I abhor violence, and I hate war. When I grew up, my parents – who had been small kids in the final years of World War II – taught me never to point anything remotely weaponlike at any sentient being, not even a blade of grass at an ant, and not even in jest. The aftermath of the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, the terrors of the Gulf Wars, and the everlooming threat of the Cold War spinning out of control made the reality of war a constant painful presence in my childhood and youth. Starting on the day when Irak first fired Scud missiles on Israel in early 1991, for a couple of weeks, I lived in stark naked fear of a new world war exploding in our faces. Until today, I cringe at pictures of soldiers, tanks, bombs, or blood. “Nie wieder Krieg”, as in Käthe Kollwitz’s placard from 1924 in this post’s header, is one of the very few rally cries I’ll follow anywhere, anytime.
I’m also a historian. I studied European Peace Plans througout the centuries, diplomacy during the Thirty Years’ War, elites at the time of the French Revolution and in the Napoleonic Wars, and the role of identities in war, peace and world orders. I wrote a couple of books and several articles on these subjects. Today, I’m a consultant and counsellor to business leaders, and at the core of my work is the conviction that the vast majority of problems can be solved if people respect each other, listen and talk to each other, engage in constructive conflict of ideas, and work towards mutually accepted solutions to their disagreements. War is the complete opposite of this. War is the death of respect, the blade of steely silence killing all conversations, the freezing of identities into “us” and “them”, and the total destruction of all grounds of communication, cooperation, and cocreation.
So, from the depths of my heart, I stand with peace.
At the same time, having studied wars throughout the ages of humanity, I know a few inconvenient truths about war. Firstly, the dire fact is that wars occur over and over again, and, as wonderful as it would be, a true: “Nie wieder Krieg”, is most likely nothing but a pipe (of peace) dream. The seeds of war are sown whenever people feel disadvantaged, threatened, mistreated, or left behind – and this will continue to happen, simply because people have different likes and dislikes. So, alas, there’s a certain naiveté in those being “shocked” at the outbreak of the current war. At the same time, by all means, we should never ever give up on the aspiration that we can build relationships, families, communities, societies, and global ways of living together that stop the germs of violence before they can sprout, spread, and kill. So, yes, let’s stand for peace, and let’s definitely do what we can to end this particular war.
Secondly, when wars did break out, there were only a few ways they actually were effectively stopped. Most commonly, the end of wars was brought about through gradual dwindling and subsequent lack of resources – food, fuel, ammunition, weapons, and, of course, people available and willing to fight and people supporting those fighting and following those in command. Sometimes, such endings were accelerated by brave dissenters and deserters or by courageous civil disobedience from human beings refusing to be recruited to fight against their own interests, desires, and deepest convictions – or simply refusing to kill other human beings. In addition, mediators often played an important role by bridging the chasm of broken trust between enemy commanders. Finally, all more significant wars ended in negotiations and contracts, sometimes settling issues way beyond the triggers for the current conflict. With this in mind, economic sanctions, support for peaceful oppositional forces, and ongoing diplomacy should be good means towards peace this time around, too. Let’s not belittle these levers, they have a peaceful power of their own.
Thirdly, no war was ever shortened or ended by proving one side wrong (or right, for that matter). All attempts at defining “just” wars crumble as soon as they’re investigated with rigour. A place that was mine yesterday belonged to somebody else the day before and had still different owners before that – and so on, ad infinitum. Nor was any war ever ended by exposing one or another party’s faults, crimes, and breeches of law in the lead-up to the actual battle. International law is set up – and often works – to prevent wars, but once tanks are on the ground, it’s mostly useless and will only play its role again once peace has been reestablished and war criminals can be brought to court. Therefore, discussing now what would’ve been a better course of action days, weeks, months, or years ago is futile. Let’s work for a more peaceful future, and not dwell on who messed up what in the past.
Fourthly, unfortunately, no war was ever shortened or ended by people changing their profile photos on social media – nor by writing blog posts, for that matter. However, if small gestures like these give us the strength to not feel engulfed by the stormy waves of violence, but instead find the courage and confidence needed to stand with peace in whatever way works best for us, let’s still do so. And, above all, let’s not bicker about which social media frame is more appropriate, whether a cheerful face in somebody’s profile photo can peacefully coexist with a Ukranian flag frame or not, or whether it is morally acceptable to post pictures of dogs, cats, dodos, or cangoroos while a war is going on. Such bickering plants the seeds for future wars, as we inadvertedly start to lay the most subtle claims on each others’ spaces – which will eventually grow into full-blown territorial interests. So, right now, let’s pay extra attention to respecting each other in our shared humanity, regardless of differences in taste or opinion.
Let’s stand by each other. Let’s stand with peace.