An Answer Other than War

President Ronald W. Reagan salutes military personnel gathered in his honor, Oct. 12, 1986. (Credit:  PH1 Sammy Pierce / Wikimedia Commons)

President Ronald W. Reagan salutes military personnel gathered in his honor, Oct. 12, 1986. (Credit: PH1 Sammy Pierce / Wikimedia Commons)

To say that war is not the answer (as suggested in a previous post) is to underscore that war lacks salience in the public mind and that peace is next to impossible for Americans to envision. US war culture displaces both an understanding of peace and a desire to pursue it.

War culture is difficult to change. It is deeply ingrained. Americans have been continuously at war for the past 250 years. The absence of war—which is not the same as a positive state of peace—is a rare and short-lived phenomenon in U.S. history. A condition of positive peace is unprecedented.

Nevertheless, culture is something learned and, therefore, subject to change. War culture does not just naturally persist. It is sustained by ritual. At least theoretically, a culture of war can be transformed over time into a culture of peace.

Imagine a culture of peace as the obverse of war culture. This is what peace scholars often do. Anthony Marsella, for instance, takes this approach in his essay “The United States of America: ‘A Culture of War,’” International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35 (2011): 714-28. We may recognize our habit of war when Marsella speaks of a culture “characterized by a complex socialization process that moves from beliefs and assumptions about what is right, correct, and good (i.e., ethos), to important institutions and then to individual and group psyches. Cultures of war thrive on maintaining an ethos and high levels of fear and nationalism to justify war and violence. They claim . . . that they are bringing democracy, liberation, modernization, and hope to the very people they will subsequently conquer” (pp. 720-21).

Marsella’s visualization of peace culture is the mirror image of his model of war culture. It is a mosaic of assumptions, axioms, attitudes, beliefs, values, identities, and institutional patterns that promote peaceful ways of resolving conflict. It is an alternative to continuing to live by the myth that America is the world’s savior.

Culture of WarThe model is worth examining closely and pondering thoughtfully. Imagining a culture of peace is an initial step toward developing an answer other than war.


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