The Myth of War’s Inevitability

Guest speaker, Paul Chappell discusses world peace at an honors conference on February 12, 2013. (Credit:  AlbertHerring / Wikimedia Commons)

Guest speaker Paul Chappell discusses world peace at an honors conference on February 12, 2013. (Credit: AlbertHerring / Wikimedia Commons)

The belief in war’s inevitability typically is grounded in the archetypal image of human instinct. Instinct is a powerful, naturalized explanation for war that makes the idea of peacemaking seemingly naïve.

It may come as a surprise, then, to discover the premise of an innate war trait is contested by a U.S. Army Captain. Paul Chappell—a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran—advances “a soldier’s vision of peace for the 21st century” in his book, Will War Ever End? (2009).

Chappell challenges “the myth that humans are naturally violent.” It is a wrongheaded myth freighted with “devastating consequences” (p. 61). He maintains that we are innately resistant to killing other human beings. To wage war, propagandists have to dehumanize enemies and caricature them as evil. The biggest challenge of any army is to keep soldiers from fleeing the battlefield.

Bravery in combat is motivated by compassion (not hate), that is, by a desire to protect the lives of loved ones, including one’s fellow soldiers. Human survival requires “a bond powerful enough to hold a community together and to encourage selfless service, sacrifice, and cooperation among its members.” Cooperation motivated by a concern for the well being of others is “not a naïve moral virtue but a crucial survival instinct” (p. 15).

Soldiers would rather posture than fight—to frighten away adversaries instead of engaging them in actual combat. Likewise, fury is the selfless action of protecting threatened loved ones from harm. Unlike rage, it dissipates when the danger is over. Rage is an abnormal behavior that escalates violence rather than ending it. It is a sickness grounded in a dehumanized image of the enemy, a sickness that can be cured.

We will not win a war on terrorism by armed might, at least not by an army alone. Terrorism is an idea and a tactic, not a place to occupy or a dictator to be overthrown. It arises from despair and is fueled by hate.

We need soldiers of peace who are not blindly obedient, flag waving citizens but who express their love of country by doing their best to improve it. Like Socrates (here Chappell quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.), patriotic soldiers of peace work “to create a tension in the mind so that individuals [can] rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal” (p. 49).

Soldiers of peace “seek to create and build, not to destroy, and they understand that every person is a member of our global human family.” They are 21st century citizens of an interconnected world. “The fate of humanity will depend upon our willingness to wage peace” and to “pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means” (pp. 50-52).

Neither war nor peace is inevitable, but war will not end by itself and peace will not be achieved if we “sit around and do nothing” (p. 59).

Captain Chappell’s Will War Ever End? is a short book that critiques a crucial premise of war culture. Fortunately, it is only his first book on the subject. It is followed already by The End of War (2010), Peaceful Revolution (2012), and The Art of Waging Peace (2013). Chappell left active duty in 2009 to become a soldier of peace.


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