Civil Rights / Culture / Education / Environment / Human Rights / Politics / Revolution / War

International Peace Day – Changing the Narrative


Left: Barbara Wien, Right: David Swanson speak at American University for International Peace Day 2014.

I spent International Peace Day in one of the best ways possible – eating pizza while having a round-table with other peace activists on how we can work for peace and against violence, militarism, war, and greed. The round-table was led by two bastions of peace activism in the US – Barbara Wien and David Swanson. Barbara has been working for peace since the early 80s – focusing on human rights abuses, grassroots non-violent movements, and gender equity issues and has paved the way for peace studies in higher education. David is an activist, author, and journalist and is helping to build a movement to end war at

David and Barbara were unflinching in their views on war and US militarism. In a poll conducted by Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup in 2013, over 60 nations were asked what country they considered to be the greatest threat to world peace. The United States was ranked far and above the rest. 24% of people world wide consider the US to be the greatest threat to peace, with Pakistan coming in second at only 8%, followed by China at 6%, and Israel, North Korea, Iran, and Afghanistan in 4th place at 5%. Yet according to the US, Iran is the greatest threat to peace. Iran, with under 1% of US military spending. “This is the power of propaganda in the United States!” David declared.

David’s project,, is clear in its efforts – end war and militarism across the board. It isn’t the case that some wars are bad and some justified or necessary. David’s push is to show that all war is bad, wrong, and immoral – not to mention counter-productive and the leading contributor to death and suffering in the world: creating refugees, asylum seekers, displace persons, injury, PTSD, destruction of the natural environment, destruction of infrastructure, health care, education and schools, destroyer of civil liberties, privacy, freedom. It is a great “myth of war”, David explained, that wars can be fought for freedom. War necessitates militarization at home – in our schools, culture, art, and every facet of our lives.

Barbara outlined her own three great myths of war:

`1) That the human race is inherently violent – that we are biologically prone to kill and that war and violence are inevitable. This is false, she says, and has been argued against by scientists for decades – most notably in the Seville Statement on Violence, a statement adopted by an international meeting of scientists in Seville Spain in 1986, which stated the following:

  • “It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.”
  • “It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature.”
  • “It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour.”
  • “It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a ‘violent brain’.”
  • “It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation.”

`2) That war makes us safer or that in fighting wars, we can create a better world. War, Barbara explained, does not make us safer, a fact she learned in talking to vets that have come home from war. For every door we kick in, for every family we drag from their beds in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, we create more terrorists and more extremists who bear hatred toward the United States. And we commit violence against our own soldiers, who are brutalized through military training and come home injured in visible and invisible ways – with PTSD and depression, seen as expendable by those who are in the business of making war.

`3) That non-violence doesn’t work. We know through social science research that non-violence is much more effective in achieving our goals than violence and war. Non-violence has worked and does work, Barbara – an expert on non-violent movements – explained.

Yet we have to change the narrative that we’ve all been told. What we see in the media, on TV, in our films, in our toys and games – is that of violence and war. We must build a culture focused on peace. We must unlearn what we’ve been told since infancy – that humans are inherently selfish and aggressive. That we are born fighters and have a proclivity toward violent interactions. War and violence are responses to fear, patriarchy, racism, and sexism. The violence of our society can be directly connected to incessant greed, to promotion of fear of The Other, and to our disconnectedness from nature and from each other. We have placed value in the wrong things – not in humanity and connectedness and the earth but in material wealth and physical comforts. The violence that permeates our culture is all connected. As Barbara so eloquently put it, it is,

“The continuum of violence from bullying on the playground to bullying on the world stage.”

Part of changing that conversation is recognizing and calling out the false dichotomies that are set for us by those in power and parroted by the mainstream media. As David said, we are taught that we can either “go to war” or “do nothing” as if there is no other alternative. “We’re told we have to love ISIS murdering journalists or support a war against them…You have to love poisoning children or support a war in Syria.” These aren’t the only options, yet this is how the conversation is framed.

AU Students, Faculty, Staff and community members gather for Int'l Peace Day roundtable discussion.

AU Students, Faculty, Staff and community members gather for Int’l Peace Day roundtable discussion.

We need to end our devotion to violence. What do the US government/military industrial complex and ISIS have in common? They are committed to violence and destruction, says David. We need to be committed to changing that trend. “We all have the moral obligation to be peace activists and environmental activists and, in fact, the two of those go together,” he said. We do this through education, through sit ins, through non-violent actions, training, timing, over many generations. We need to LIVE the movement – through biking to work, educating others, and working within the system and outside of it to affect change. We must reject nationalism, separatism, greed, and the narrative that violence is our natural response. We must “be the change” to borrow a much over-used yet ever necessary phrase of Gandhi’s. We must be citizens of the world, committed to non-violence and building a peaceful society.

Full video here:

<br /><a href=”; style=”font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px; font-weight: normal; text-align: left;” target=”_blank”>Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream</a>

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