Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, June, 2011
Michael D. Knox, PhD*
University of South Florida and US Peace Memorial Foundation
The first step in achieving peace on earth must be the elimination of war and threats of war. Citizens of the United States are in a better position than others to make this happen. We spend significant portions of our tax dollars, and borrow money from foreign countries, to wage wars. We sell weapons and destabilize governments. We prioritize funding for war over spending on education, medical research, alternative energy sources, healthcare, housing and food for the needy, a balanced budget and almost everything else that can have a positive impact on this planet’s quality of life.
The U.S. has a long history of waging war, from the Native American nations decimated by the U.S. Army to recent bombings of tribal areas in the Middle East. Since the end of World War II the U.S. has bombed more than 25 countries, killing millions of people and maiming tens of millions more. Over these 71 years, no other country has killed and injured more people living outside of its borders. We spend more on war, and have more soldiers in other countries, than any other nation.
Most recently, President Obama’s forces have killed and wounded people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Many of those killed in these seven predominantly Muslim countries were children. If any other country, and its allies, had such a specific ethnic/religiousfocus, the world would call it genocide. Every time we kill a daughter, son, mother, father, grandparent or friend, we are creating enemies, some of whom may eventually attack us. And when they do, our government will feel justified in expanding U.S. aggression, thus perpetuating the cycle of creating more enemies and the need for more war. Perhaps all of these conflicts are sowing the seeds for World War III. Perhaps it has already begun.
War is glorified in our culture. The U.S. honors its military and reinforces warrior behaviors with monuments to war-time presidents, memorials to wars and those who have served and died in wars, with medals, promotions, ceremonies, even vanity license plates and discounts at Kmart® and Home Depot®. Children are taught that soldiers are heroes and role models. These activities and symbols are all part of sustaining the culture of war. U.S. leaders continually reinforce this by referring to those in the military as heroes.
One reason the U.S. wages so many wars is that few citizens speak out publicly against them. Most Americans remain silent while our military kills and wounds children, mothers, and other civilians. In a representative government such as ours, with members of the U.S. House of Representatives seeking election every two years, the government will be responsive to widespread antiwar sentiment, just as it eventually was to the civil rights movement. We have the power to take action. It’s a matter of changing our culture so that more citizens feel comfortable speaking out.
If our goal is world peace, then we must oppose military solutions including invasion, occupation, production of weapons of mass destruction, use of weapons, torture, and / or threats of war. Imagine the impact if one percent of the population marched in the next antiwar rally. What if one percent of voters contacted their representatives in Congress asking for an end to the current wars? Most people now recognize those who fought for civil rights as heroes. What if we could change our culture so that those who demand peace are also appreciated and not considered unpatriotic, anti-military, or un-American?
There are few indicators that American society values those who oppose war. As President John F. Kennedy wrote, “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that a warrior does today” (Kennedy, n.d.). We can use simple behavioral principles to modify our culture and increase the number of people who speak out. We can encourage antiwar behavior, identify role models to emulate, reduce negative consequences, and provide positive reinforcement.
The mission of the US Peace Memorial Foundation is to demonstrate that advocating for an end to war, or for peaceful solutions to international problems, is an honorable and courageous activity. We will accomplish this cultural change through three mechanisms that honor Americans who stand for peace:
- Award an annual peace prize for antiwar work to recognize and honor U.S. peace leaders as a reminder that our culture values their work. Recent recipients are Veterans For Peace, Kathy Kelly, CODEPINK Women for Peace, Chelsea Manning, Medea Benjamin, Noam Chomsky, Dennis Kucinich, and Cindy Sheehan.
- Build the US Peace Memorial dedicated to those who have opposed war or proposed peaceful alternatives to national aggression (Knox & Wagganer, 2009a). A national monument in Washington, DC will recognize peace leadership by displaying strong antiwar statements of famous Americans from all walks of life. The monument will also include electronic documentation of activities of thousands of other citizens who have taken public stands against one or more U.S. wars. The memorial will provide teaching moments for visitors that can help to change our culture by making Americans more aware of, and more comfortable with, our rich history of antiwar activity.
- Publish the US Peace Registry to recognize and honor role models for peace and to document a broad spectrum of modern nonviolent antiwar behavior (Knox & Wagganer, 2009b). This ongoing scholarly work helps current and future generations understand how individuals and organizations have opposed war and promoted peace. The knowledge generated will reinforce antiwar actions, stimulate new discussion, reduce stigma, increase comfort levels, and perhaps lead to greater citizen involvement in interventions for peace.
If you are interested in world peace, your first obligation should be to demand that your own country stop invading, occupying, and bombing other countries. There are many peaceful alternatives to aggression and we must be willing to advocate for them. Please join us as a Founding Member of the US Peace Memorial Foundation. Help us recognize and honor those who have had the courage to speak out. Significant contributions to peace on earth are within our power.
NOTE: This article was updated September 2016. To view the original article as a PDF, go to www.uspeacememorial.org/WorldPeace.pdf.
Kennedy, John F. (n.d.). Letter to a Navy friend. A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Schlesinger, Arthur M. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965, 88.
Knox, M. D., & Wagganer, A. M. (2009a). A cultural shift toward peace: The need for a national symbol. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 15, 97-101. www.uspeacememorial.org/article.htm
Knox, M. D., & Wagganer, A. M. (2009b). Honoring peace and antiwar behavior: The US Peace Registry. Peace Psychology, Fall/Winter, 19-20.www.uspeacememorial.org/Article2.htm