“An End to War?” Commonweal’s cover story in the Jan. 8 edition caught my eye. Writer David Carroll Cochran reminds us that we have ended other barbaric practices in relatively recent human history. He recounts that private vengeance and dueling were once accepted as a part of normal life, “unavoidable, a reflection of the natural human tendency to give and respond to offense.” When Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton Burr dueled in 1804, the practice was only then being outlawed in the northern United States. Yet today we take modern policing and courts for granted and we no longer accept duels and private vengeance as necessary or legitimate. In fact, today we find these historic practices revolting and barbaric.
Just as dueling was once considered a reflection of a “natural human tendency,” so is war often described today. Examples abound for barbarisms that were once standard practice, including slavery and capital punishment. Cochran maintains that war can join this list. Alternative conflict resolution practices are well studied and have a proven track record. What we still lack is the firm conviction that war can be abolished. He cites the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes: human beings must “free ourselves from the age-old slavery of war” by moving toward “the time when all war can be completely outlawed by international consent” through “establishment of some universal public authority” that provides a better way to uphold international peace, security, and justice.
Let’s say it out loud: To outlaw war by international consent reall means that the nations with the most wealth and technology consent to stop supporting war. The players with the advantages that money and power bring want to use them to amass even more wealth and power. Pope Francis used his 2016 World Day of Peace message to point to this problem. He asks, “How many wars have been fought, and how many will continue to be fought, over a shortage of goods or out of an insatiable thirst for natural resources?”
When will we learn that we can better use our wealth and technology to alleviate the shortages and inequities that fuel conflict? When will we set aside the supposed advantages of our massive military arsenals to get serious about nonviolent methods of conflict resolution? Pope Francis cites his recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, to remind us that we and our world cannot afford to continue along our present path. When will we come to terms with the barbarism of war, embrace alternatives that wait only for our serious consent, and abolish war?