By Mary-Wynne Ashford, MD, PhD.
June 16, 2009
For many years I have been amazed and humbled to hear stories of people who, despite great personal danger, have acted to stop violence, terror and war. I was convinced that such actions had ripple effects on communities and governments, but I had no evidence to support my conviction. Nonetheless, I kept files of stories where courage, wisdom and justice seemed to conquer fear and oppression. In 2004, environmental author Guy Dauncey asked me to write a book on peaceful resolution of conflict, for his Solutions Series. My task was to describe successful nonviolent actions that had prevented or ended war, terrorism or violence. It was the opportunity for me to share the stories that had inspired me, and to seek out other examples of the power of individuals and groups to bring about peace. Enough Blood Shed: 101 Solutions to Violence, Terror, and War, (1) was released in 2007, with the Japanese translation, 101+2 Solutions to Violence, Terror, and War, (2) sponsored by the Japanese Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons, released in 2008.
Nonviolent Success Stories
When I did the research for the book, I found overwhelming evidence of the impact of personal actions and those taken by groups committed to social justice and human rights. As a long-time peace and disarmament activist, I was surprised that the process of researching nonviolent actions transformed my thinking from a pessimistic world view, to one of hope and optimism. I had already spent twenty years working for nuclear disarmament and had seen the election of President George W. Bush in the US bring a heartbreaking reversal of progress in that area. As I continued my disarmament work, I struggled against a sense of hopelessness but that feeling dissolved as I began writing about actions that had actually worked,
Although I was familiar with more than fifty examples of nonviolent success stories, beginning with Gandhi's leadership in the independence movement in India, I wondered whether I would find enough examples for the book. I soon found, however, that my problem was not finding examples, but selecting the most powerful and engaging examples from the many hundreds I collected.
When I wrote up a story, I contacted the people concerned to verify the details and request a photo. People responded enthusiastically with information, graphics, and contact information for other initiatives they suggested I include. Each day as I opened my e-mail, I would be thrilled to find someone had sent me another exciting story. Many revealed the courage of children in war zones, the humor of oppressed people who refused to be held down, and the creativity of women, especially in countries where they had no legal rights or protection.
By the time I was ready to submit the final manuscript, I was convinced that, beneath the radar of mainstream media, there is a global social revolution in progress. People the world over are succeeding in forcing their governments to use diplomacy instead of military force to resolve conflicts. Could this evidence mean that the world is moving away from war?
As I wrote Enough Blood Shed, my world-view began to split into light and dark. At the same time that I was finding personal inspiration from my research, those of us working against nuclear weapons were finding more and more government resistance to disarmament. Some of my colleagues expressed their despair that we had not transformed those in power. In fact, we were having a profound impact on attitudes toward nuclear weapons, but the results would not show until the government of the US changed.
My research was showing that all over the world, people were succeeding in moving the most recalcitrant of leaders. They were not only preventing and resolving armed conflict, but their stories were shared almost instantly through the internet, and were having a snowball effect on people in other zones of conflict. Reviewing the actions, I could see the momentum of change increasing after the end of the Cold War, and I began to realize that we are at the beginning of a global social revolution.
I was reluctant to make such a claim without strong statistical evidence of change, however. The evidence arrived in the mail just before I sent the last pages of Enough Blood Shed to my editor. I received a copy of War and Peace in the 21st Century: The Report of the Centre for Human Security (2005). (3) The Report was highly credible: the Centre at the University of British Columbia was set up by Canada's former Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy. Funding for the research was provided by government ministries and agencies from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
Global Decline in Wars and Armed Conflict
The Report provided the evidence that confirmed my impression of a global paradigm shift away from war. Not only had the number of wars in the world dropped dramatically since the end of the Cold War, but sixty dictators had been toppled with minimal violence. Battle deaths were down, international crises were down, and one hundred wars had quietly ended. I found the statistics hard to believe because no one seemed to be talking about this information either in mainstream media or at the conferences I was attending.
The Centre for Human Security concluded that the world was becoming "war averse". They credited this dramatic shift to three factors: the successes of United Nations peacekeeping and nation building; the strengthening of international law, especially with the founding of the International Criminal Court; and the growing influence of civil society. "Civil society" refers to people working alone or in nonprofit groups and institutions to advance social change. Civil society is the force that brings conscience to bear on governments, the military, and the economic sector. The Report was the first document I had found that recognized the importance of civil society organizations in international affairs. Three annual reports of the Centre for Human Security are now available for download from their website. (3,4,5) Each successive report confirms the decline of armed conflict and demonstrates that the actions that we take, however small they seem to be, have a powerful effect on decision-makers.
I expected that this news would attract great media attention and people would be inspired to even greater efforts, but instead, -- after an initial flurry of excitement -- the report was greeted by silence.
In order to counter the discouragement that many people expressed about their work in peace and disarmament, I began speaking about the research of the Centre for Human Security. I noted that their annual reports continued to show a decline in armed conflict and a trend away from war, and that their statistics supported my view that the world is in the midst of a social revolution. I related stories of actions taken by people in their communities, churches and schools. I showed slides of creative arts, dance and theatre projects that had been effective in transforming people's thinking.
Since 2006 I have spoken in Australia, Japan, Canada, the US, and Europe about the progress we are making in peaceful resolution of conflict. Each time, I find my audiences are surprised that the image they have of a violent, brutal world hurtling toward war is not supported by reality. The positive statistics, combined with creative examples of success stories seemed to allow people to see a more hopeful future and new ways to act.
Recently in a speech in Germany I began by asking people to raise their hands if they thought that the number of major wars and genocides had increased since the end of the Cold War in 1991. The result was the same as in all my previous talks. The vast majority thought that major wars had increased. I then showed them slides of the statistics (3,4,5):
・Since the end of the Cold war, major
wars and genocides have decreased by 90%
・It is also worth noting that compared with armed conflict, terrorism has, on average, killed relatively few people over the past 40 years
When I finished speaking, a journalist came to the platform to introduce himself. He said that he was embarrassed that he failed my little quiz, but so did the professor seated beside him. When I said that almost everyone in the auditorium had raised their hands with him, he asked how it could be that he, a journalist writing all the time about peace and disarmament, did not know this information? How could it be that the information had been available for over three years, but no one was talking about it? Another question he asked was also troubling: was I encouraging an illusory optimism in people that would lead them to stop taking action?
I agreed with him that we must remain rooted in realism at the same time that we rejoice in the positive trends for the world. We must face the continuing failure of the world to end wars in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Our work is far from finished, but we have cause to celebrate our successes.
One of the problems about how news is disseminated is that editors often use the guideline "If it bleeds it leads" to help them decide which item gets the headline of the day. This rule means that editors and television producers are most likely to feature a violent story for the front page or for the lead item on the late news. Corporations and advertisers with financial interests in war and armaments have no incentive to spread the news that wars are declining. Furthermore, some leaders believe it is in their interest to promote fear of terrorism or threat of attack by an enemy. This strategy distracts attention from domestic issues and is likely to increase support for war and investment in armaments.
101 +2 Solutions to Violence, Terror, and War, presents 101 stories of actions that we know are successful because they have already been used, plus two extra stories specific to Japan. The stories are grouped into solutions for individuals, women, children, schools, activists, religious organizations, media, business, cities, and nations. In Japan, in order to continue spreading good ideas of nonviolent actions, Hodanren has set up a website managed by Dr. Kazuo Matsui.(6) New solutions can be sent to the website to encourage people to use their own creativity to build peace.
To give a small taste of the kinds of solutions appearing in different zones of conflict, here are a few of the recent examples in my files:
In 1971 US table tennis players visited China, marking the beginning of the thaw in US/China relations that culminated in Nixon's visit to Beijing the following year. (7) Soccer has been the bridge to link more than one hostile group, in fact, using sports to build peace has become so popular a solution it has been dubbed "soccer diplomacy"
In the Middle East, the Football 4 Peace tournament began in 2001, bringing together two communities and 100 Jewish and Arab children to play soccer.(7) The project has grown to 24 mixed communities with over 1000 children. Each team is mixed, with Jewish and Arab children on the same team. Coaching workshops for the leaders precede the actual tournament. Facilitators work to break down barriers and build close contact with exercises to build trust and collaboration. By the time the children arrive, the friendly atmosphere among the coaches spreads quickly to include them.
The five principles of fair play used are: neutrality, equity and inclusion, respect, trust, and responsibility. F4P hopes that at the end of the program the young people can transfer their attitudes from the soccer field to the other activities in their lives.
Now there is a possibility of a soccer game between the United States and Iran this fall. (8) The head of Iran's soccer federation said he had received a proposal from his US counterpart for an exhibition game in October and November. At the time of writing this article, Iran's election is being contested by street demonstrations, and an investigation of election fraud has been promised. The outcome will certainly affect to possibility of holding this soccer game, but the proposal itself may be an indication of the wishes of ordinary people to reduce tensions between their countries.
Music, theatre, dance and visual arts are powerful tools for peace. One project that recently came to my attention is the use of hand made quilts to express hopes and dreams of peace and to link those hopes to individuals of influence.
Women in Boise Idaho, USA began the making friendship quilts in 1981, as a way to link with Soviet women who sent them squares to incorporate in the joint project. (9) Since that time they have made dozens of quilts as awards to outstanding peace makers. In 1983 they presented a peace quilt to the City of Hiroshima, honoring those whose work has benefited survivors of the atom bomb. Their mission statement says that they work to model, promote and inspire creative social action. In 1983, they presented a peace quilt to singer, song-writer Pete Seeger.
|”The patchwork quilt is really a symbol of the world which must come: one new design made of many old designs. We will stitch this world together yet. Don't give up." Pete Seeger|
One 1984 quilt featured children's visions of peace and security, with one square from each state in the union. All 100 Senators were asked to spend one night each beneath this quilt and have their names embroidered on it before it joined the Smithsonian collection. "REST beneath the warmth and weight of our hopes for the future of our children, DREAM a vision of the world at peace, ACT to give the vision life."
Another quilt was presented to renowned peace activists Elise and
Kenneth Boulding in 1988.
Kenneth Boulding. The Naylor Sonnets.
Kobe, Japan became a nuclear weapons free harbor in 1975, and in March, 2007 a monument was erected to celebrate this declaration. Labor unions supported the committee to launch the project, and donations came from many citizens of the city. The statue of a little girl listening to the beautiful sea is nicknamed "Heiwa no Mimichan"or "peace mimichan". The first "mi" means beautiful, and the second "mi" means sea.
The plaque states:
RESOLUTION ON THE
REJECTION OF THE VISIT OF
Kobe Port is among the world's leading ports in terms of the
We, Kobe City Council, reject the visit of all nuclear-armed
The election of Barack Obama signaled a new emphasis on diplomacy in foreign policy, with intense attention to the Middle East. At the same time that leaders are being pressed toward peace talks, civil society groups have been bringing together Israelis and Palestinians in various collaborative efforts to reduce tensions and build the foundations of peace.
In 1999 author Edward Said invited musician Daniel Barenboim to
play a concert at Bir Zeit University.(10) Said was a renowned Palestinian-born
author, and Barenboim an equally famous Israeli musician who was then Director
of the Chicago Symphony. It was the first recital by an Isaeli in Palestine.
Barenboim and Said then set about using music as a healing force for peace in
the Middle East. They brought together young Jewish and Arab musicians to play
concerts across Europe. As young people shared their music stands and their
dormitories they dismantled the barriers of hostility from their past.
Each one of us has a responsibility to do what is right, and not to wait for others to do it. My way is music. What I can do is play music, play music for you, and maybe in this way, in a very small way for these few moments, we are able to build down the hatred that is so much in the region.
"Health as a bridge to peace" is supported by the World Health Organization, (11) and by many nongovernmental organizations. Some projects bring together health care workers from both sides of a conflict to serve patients from both sides. Other projects include joint research and authorship of medical articles across borders of conflict.
An unusual peace connection has been established between 14 Israeli
and Palestinian women in Jerusalem. (12) The women are meeting weekly to lose
weight. In the beginning they were afraid of one another, and certain they would
feel anger and hostility as they tried to share their histories and difficulties
with obesity. As they exercised, talked, learned to cook and supported each
other they stopped seeing the other as the enemy and instead recognized their
The idea came from Yael Luttwak, a 36 year old American film maker who is a citizen of Israel. When peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians failed some nine years ago, she remembers thinking, "Ariel Sharon is very overweight, and Arafat is not thin either. If they lost weight together, maybe they'd be in a better mood and make better decisions." She made a documentary, Slim Peace, about them.
When former political or military leaders speak out against nuclear weapons, they join civil society in bringing conscience to bear on this issue. Their personal expertise and prestige bring widespread attention to the issue. June 4, 2009, four former Norwegian prime ministers-Odvar Nordli, Gro Harlem Brundtland, K?re Willoch, and Kjell Magne Bondevik-and former foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg called for nuclear disarmament, joining their counterparts from Germany, Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (13)
Two years earlier, distinguished Americans, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn revived the idea of a nuclear weapon-free world. Leaders from many other countries have now joined in. The four American leaders underlined the relationship between vision and action: "Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible". To create such a dynamic interplay, we have to be serious both about the vision and about the measures. We call on all to do so, as strongly as we can. (13)
The goal must be a world where not only the weapons, but also the facilities that produce them are eliminated. All fissile materials for military ends must be destroyed, and all nuclear activities must be subject to strict international control.
The United States and Russia, which together account for more than 90 per cent of the world's arsenals, must take the first steps. They should reduce their arsenals to a level where the other nuclear weapon states may join in negotiations of global limitations. All agreements must be balanced and verifiable and provide enhanced security at lower levels of arms. While reductions are going on, mutual deterrence will remain a basic principle of international security. (13)
We live in a time of massive change, but the movement away from war is the most positive shift in five thousand years. We are still far from the goal of ending war, and must not relax our vigilance and activism. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has released its annual report, which includes an overview of military spending for 2008. (14) Global military spending reached 1.464 trillion in 2008. This represents an increase of 4 percent in real terms compared to 2007, and 45 percent since 1999. This level of expenditure makes no sense in a world that is turning away from war, particularly in the face of a global financial crisis. Nonetheless, governments are not likely to decrease their military budgets without great pressure from civil society. Our work is cut out for us, but finally we can feel confident that we are winning.
1. Ashford, M.W. with Guy Dauncey. Enough Blood Shed: 101 Solutions
to Violence, Terror, and War. New Society. 2007.
2. 平和へのアクション １０１＋２
3. Mack, Andrew. War and Peace in the 21st Century: The Report of the Centre for Human Security (2005). www.humansecurityreport.info. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
4. Centre for Human Security. Human Security Brief 2006. www.humansecurityreport.info. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
5. Human Security Report Project. Mini Atlas of Human Security. www.humansecurityreport.info. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
7. Football 4Peace international: www.football4peace.eu. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
8. Bergmann, Max. Soccer Diplomacy with Iran. www.democracyarsenal.org/2009/05/soccer-diplomacy-with-iran.html . Retrieved June 16, 2009.
9. Boise Peace Quilt Project. www.boisepeacequilt.org10. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
10. Silverstein, Richard. Daniel Barenboim: Music as a healing force for peace in Middle East. Tikun Olam: Make the World a Better Place. November 28, 2003. www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2003/11/28/daniel-barenboi-2. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
11. WHO. What is Health as a Bridge to Peace? www.who.int/hac/techguidance/hbp/en. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
12. Kraft, Dina. A Slim Peace. Oprah Magazine, June 2009. p. 143-46.
13. Five Former Norwegian Ministers Call for Nuclear Disarmament. Reaching Critical Will E-News. June 15, 2009. www.reachingcriticalwill.org. Retrieved June 16, 2009
14. Perlo-Freeman S., Perdomo C., Skons E., and P. Stalanheim. Military Expenditure, in SIPRI Yearbook 2009. www.sipri.org/yearbook/2009/05. Retrieved June 16, 2009.