Is peace possible? Or is war a never-ending part of the human condition?
For 20 years, from my home on Long Island I went to the United Nations in New York for meetings as a charter member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace sponsored by the UN and the International Association of University Presidents.
At the entrance of the UN, one passes its garden with a collection of statues donated by member nations, including one of a man with a hammer beating a sword into a plowshare, as Isaiah urges in the Bible. There’s also a statue of a giant pistol, its barrel knotted so no bullet can be fired.
The president of the SUNY/College at Old Westbury where I’m a professor, L. Eudora Pettigrew, who was the commission’s chair, asked me to be a member. Like the UN itself, it had diverse membership—people from all over the world. This included leaders of peace organizations, academics, and also, interestingly, several military representatives
A central part of the commission’s work was conflict resolution—the name for an area of intense study and development in the last several decades—focusing on how conflicts can be resolved through peaceful methods and settlements arrived at. Conflict resolution theory has many applications including for schools, businesses and nations.
The commission was an initiative for peace with which I was thrilled to be involved. But in the last two months, what it strove for has been challenged by the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, the savagery, the extreme violence of Putin’s onslaught, the killing of large numbers of innocent civilians and the decimation of a neighboring country. Only last week came news of the ghastly atrocities committed by the Russian forces.
Not only did I regularly travel to the UN but I journeyed globally on the commission’s behalf. This included going to China where I coordinated a panel at the World Conference on Women about women and children being main victims of war. In Norway I gave a presentation on the threat of nuclear-powered weapons being placed in space based on a book I wrote, Weapons in Space. I helped run a program in Japan in which our peace studies course module was unveiled to hundreds of college and university professors, deans and presidents. Its main author was commission member Dr. Victor Sidel, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
I gave presentations in Thailand, in Mexico, and at the UN. On Long Island, I ran conferences for the commission at SUNY/Old Westbury.
My wife, Janet, who taught at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor, would tell me about conflict resolution techniques being used at the school. At the UN many of those involved in peacekeeping weren’t well informed about conflict resolution methods in schools, I found, and, likewise, the activities of the UN “Blue Helmet” folks didn’t seem to be related in school programs. So, I coordinated having several hundred high school teachers and advisers from Long Island and the city join with UN peacekeeping personnel for a two-and-a-half day conference at SUNY/Old Westbury and the UN to share their work. For lead-off speaker, I arranged to have Stephen P. Marks of Southampton, long involved in UN peacekeeping work, just back from Cambodia and writing a new constitution to bring democracy and peace to a nation that had been through the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge and slaughter of 1.5 to 2 million people or more.
.The commission also held yearly retreats bringing people on opposing sides from hotspots around the world for two weeks together to foster person-to-person communication and trust-building, keys to conflict resolution. This included Israelis and Palestinians.
Linda Pentz Gunter of the organization Beyond Nuclear penned an article before the Russian army moved on to nuclear power plant sites in Ukraine, one of which it shelled. She predicted “Ukraine’s nuclear plants could find themselves literally in the line of fire” and wrote about “the misguided megalomaniacs who run far too many countries in this world” and their “war-mongering.” She said the mix of war and nuclear power is another reason “we must stop using nuclear power.” The “reality is that we are a warlike species,” she noted. “Nothing in our history suggests we are evolving on this front, even if most of us abhor war.”
Peace is possible—but takes a lot of work, understanding and a new direction for humanity on a planet in which a form of mass murder called war has long been practiced.