Gene Sharp

Making Abolition Of War A Realistic Goal (1980)

Making Abolition Of War A Realistic Goal (1980) by Gene Sharp


The destructiveness of modem war is widely understood. Yet most governments, backed by their populations, amass the largest array of military weaponry and forces of which they are capable. Clearly, none of the past proposals and movements to abolish war and to bring in an era of world peace has succeeded. Indeed, in significant respects the achievement of those goals now seems less likely than it did in earlier decades.

This is, of course, not the only grave political problem we have failed t o solve. Others include dictatorship, genocide, systems of social oppression, and popular powerlessness. They must be considered as we seek a solution to the problem of war.

Most people respond to the continuation of wars and war preparations with a sense of resignation, hopelessness, or powerlessness. "War is inevitable," it is thought; we blame 'human nature' or our favorite "evil forces." Other persons faithfully persist in plodding the old paths to the now tarnished dreams without reexamining whether they are heading in the right direction. Still others try to run faster to their goal, or seek shortcuts, or carry out acts of desperation without a basis for confidence that their efforts can succeed either, or even certainty that they will not make matters worse.

All this is not good enough. More creative responses are possible. Indeed, it is our responsibility to seek to develop them. If soundly based and realistically developed and applied, they might offer new hope.

If new responses to the problem of war are to be soundly based they must take into consideration some hard facts which most peace workers rarely face. These include the following:

  • Conflicts of some type will always exist within societies and between societies, requiring use of some type of power;
  • "Human nature" need not, and most likely will not, be changed;
  • People and governments will not sacrifice freedom or justice for the sake of peace;
  • Mass conversions to pacifism are not going to occur;
  • There is no break in the spiral of military technology within the context of military technology and military assumptions;
  • Brutal dictatorships and oppressive systems exist, will continue, may become more serious, and may seek to expand;
  • The abolition of capitalism does not produce the abolition of war; Negotiations are no substitute for the capacity to struggle and apply sanctions;
  • Unilateral "disarmament" - abandonment of defense capacity - is no alternative to the war system and is not possible;
  • Major multilateral disarmament is nearly as unlikely; National independence is not the origin of war;
  • World government is either unrealizable, or if achieved would it self be likely to produce a world civil war, become tyrannical, and be used to impose or perpetuate injustice.

Our search for a solution to the problem of war must not be based on utopian illusions, or naivety concerning the political intentions of protagonists in international conflicts.

Gene Sharp

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