsolete. [see War is only an invention] War, like a disease, can in time be eradicated; and that's what we should be working to achieve.

It means learning to overcome the conditioned belief that armed force is an acceptable way of dealing with disputes. It's a human weakness, not a strength, to solve problems with cruelty, brutality and murder. As a species we have already matured enough for modern societies to decide that wartime atrocities are crimes; people can be arrested for them, tried and punished. Now we should realise that war is itself a crime against humanity, and grow wise enough to solve our problems another way.

"IS WAR A BIOLOGICAL necessity, a sociological inevitability, or just a bad invention? Those who argue for the first view endow man with such pugnacious instincts that some outlet in aggressive behaviour is necessary if man is to reach full human stature. It was this point of view which lay brhind William James's famous essay, 'The Moral Equivalent of War', in which he tried to retain the warlike virtues and channel them in new directions. A similar point of view has lain behind the Soviet Union's attempt to make competition between groups rather than between individuals. A basic, competitive, aggressive, warring human nature is assumed, and those who wish to outlaw war or outlaw competitiveness merely try to find new and less socially destructive ways in which these biologically given aspects of man's nature can find expression. Then there are those who take the second view: warfare is the inevitable concomitant of the development of the state, the struggle for land and natural resources, of class societies springing not from the nature of man, but, from the nature of history. War is nevertheless inevitable unless we change our social system and outlaw classes, the struggle for power, and possessions; and in the event of our success warfare would disappear, as a symptom vanishes when the disease is cured

One may hold a sort of compromise position between these two extremes; one may claim that all aggression springs from the frustration of man's biologically determined drives and that, since all forms of culture are frustrating, it is certain each new generation will be aggressive and the aggression will find its natural and inevitable expression in race war, class war, nationalistic war, and so on. All three of these positions are very popular today among those who think seriously about the problems of war and its possible prevention, but I wish to urge another point of view, less defeatist, perhaps, than the first and third and more accurate than the second: that is, that warfare, by which I mean recognised conflict between two groups as groups, in which each group puts an army (even if the army is only fifteen pygmies) into the field to fight and kill, if possible, some of the members of the army of the other group - that warfare of this sort is an invention like any other of the inventions in terms of which we order our lives, such as writing, marriage, cooking our food instead of eating it raw, trial by jury, or burial of the dead, and so on. Some of this list anyone will grant are inventions: trial by jury is confined to very limited portions of the globe; we know that there are tribes that do not bury their dead but instead expose or cremate them; and we know that only part of the human race has had the knowledge of writing as its cultural inheritance. But, whenever a way of doing things is found universally, such as the use of fire or the practice of some form of marriage, we tend to think at once that it is not an invention at all but an attribute of humanity itself. And yet even such universals as marriage and the use of fire are inventions like the rest, very basic ones, inventions which were, perhaps, necessary if human history was to take the turn that it has taken, but nevertheless inventions. At some point in his social development man was undoubtedly without the institution of marriage or the knowledge of the use of fire.

THE CASE FOR warfare is much clearer because there are peoples even today who have no warfare. Of these the Eskimos are perhaps the most conspicuous examples, but the Lepchas of Sikkim described by Geoffrey Gorer in Himalayan Village are as good. Neither of these peoples understands war, not even defensive warfare. The idea of warfare is lacking, and this idea is as essential to really carrying on war as an alphabet or a syllabary is to writing. But, whereas the Lepchas are a gentle, unquarrelsome people, and the advocates of other points of view might argue that they are not full human beings or that they had never been frustrated and so had no aggression to expand in warfare, the Eskimo case gives no such possibility of interpretation. The Eskimos are not a mild and meek people; many of them are turbulent and troublesome. Fights, theft of wives, murder, cannibalism, occur among them--all outbursts of passionate men goaded by desire or intolerable circumstance. Here are men faced with hunger, men faced with loss of their wives, men faced with the threat of extermination by other men, and here are orphan children, growing up miserably with no one to care for them, mocked and neglected by those about them. The personality necessary for war, the circumstances necessary to goad men to desperation are present, but there is no war. When a travelling Eskimo entered a settlement, he might have to fight the strongest man in the settlement to establish his position among them, but this was a test of strength and bravery, not war. The idea of warfare, of one group organising against another group to maim and wound and kill them was absent. And, without that idea, passions might rage but there was no war.

But, it may be argued, is not this because the Eskimos have such a low and undeveloped form of social organisation? They own no land, they move from place to place, camping, it is true, season after season on the same site, but this is not something to fight for as the modern nations of the world fight for land and raw materials. They have no permanent possessions that can be looted, no towns that can be burned. They have no social classes to produce stress and strains within the society which might force it to go to war outside. Does not the absence of war among the Eskimos, while disproving the biological necessity of war, just go to confirm the point that it is the state of development of the society which accounts for war and nothing else?

We find the answer among the pygmy peoples of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The Andamans also represent an exceedingly low level of society; they are a hunting and food-gathering people; they live in tiny hordes without any class stratification; their houses are simpler than the snow houses of the Eskimo. But they knew about warfare. The army might contain only fifteen determined pygmies marching in a straight line, but it was the real thing none the less. Tiny army met tiny army in open battle, blows were exchanged, casualties suffered, and the state of warfare could only be concluded by a peacemaking ceremony.

Similarly, among the Australian aborigines, who built no permanent dwellings but wandered from water hole to water hole over their almost desert country, warfare - and rules of 'international law' - were highly developed. The student of social evolution will seek in vain for his obvious causes of war, struggle for lands, struggle for power of one group over another, expansion of population, need to divert the minds of a populace restive under tyranny, or even the ambition of a successful leader to enhance his own prestige. All are absent, but warfare as a practice remained, and men engaged in it and killed one another in the course of a war because killing is what is done in wars.

From instances like these it becomes apparent that an inquiry into the causes of war misses the fundamental point as completely as does an insistence upon the biological necessity of war. If a people have an idea of going to war and the idea that war is the way in which certain situations, defined within their society, are to be handled, they will sometimes go to war. If they are a mild and unaggressive people, like the Pueblo Indians, they may limit themselves to defensive warfare, but they will be forced to think in terms of war because there are peoples near them who have warfare as a pattern, and offensive, raiding, pillaging warfare at that. When the pattern of warfare is known, people like the Pueblo Indians will defend themselves, taking advantage of their natural defences, the mesa village site, and people like the Lepchas, having no natural defences and no idea of warfare, will merely submit to the invader. But the essential point remains the same. There is a way of behaving which is known to a given people and labelled as an appropriate form of behaviour; a bold and warlike people like the Sioux or the Maori may label warfare as desirable as well as possible, a mild people like the Pueblo Indians may label warfare as undesirable, but to the minds of both peoples the possibility of warfare is present. Their thoughts, their hopes, their plans are oriented about this idea--that warfare may be selected as the way to meet some situation.

SO SIMPLE peoples and civilised peoples, mild peoples and violent, assertive peoples, will all go to war if they have the invention, just as those peoples who have the custom of duelling will have duels and peoples who have the pattern of vendetta will indulge in vendetta. And, conversely, peoples who do not know of duelling will not fight duels, even though their wives are seduced and their daughters ravished; they may on occasion commit murder but they will not fight duels. Cultures which lack the idea of the vendetta will not meet every quarrel in this way. A people can use only the forms it has. So the Balinese have their special way of dealing with a quarrel between two individuals: if the two feel that the causes of quarrel are heavy, they may go and register their quarrel in the temple before the gods, and, making offerings, they may swear never to have anything to do with each other again.... But in other societies, although individuals might feel as full of animosity and as unwilling to have any further contact as do the Balinese, they cannot register their quarrel with the gods and go on quietly about their business because registering quarrels with the gods is not an invention of which they know.

Yet, if it be granted that warfare is, after all, an invention, it may nevertheless be an invention that lends itself to certain types of personality, to the exigent needs of autocrats, to the expansionist desires of crowded peoples, to the desire for plunder and rape and loot which is engendered by a dull and frustrating life. What, then, can we say of this congruence between warfare and its uses? If it is a form which fits so well, is not this congruence the essential point? But even here the primitive material causes us to wonder, because there are tribes who go to war merely for glory, having no quarrel with the enemy, suffering from no tyrant within their boundaries, anxious neither for land nor loot nor women, but merely anxious to win prestige which within that tribe has been declared obtainable only by war and without which no young man can hope to win his sweetheart's smile of approval. But if, as was the case with the Bush Negroes of Dutch Guiana, it is artistic ability which is necessary to win a girl's approval, the same young man would have to be carving rather than going out on a war party.

In many parts of the world, war is a game in which the individual can win counters - counters which bring him prestige in the eyes of his own sex or of the opposite sex; he plays for these counters as he might, in our society, strive for a tennis championship. Warfare is a frame for such prestige-seeking merely because it calls for the display of certain skills and certain virtues; all of these skills - riding straight, shooting straight, dodging the missiles of the enemy and sending one's own straight to the mark - can be equally well exercised in some other framework and, equally, the virtues endurance, bravery, loyalty, steadfastness - can be displayed in other contexts. The tie-up between proving oneself a man and proving this by a success in organised killing is due to a definition which many societies have made of manliness. And often, even in those societies which counted success in warfare a proof of human worth, strange turns were given to the idea, as when the plains Indians gave their highest awards to the man who touched a live enemy rather than to the man who brought in a scalp--from a dead enemy - because the latter was less risky. Warfare is just an invention known to the majority of human societies by which they permit their young men either to accumulate prestige or avenge their honour or acquire loot or wives or slaves or sago lands or cattle or appease the blood lust of their gods or the restless souls of the recently dead. It is just an invention, older and more widespread than the jury system, but none the less an invention

But, once we have said this, have we said anything at all? Despite a few stances, dear to the instances of controversialist, of the loss of the useful arts, once an invention is made which proves congruent with human needs or social forms, it tends to persist. Grant that war is an invention, that it is not a biological necessity nor the outcome of certain special types of social forms, still once the invention is made, what are we to do about it? The Indian who had been subsisting on the buffalo for generations because with his primitive weapons he could slaughter only a limited number of buffalo did not return to his primitive weapons when he saw that the white man’s more efficient weapons were exterminating the buffalo. A desire for the white man’s cloth may mortgage the South Sea Islander to the white man’s plantation, but he does not return to making bark cloth, which would have left him free. Once an invention is known and accepted, men do not easily relinquish it. The skilled workers may smash the first steam looms which they feel are to be their undoing, but they accept them in the end, and no movement which has insisted upon the mere abandonment of usable inventions has ever had much success. Warfare is here, as part of our thought; the deeds of warriors are immortalised in the words of our poets, the toys of our children are modelled upon the weapons of the soldier, the frame of reference within which our statesmen and our diplomats work always contains war. If we know that it is not inevitable, that it is due to historical accident that warfare is one of the ways in which we think of behaving, are we given any hope by that? What hope is there of persuading nations to abandon war, nations so thoroughly imbued with the idea that resort to war is, if not actually desirable and noble, at least inevitable whenever certain defined circumstances arise?

In answer to this question I think we might turn to the history of other social inventions, and inventions which must once have seemed as finally entrenched as warfare. Take the methods of trial which preceded the jury system: ordeal and trial by combat. Unfair, capricious, alien as they are to our feeling today, they were once the only methods open to individuals accused of some offense. The invention of trial by jury gradually replaced these methods until only witches, and finally not even witches, had to resort to the ordeal. And for a long time the jury system seemed the best and finest method of settling legal disputes, but today new inventions, trial before judges only or before commissions, are replacing the jury system. In each case the old method was replaced by a new social invention. The ordeal did not go out because people thought it unjust or wrong; it went out because a method more congruent with the institutions and feelings of the period was invented. And, if we despair over the way in which war seems such an ingrained habit of most of the human race, we can take comfort from the fact that a poor invention will usually give place to a better invention.

For this, two conditions, at least, are necessary. The people must recognise the defects of the old invention, and someone must make a new one. Propaganda against warfare, documentation of its terrible cost in human suffering and social waste, these prepare the ground by teaching people to feel that warfare is a defective social institution. There is further needed a belief that social invention is possible and the invention of new methods which will render warfare as out of date as the tractor is making the plough, or the motor car the horse and buggy. A form of behaviour becomes out of date only when something else takes its place, and, in order to invent forms of behaviour which will make war obsolete, it is a first requirement to believe that an invention is possible."

Reprinted from Margaret Mead, ‘Warfare is only an invention - not a biological necessity’ ASIA, XL (1940).


Some people want to believe that human beings are naturally aggressive, and that war is a natural way of showing it. Regrettable, they say, 'but it's in our genes'. In fact, scientists have proved that aggression is not inborn, and said so publicly in 1989. [see Seville Statement on Violence] Of course many people do feel and show aggressiveness. But this is the result of circumstances, not biology. There is always a traceable reason for aggressive behaviour. (It often has to do with social and economic problems which war may have created and defence budgets could be diverted to resolve.) But there is no good reason, innate or acquired, for human beings to plan aggression on a large scale, teach people how to put it into practice, and encourage them to carry it to lethal extremes.

The road to devastation begins long before war does: it begins when nations and groups equip themselves for war. Preparing for war ensures that it will happen (though it may not be the war that's being prepared for). You might as well try preventing a forest fire by pouring petrol over the trees and then standing by with a box of matches.

In fact aggression and revenge are deliberately incited to fuel war. Every war is backed by political and military propaganda which fires anger, hatred and impulses to attack and retaliate. This serves at least two purposes: it allows armies to believe in what they're doing, and seduces people into supporting their leaders' war policies.

But however solid the reasons for aggression or revenge may seem, war is never the only way to handle them. It is certainly the worst and most dangerous way; and it isn't even practical.

Aggression and violence set up a sequence of violent attacks and reprisals that, like a forest fire, is easy to start but very hard to stop, and leaves destruction and death wherever it occurs.

Put it another way: if you are aggressive and vengeful, then you bring aggression and revenge on yourself. As the pacifist civil rights activist Martin Luther King [see MLK below] said, an-eye-for-an-eye leaves everyone blind. In the grisly competitiveness of war it's more often two-eyes-for-an-eye.

People who actually want war often put their case for it by saying it's a form of defence, needed to protect a community, a land, an idea. But this sort of defence is really a form of aggression, a threat permanently ready to be carried out. In fact there's compelling evidence to show that armed defence is no kind of protection. The use of force doesn't solve problems; it may alter them, but it inevitably creates new ones at the same time. It also breeds further violence. The causes of human conflict are too subtle and complex to be dealt with by brute force, which is no more than a crude short-term response that sets up a load of long-term trouble.

"The Seville Statement on Violence is a scientific statement which says peace is possible because war is not a biological necessity. The Statement was written by an international team of specialists in 1986 for the United Nations sponsored International Year of Peace and its follow-up. The Statement was based on the latest scientific evidence and it has been endorsed by scientific and professional organisations around the world.

The Seville Statement says there is nothing in our biology which is an insurmountable obstacle to the abolition of war and other institutional violence. It says that war is a social invention and that peace can be invented to replace it. The Statement consists of an introduction five propositions and a conclusion. Each of the five propositions challenges a particular mis-statement that has been used to justify war and violence.

The Statement was adopted by UNESCO in 1989. The following is a version of the Statement in plain words. The full text is available from the PPU

This Statement is a message of hope. It says that peace is possible and that wars can be ended. It says that the suffering of war can be ended, the suffering of people who are injured and die and the suffering of children who are left without home or family. It says that instead of preparing for war we can use the money for things like teachers' books and schools and for doctors, medicines and hospitals.

We who wrote this Statement are scientists from a countries North and South, East and West. The Statement has been endorsed and published by many organisations of scientists around the world including anthropologists, ethnologists, (animal behaviour) physiologists, political scientists, psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists.

We have studied the problem of war and violence with today's scientific methods. Of course knowledge is never final and someday people will know better than we know today. But we have a responsibility to speak out on the basis of the latest information.

Some people say that violence and war cannot be ended because they are part of our natural biology. We say that is not true. People used to say that slavery and domination by race and sex were part of our biology. Some people even claimed they could prove these things scientifically. We now know they were wrong. Slavery has been ended and now the world is working to end domination by race and sex.

5 propositions
It is scientifically incorrect when people say that war cannot be ended because animals make war and because people are like animals. First it is not true because animals do not make war. Second, it is not true because we are not just like animals. Unlike animals, we have human culture that we can change. A culture that has war in one century may change and live at peace with their neighbours in another century.

It is scientifically incorrect when people say that war cannot be ended because it is part of human nature. Arguments about human nature cannot prove anything because our human culture gives us the ability to shape and change our nature from one generation to another. It is true that the genes that are transmitted in egg and sperm from parents to children influence the way we act. But it is also true that we are influenced by the culture in which we grow up and that we can take responsibility for our own actions.

It is scientifically incorrect when people say that violence cannot be ended because people and animals who are violent are able to live better and have more children than others. Actually, the evidence shows that people and animals do best when they learn how to work well with each other.

It is scientifically incorrect when people say that we have to be violent because of our brain. The brain is part of our body like our legs and hands. They can all be used for co operation just as well as they can be used for violence. Since the brain is the physical basis of our intelligence, it enables us to think of what we want to do and what we ought to do. And since the brain has a great capacity for learning, it is possible for us to invent new ways of doing things.

It is scientifically incorrect when people say that war is caused by 'instinct'. Most scientists do not use the term 'instinct' anymore because none of our behaviour is so determined that it cannot be changed by learning. Of course, we have emotions and motivations like fear, anger, sex, and hunger, but we are each responsible for the way we express them. In modern war, the decisions and actions of generals and soldiers are not usually emotional. Instead, they are doing their jobs the way they have been trained. When soldiers are trained for war and when people are trained to support a war, they are taught to hate and fear an enemy. The most important question is why they are trained and prepared that way in the first place by political leaders and the mass media.

We conclude that we are not condemned to war and violence because of our biology. Instead, it is possible for us to end war and the suffering it causes. We cannot do it by working alone, but only by working together. However, it makes a big difference whether or not each one of us believes that we can do it. Otherwise, we may not even try. War was invented in ancient times, and in the same way we can invent peace in our time. It is up to each of us to do our part."

The 1964 Nobel Peace prize was given to Martin Luther King, Jr., who was, after Ralph Bunche, the second black American to win the award. He was, said Chairman Jahn of the Nobel committee, ‘the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races’

King was born Michael Luther King, Jr., the second child and first son of a Baptist minister in Atlanta, Georgia. When the boy was six years old, two white playmates were told not to play with him, and his mother had to explain about segregation: it was a social condition, and he was as good as anyone else. The father lifted the boy's vision higher: he told him about Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation, and said that from now on they would both be named after him.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a very bright student, began to show his oratorical ability as early as his high school years. At fifteen he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, the distinguished black institution, and decided to become a minister. As he said later, ‘I'm the son of a preacher . . . my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy's brother is a preacher, so I didn't have much choice.’ During his senior year, when he was eighteen, King was ordained and elected assistant pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which had been established by his grandfather and where his father was then the minister

He graduated at nineteen in sociology and went on to Croziet Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was one of only six black students in a student body of about one hundred. In three years he received the degree of bachelor of divinity, having been president of the senior class and valedictorian. With a Crozier fellowship, he entered Boston University in 1951 to study for the doctorate.

While at Crozier he first heard of Gandhi's nonviolent movement that had won independence for India, and he began to think of how such methods might be used by the black people in America. It appeared to him that Gandhi ‘was probably the first person to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful effective social force on a large scale.’

In his studies at Boston University, King was introduced to the leading theological ideas of the day, and he also had the opportunity to follow philosophy course at Harward. In Boston he met the beautiful and talented Coretta Scott, who was studying to be a concert singer at the New England Conservatory of Music, but who gave up her career to become his wife. They were married in 1953 and were to have four children. Coretta was always a great support for him, and after his death she carried on his work, becoming a national leader in her own right.

In 1954, after King had completed the course work for his Ph.D., he had job offers from colleges and churches in the North, but he felt that his place was in the South, where he could do more for his people. When he decided to answer the call from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, however, Coretta had reservations. She had grown up in Alabama only eighty miles from there, and she knew that Montgomery was still living in hallowed memories of its past as the first capital of the Confederacy and that they would encounter deep racial prejudices. Later she came to feel that the choice of Montgomery ‘was an inevitable part of a greater plan for our lives.’

King officially entered upon his pastor's duties in Montgomery in September 1954. The next year he received his Ph. D. from Boston University, in November their first child was born, and a few weeks later the series of events began in Montgomery that propelled him into a greater role than he could ever have foreseen.
-On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks, a forty-year-old seamstress, refused to give up her seat in a bus to a white man as she was ordered to do by the driver. ‘I was just plain tired, and my feet hurt,’ she explained later. For this she was arrested and charged with disobeying the city's segregation ordinance.

The black community was outraged, and their pastors quickly organized a one-day boycott of the buses in protest. This was so successful that it was decided to continue the boycott until demands to desegregate the buses were met. For leadership the pastors turned to their young colleague of the Dexter Avenue Church, who had already won a reputation among them for his powerful preaching. They felt that he had not been in town long enough to make enemies and could easily relocate to another city if things went wrong. Consequently, Martin Luther King, Jr., became president of the committee to conduct the boycott, which was hopefully called the Montgomery Improvement Association. He was then not quite twenty-seven.

In his first speech, to a mass meeting on 5 December, King announced the nonviolent principles that were to guide the civil rights movement from then on. In the struggle for freedom and justice to which they were called, he said, ‘Our actions must be guided by the deepest principles of the Christian faith.’ He concluded: ‘If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, future historians will say, “There lived a great people - black people - who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.” This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.’

In this spirit the boycott effort persisted, despite bitter efforts to break it through all kinds of harassment, abuse, and persecution. For over a year the black community of Montgomery stayed out of the public buses, walking, car-pooling, and using all possible means of transit, until finally the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation on the buses was unconstitutional. King was the target for arrests, constant anonymous death threats, and a night-bombing of his home.

The Montgomery bus boycott drew worldwide attention to the racial struggle in the South and to King. The movement for racial justice spread beyond Montgomery, and King became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which coordinated the major civil rights activities. Throughout the South blacks rallied at King's call, fighting segregation through marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, and other nonviolent methods. King was always at the forefront, and he was beaten, arrested, and jailed. In one prison cell he wrote his moving ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ explaining to some white ministers who counseled patience ‘why we can't wait.’

He traveled thousands of miles, in the North as well as in the South, making speeches, raising money, appealing for support from political, labor, and business leaders. In 1963, when 250,000 persons, 75,000 of them white, took part in a march in Washington to urge Congress to pass civil rights legislation, King addressed them from the Lincoln Memorial in his most famous speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ presenting his vision of an America living out the true meaning of its egalitarian creed. Great steps forward were taken when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but realization of the dream was still far off.

King had not sought the leadership in Montgomery, but felt that God had directed him to take it on, and in the following years he continued to feel that he had no choice, despite the pain and suffering he endured. He sometimes thought wistfully of a peaceful life in a teaching post somewhere, but he put such thoughts aside. The public commendation that he received only drove him to devote more of his energies to the cause he served. He lived with danger and had premonitions of an early death, but he carried on, firm in the faith that he was meant to.

Early in 1964 King learned that he had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Swedish parliamentary deputies, and in the summer a request came from Oslo for documentation, indicating that his candidacy was being seriously considered. Possibly with an eye on the prize, arrangements were made for King to have an audience with Pope Paul VI and to visit West Berlin in September. But King expected that the award would be given to someone who was involved with international peace activities.

He returned from Berlin exhausted and checked into a hospital for a physical examination, mainly for a few days rest. The next morning Coretta telephoned to wake him up with the news that he had won the prize. Sleepily, he thought he was still dreaming. Once awake, he called a press conference at the hospital, but first met with his wife and closest associates, explaining to them that the prize represented the international moral recognition of their whole movement, not his personal part in it. He asked them to join him in prayer for strength to work harder for their goal. At the press conference he announced that he would give the prize money of approximately fifty-four thousand dollars to the movement, which he arranged to do on his return from Oslo.

Feeling that the award had been won by them all, King took with him to Oslo a number of the other leaders, and the party of thirty represented the largest group that had ever accompanied a prizewinner. Coretta remembers that they had quite a time getting her husband into his formal dress for the ceremony. He bridled especially at the ‘ridiculous’ ascot tie, vowing ‘never to wear one of these things again.’ He never did.

All the same, King cut a handsome figure when he stepped to the rostrum to deliver his speech of acceptance, at thirty-five the youngest of all those who had received the prize. He was shorter than the audience had imagined, but as his rich baritone filled the hall with its throbbing cadences, he grew taller in their eyes.

He declared that he was accepting the award on behalf of the civil rights movement, considering it ‘a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and racial questions of our time - the need for man to overcome oppression without resorting to violence and oppression.’ He continued:

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the peoples of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love....I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious 0th in the future of mankind.

In his Nobel lecture King said that the most pressing problem confronting humanity today was ‘the poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance.’ This was apparent in the three evils that had grown out of man's ‘ethical infantilism,’ racial injustice, poverty, and war, which were all intertwined. Nonviolence ‘seeks to redeem the spiritual and moral lag . . . to secure moral ends through moral means.’ It was a ‘weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.’

Jahn had already cited King's earlier statement that ‘the choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence.’ Now King emphasized that peace was a positive concept and called for ‘an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. When I speak of love, I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality’

King left Oslo with a new and overwhelming sense of what the world was expecting of him. At his hero's welcome in New York he expressed his own intensified feeling of personal responsibility in speaking of individuals who ‘will hold the torch firmly for others because they have overcome the threat of jail and death. They will hold this torch high without faltering because they have weathered the battering storms of persecution and withstood the temptation to retreat to a more quiet and serene life’

After Oslo, King attacked more vigorously all three of the evils of which he had spoken. He took a public stand against the American war in Vietnam, antagonizing political leaders who had helped with civil rights legislation and alienating former associates who thought he should keep to the one issue. He lobbied for federal assistance to the poor, insisting that the misery of poverty knows no racial distinctions, and he planned a ‘Poor People's March’ on Washington for 20 April 1968. He was not to live to see it. On 4 April, while in Memphis, Tennessee, helping striking garbage workers, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.

Only a few months before, in a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, he had spoken of his own death and funeral. He wanted no long eulogy: Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. That I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.

In 1986, by act of Congress, the United States began the annual celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., in January as a national holiday.


In 1948, shortly after the horrors of the Second World War, forty-eight countries signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It begins:

i. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
ii. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
iii. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Our common humanity demands that we make friends, not enemies, of each other. Nor should belonging to a country or state be a reason for being the enemy of other nations and states. 'Everyone' - everyone - 'has the right to life'. Rights such as these are not only human, they are also humane. War, killing and violence are never humane, whatever excuses may be put up by people who want to justify them.

Yet human societies are so entangled in the web of war that the Universal Declaration, a commendably sane and reasonable agreement, soon began to be eroded. First, an additional clause was signed allowing 'the State' to 'take measures' (in what it judged to be a 'public emergency') that break the terms of the Declaration. Then the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), which aims to 'guarantee the fundamental civil and political rights of Man' by making human rights a legal obligation, provided warmongers with a loophole. This Convention allows that a State may authorise killing as a response to 'unlawful violence' or to suppress an uprising; and also 'in time of war or other public emergency'. The proviso? Such killing must only result from 'the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary' - an impossible decision to make in the midst of the chaos of war, and an immoral dilemma at any time.

What does this loophole mean? It means that governments have the legal power to decide that in some circumstances people can and should be killed: that is to say, they have the legal power to strip us of our most fundamental human right. Is this the sort of power we really want our government, or any other government, to have?

It's quite clear that war is an abuse of human rights. But we have not yet developed a society that is prepared to acknowledge that and entirely reject war as an option. Since most people are peaceable and peace-loving, and no-one wants to be killed, you'd think that war would be universally regarded as the human race's greatest shame. It's extraordinary that any modern and civilised society can still take armed force for granted. Yet in the last century up to 200 million people were killed in wars, the majority of them civilians, many of them children. Why ever hasn't war been abolished?


One of the reasons why it's so difficult to outlaw war is that it's built into the fabric of most societies, installed there by their pasts. As it happens, the earliest archaeological discoveries show that human beings used their evolving brains to make tools, not weapons. But as populations grew, so did problems we know today: quarrels over land, property, resources and power. It was an easy step, though not an intelligent one, to turn a two-person squabble into a group brawl, and so descend into mass violence and bloodshed. From there it was easy, though not far-sighted, to learn how to organise that violence and use it as a threat.

War became a part of human society a long time ago, but for many centuries it was a relatively small part. It dominates historical records, because documenting the everyday lives of ordinary people did not seem important. Men became warriors because it went with the job of being a prince or lord, and footsoldiers because it went with the job of being a lord's servant; some took up soldiering when it became a profession, or joined in as amateurs to support a particular cause. But most men were farmers, labourers, craftworkers, or employed by the church. Sadly, as people came to understand science better, some of them applied their intelligence and learning to the machinery of war. By the 20th century weapons had been devised that could kill many people at once, and not just soldiers; and war had become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Studying world history (with eyes and minds open) in tandem with the history of people who have worked to abolish war gives a fascinating insight into the way our species behaves. The human race went blindly ahead with the advancement of warfare - brutal, brutalising and corrupt - without stopping to think of the consequences for succeeding generations, or for the planet itself, and without listening to enlightened warnings and advice against it. War got a grip on people's minds, societies and ways of life with the strength (and many of the strategies) of a virus. And, not least because of the huge cost of its needs, war now in one way or another touches almost every aspect of life.

Take taxes, for example. In democracies, theoretically people elect governments to budget on their behalf to keep them healthy, educated and comfortable. But huge amounts of taxpayers' money are hived off to pay for 'defence' - which means 'equipment for killing' - and welfare is under-supported as a result. Taxpayers aren't consulted about this; decisions about war are never put to the people. In the UK income tax was originally invented to meet the costs of war. In some countries, especially developing ones, expenditure on arms and armies leaves the general population enduring poverty, disease and deprivation. (And it's often those countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters.)

A major cause of concern is that many people, caught in the historic web of war, find it hard to believe that all war is always wrong. They may agree that it should be avoided if at all possible, but not, they say, at all costs: it should remain a worst-case scenario. But war is worse than that. Think of the terrible events of the First World War - the first to be conducted on an industrial scale. Think of the Second World War's saturation bombing, atomic weapons and, with the Holocaust, organised racism - all of which caused the widespread murder of civilians and made such actions an 'acceptable' part of war. Think of what the Vietnam War did to both civilians and soldiers, and the effects of massacres and 'ethnic cleansing' round the world. Think of the appalling kinds of warfare, global and local, which modern technology has made possible.

If nothing else, think of the growing number of books and films praised for carrying an anti-war message in their depictions of the true horror and futility of war. Indeed, the world-wide movement in favour of peace has grown substantially over the last half-century; its varied voices and actions have been heard and noticed. In some places they've been so successful that some governments have been obliged to try to sell war with claims that it's morally sound! Arms trade fairs promote 'weapons that save lives', and in 1999 the British were encouraged to support what the government called a 'humanitarian war' - contradictions in terms which would be absurd if they weren't so dangerous.

But even where the pursuit of peace is encouraged and applauded, the web of war still clings. Driven by the lawless pursuit of power and wealth, private and public interests both local and world-wide have so far kept war and its machinery going.


Disentangling any society from the web of war not only needs hard work, imagination, resourcefulness and persistence, it also needs a change of attitude. Attitudes in societies can and do change - there are examples of such changes throughout history. Not all changes are for the better, but people can develop a social and political will to alter that too. In particular, we have the ability to change our society so that war is no longer an option.

It's tempting to think that when no fighting is going on there is peace - but beneath the peace-talking, war-thinking continues. The systems that sustain war-thinking have to be dismantled.

To make this possible we need to develop a social climate in which violence is no longer used to counter violence. It means questioning attitudes we have taken for granted until now. It means rethinking the way we work, the way we play, the way we think about money, the way we think about other people, and the way we think about government.

Such a fresh look at our values may be unsettling, but it can be absorbing and stimulating too. One of pacifism's many virtues is that it can be practised in a diversity of ways - and it thrives on new approaches. What they have in common is nonviolence, and nonviolence is a powerful and exciting instrument of change.

It needs to be stressed that nonviolence doesn't mean inaction. It means action, aimed at constructive problem-solving without the use of weapons or war. This doesn't mean there's no place for violent feelings. Most human beings have them - and most human beings learn how to control them, too.


Pacifists are vocal about what they think, and look for ways of expressing it in all aspects of life. Some ways of bringing pacifism to public attention demand courage and stamina, especially in places where it is regarded as a threat to the vested interests of war. Some people disobey the law by withholding part of their income tax (and paying the money into peace trusts instead) proportional to the percentage of the national budget spent on war. Others risk arrest and imprisonment by making 'direct action' protests: entering prohibited areas occupied by military installations, setting up peace camps on or beside military sites, or disabling machinery intended for use in war. Others learn and teach techniques of defusing conflict, and seek out danger areas where these skills can be applied.

But being a pacifist is not in itself dangerous or even particularly difficult: it's only a step beyond being the peaceable, peace-seeking person most of us naturally are. Many find ways to demonstrate their principles in ordinary life, being up-front about never responding to violence with violence. Everyday life, after all, is where social change begins.

Some people have been working for a long time on what is called conversion: practical ways for transforming the world's vast military complexes into organisations benefiting the civilian world. Military expertise can be turned to civilian use (as demonstrated by military assistance in dealing with natural catastrophes). Energy and intelligence devoted to devising modern weapons systems can be diverted to life technologies. Military sites and installations can become parks, business complexes, civilian science centres (and museums that warn future generations against a return to violence). The aim is to 'turn swords into ploughshares' without, for example, damaging economies or depriving people of employment. Some of these changes are already being tried out experimentally: the learning curve has begun.

Other people are studying the nature and dynamics of conflict, and how it too can be transformed to the good. They promote the learning of skills in resolving conflicts - skills now being refined by many peace research organisations as well as out in the field. Nonviolent techniques of mediation and negotiation, for example, are increasingly practised in many areas of life, such as schools and workplaces. Processes of reconciliation are also being initiated - famously in South Africa after apartheid, and in Rwanda after civil war.

Also being studied are the real causes of war. These aren't the flashpoints that seem to start wars off - such as an assassination, a border infringement, an incitement to riot, or even an invasion. The real causes lie deeper, in earlier history; in human psychology; in social and economic injustices; in political discontent and power-seeking. It means looking, too, at what these tensions are nurtured by. Maybe there's a political motive, war used as a deliberately planned diversion of people's attention from other problems; or maybe there's a disaffected sector of society (often, in the past, a country's army) interested in violent rebellion; or feuds, vendettas, tribal conflict; or disputes over trade, land, water, oil; or the lucrative arms business itself, which depends on war for its existence. These are the real reasons for war, hidden by cosmetic ones of patriotism or a stance against insult or injustice. The better the real reasons are understood, the better they can be predicted, detected, diagnosed, and defused.

Pain, fear, distress and conflict are part of the human condition. Selfishness, cruelty, vengeance, and all the other aspects of aggression, aren't likely to disappear ( though they can be better controlled, especially in a society that finds them repellent). Pacifism doesn't imagine, or ask for, a world of visionary bliss. But it does mean rejecting absolutely the great wrong that we have done ourselves: organised killing, or war. It does mean that, at last, we will stop deliberately imposing suffering on other people and ourselves.

As you are reading this, work is going on in places all round the world to discover the best ways to set about abolishing war for good. It's work in which anyone can take part, anywhere.

Here are some of the things people say in defence of war, and some possible answers (and questions) in response.

Peace can never come from violent methods: if you use violence, you risk a violent response now or in the future. It's true that wars have often been fought under the flag of democracy, freedom or justice. But war is undemocratic, restrictive and unjust; and, of course, not peaceful. The First World War was called 'the war to end wars': did it? So-called 'peace-keeping' troops (another contradiction in terms) are deployed in battle areas: have they stopped war for good? Real peace - the complete absence of war - can never be gained with a gun.

What for? Revenge? The human impulse to retribution is certainly strong, and can be pumped up until it's out of control; but that doesn't justify it. Acts of vengeance solve no problems but create new ones instead - and always involve harming people, many of whom may have (or want) nothing to do with the conflict. Self-defence? Armed resistance is not - really not - the only response to threats. It is certainly the most damaging response and the one most likely to create threats and reprisals in the future. War is a kind of mutual suicide: what could be less necessary than that?

The idea of a 'just war' is an ancient one, and is still upheld by some religions. It's upheld, too, by the Western idea of 'humanitarian' war which, it's claimed, is to prevent or stop unjust oppression. Political 'good' causes are also used to justify wars, such as wars of liberation or revolution. The fact remains, however, that whatever the justice of the cause, that justice is cancelled out when the means of promoting it are unjust. And the many-faceted injustice of war is in a league of its own. War can't justify a cause any more than it can be justified by it. What do slaughter and violence prove? What do slaughter and violence provoke?

The French writer Albert Camus said that the great political question of modern times is what we do with fear. Fear makes us regard murder as militarily legitimate, and thus (wrongly) treat human lives as insignificant. He suggests that we ask ourselves two questions: 'Do I want to be killed or assaulted, directly or indirectly?' and 'Do I want to kill or assault, directly or indirectly?' If you answer No to both, what does that logically commit you to?

Fear of invasion is ancient, deep-rooted and strong. People who work for the abolition of war are also working to preserve everyone's right to live undisturbed. Take a look at the history of invasions round the world. Armed invasions are more often than not provoked by the existence of an opposing armed force, and most of the disastrous results of invasion are caused by the use of armed force on both sides - but unarmed nonviolent resistance has achieved remarkable results. Invasions are, in fact, relatively rare - the logistical problems are huge, and if land has been bombed to bits its value is lost. Occupying territory is difficult, and costly in money and manpower. In modern times most invasions have been partial and small-scale; land is seized for strategic purposes rather than to take control of a population. There's more than one way of responding to an invading force: nonviolence can lead to fruitful outcomes, including the peaceful thwarting of the invader [see Nonviolence in World War Two], or even enlightened integration: history has examples of that too.

Pacifists are always being asked how they would tackle armed aggression. It's usually difficult to satisfy the questioner. No single situation is the same as another, and no single answer can cover all situations. But some things can be said. First, pacifists would not respond with weapons; they wouldn't have any. They would try hard not to provoke the aggressor; but would look for ways of opening a dialogue - which would mean using imagination, resourcefulness and lateral thinking. A question: Why do you think aggression can only be met with violence (whether on an 'it's the only language they understand' principle or as tit-for-tat)? If you meet aggression with violence, what are likely to be the short-term and long-term results? As it happens, most societies have developed ways of containing their disturbed and violent elements without killing them; shouldn't that be just as possible where conflicts with other societies are concerned?

This may sometimes happen, not least because some people respond heroically to disaster of any kind. Natural disasters can't be abolished, and like war they are expensive in lives, livelihoods and repair bills. War is an unnatural disaster, entirely man-made. Must we really create our own disasters to increase our opportunities to show heroism and team spirit? In reality, war brings out the worst in people, stirring hate and anger and hostility and encouraging murder and violence and crime. Stories of 'Dunkirk spirit' may be told, and some of them may be true; but what prevails in the disaster-zones of war isn't so much 'pulling together' as 'putting Number One first'. Wartime is always a lawless time, despite the laws that have so ineffectually been made for conducting it; and history records how greatly it has been exploited for personal gain, or just basic survival, at other people's expense. In any event, pacifism offers plenty of chances to show courage, without harming anyone else. Surely that's a healthier sort of heroism?

It's certainly true that power - looking for it, getting it and keeping it - has been a problem for human beings throughout recorded history. But power based on armed might has never been lasting or stable or safe. Solving the problem of power is part of the pacifist agenda, which begins with the unshakeable fact that preparation for war creates the possibility of war. What is more, being equipped for war keeps distrust simmering, makes trust impossible. What does 'balance of power' really mean? Isn't it an armed stand-off, always at risk of exploding into violence? 'Balance of power' is a pretty term for something not at all desirable: the sustained and terrible risk of war.

Yes, we may live in a country that has not at present declared war or had war declared against it. But are we also living in a country where war is a part of daily life (war memorials; history; films; games; air force test flights; fund-raising for war victims; the news...)? Do we live in a country that maintains armed forces? Do we live in a country that has troops stationed or fighting abroad? Do we live in a country which is home to some of the world's biggest arms manufacturers? Do we live in a country that has a stockpile of weapons that could wipe out millions? In Britain and many other countries, the answer is Yes to all those questions. How can that be called 'peace'?


Pacifism in Europe to 1914

Peter Brock. Princeton.

Pacifism in the 20th century.
Peter Brock, Nigel Young. Syracuse University Press.1999

Pacifism in Britain, 1914-1945: The defining of a faith.
M Caedel. 1980

On war and morality.
Robert L Holmes. 1989

Pacifism: An Historical and Sociological Study
D A Martin. 1965

War, Conscience and Dissent.
GC Zahn. Geoffrey Chapman 1967

The Pacifist Conscience
Peter Mayer. Pelican

The quiet Battle
Ed Mulford Q. Sibey Doubleday

Pacifism – an introductory perspective
Hugh Underhill. Peace Pledge Union

King, Martin Luther, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York: Perennial Library, Harper, 1958.

A graphic account, including the first speech to the mass meeting.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James Melvin Washington. San Francisco: Harper, 1986.

Organized by topic and chronologically. Includes famous sermons and speeches and a bibliography.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. The Trumpet of Conscience. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
Five lectures broadcast in Canada; topics include peace and nonviolence.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. Why We Can't Wait. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. Includes the ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Leadership Conference. New York: Morrow, 1986. Pulitzer Prize– winning biography. Includes a perceptive discussion of King and the Nobel Peace Prize.

King, Coretta Scott. My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969. An important memoir by King's widow.

Levering, Ralph. ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Challenge of Inclusive Peacemaking.’ In Peace Heroes in Twentieth-Century America. Edited by Charles DeBenedetti. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986, pp. 198 - 226.
Lewis, David L. King, a Critical Biography. 2d ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978.

Lokos, Lionel. House Divided; The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1968. By a critic of nonviolence.
Oates, Stephen B. Let the Trumpet Sound. New York: Harper & Row, 1982.

Sympathetic biography. Well recommended.
Pyatt, Sherman E. Martin Luther King, Jr.: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Greenwood, 1986. Most comprehensive bibliography of works by and about King. Lists articles on King and the Peace Prize on pp. 62 - 64.

Reader's comments on this article

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from Cultinvator
Saturday, November 19, 2005 - 00:09

Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

Ghandi wasn't a pacifist and neither am I. I think this fucking war stinks but war is sometimes necessary when all other diplomatic means are exhausted and the enemy is about to charge. Sitting and letting them get the upper end on survival while being extinct isn't an option for me.

Peace at any cost isn't really peace it's a piece of shit subservient sacrificial sheep weak mentality of being a prey ready for slaughter.

On the other hand peace after the storm after things are settled... yea, that's true peace. Don't get me wrong, I'm no warmonger, but fighting has it's virtures too.

For example, going to Afganistan after Osama in my opinion was warranted. Going to Iraq for Oil and to push our version of freedom on those who should fight to gain it themselves is bull.

(reply to this comment)

Friday, November 18, 2005 - 06:59

Antiwar activists, where are you?

By Victoria A. Bonney | November 7, 2005

MY FELLOW young Americans, the evidence is mounting that this war we are fighting in Iraq is not a ''just" war. No, this is a dirty fight, and we're in it for the long haul. But I guess that's the problem -- ''we" are not in it at all.
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''We" are here in our land of iPods and cellphones, luxuriating in our apathetic comas while our soldiers are over there.

I know what you're thinking. You have that magnetic yellow ribbon on your SUV, and, boy, if that is not uber-effective I do not know what is. But let me ask you, if you'd just put your Podcast on pause and cellphone on silence for a moment, is this all enough?

Two wars ago, during the Vietnam disaster, there was Generation Activist. The youth of America rallied against ''the man." How did they do it? They didn't have e-boards or e-mail for that matter.

Yet somehow, this archaic mob of longhairs and peaceniks managed to mobilize. They marched on the National Mall. They protested everywhere, even in bed (refer to your hippie handbook, under John Lennon and Yoko Ono's ''bed-in"). Their methods were not always nonviolent, but they were creative and incorrigible.

Why is Generation Apathetic unable to have the same resounding roar?

For starters we have a woman from Generation Activist doing our dirty work. Former flower child Cindy Sheehan is out on the front lines with a pack of her patchouli-wearing alliances. What is the youth of America doing in the meantime?

We are watching it on our car television sets thinking about the jerk in front of us who is not driving fast enough.

It's not our fault that we all have Attention Deficit Disorder. We are conditioned like Pavlov's dogs to jump at the sound of ''You've got mail!" But we are in dereliction of our duty as a thorn in the side of authority. Our parents shouldn't have to bail us out of everything. So while we appreciate the help of Cindy and her comrades, this is our fight.

It's not only apathy that is killing the spirit of our generation, it's the execution of our dissidence. For some reason the youth of America think that violence is the most effective method of rebellion (albeit something we learned from our Playstations).

That brings us to another nifty way that the young inactivists of America are making life easier for our elected warmongers -- E-Marches.

Yes, E-Marches are the newest way to protest your government. All it takes is a double click and you will be part of a simulated march on Washington.

Oh, dear, sweet, well-intentioned youth, don't you see? Just as easily as you signed up to electronically protest your senators, they can delete you from their inbox. The Internet is a resource for sports scores, CliffsNotes, and porn -- not a venue for modern dissent.

We are a generation with potential coming out of our ears. We could move mountains if only we'd turn off our televisions. They only tell us we are powerless and to just give up.

So this is what you have to do. Tomorrow when you stop into Starbucks for your venti latte and the person behind the counter gives you your change, look at it. Look closely. There, written on your bills is our American mantra in a defunct language.

It says, ''E Pluribus Unum," which means, out of many, one. Let this be your daily reminder. Generation Apathetic, we are in this boat together.

It's up to us to chart a course. We cannot live our lives on cruise control.

Victoria A. Bonney is a senior at Endicott College.
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

(reply to this comment)
from Baxter
Thursday, November 17, 2005 - 05:43


I'm moved to go home and write a rebuttal to this admittedly well-constructed essay. After I'm finished at the library analysing the Arab-Israeli war, the Russo-Japanese War and the impact of Viking aggression on Western Europe. Sometimes I hate university.
(reply to this comment)

From Fish
Thursday, November 17, 2005, 09:55

Sino-Russo*(reply to this comment
From Baxter
Thursday, November 17, 2005, 11:18

I think you're confusing conflicts. (reply to this comment
From placebo
Thursday, November 17, 2005, 11:26

Was gonna say, I can't remember a Sino-Russo war since the times of Kublai Khan.(reply to this comment
from Something for you
Wednesday, November 16, 2005 - 00:43

(reply to this comment)
from one who knows
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 22:30

Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3.5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
yeah, too long. all i know is that WAR ROCKS!!!!!!
(reply to this comment)
from Mama maria
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 08:31

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Sounds like you been stealing lines or whole pages from GNs.
(reply to this comment)
from Fish
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 08:17

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Waaaaaaay toooooo loooooong........................
(reply to this comment)
from ESJ
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 01:51

Average visitor agreement is 1 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Wow, great discertation, moonbeam. It's practically a book. Abridged, it would make for a powerful speech. Cheers!
(reply to this comment)
from Fist
Sunday, November 13, 2005 - 21:41

Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 3 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Did you write that all yourself? Its like a mini discertation... Incredible...

what you been smoking? haha
(reply to this comment)
From placebo
Tuesday, November 15, 2005, 04:12

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

you mean a dissertation? What have you been smoking?(reply to this comment

From Fist
Tuesday, November 15, 2005, 05:36

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
ha!!! your right... Pardon me

I havent touched the stuff Mr. Probation Officer...(reply to this comment

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