A Humanist Path to Peace


For HumanistNetworkNews.org
Jan. 13, 2010

There are as many paths to peace as there are paths to heaven. In each case you can find someone supporting blood soaked highways to achieve these ends. Not unlike many religious extremists, many of the war-faithful believe that war and militarism can bring peace and freedom.

Faith in militarism–like violent, fanatical religious faith–is among the most dangerous ideologies in the world today. Our nation's illogical financial and strategic devotion to militarism imperils the lives of Americans and peoples around the world.

"Many men cry ‘Peace! Peace!' but they refuse to do the things that make for peace," wrote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos and Community. He went on to write, "One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal."

Indeed, in his Nov. 30 Special Comment, Keith Olbermann, one of the rare intellectual voices in mainstream media, pointed out the illogical position of aiming to get out of Afghanistan by sending more U.S. forces and further entrenching the nation. Rather than allotting significant funds to what King called programs of social uplift, our nation continues its ethically bankrupt faith in military spending. In 2009 alone, the U.S. allotted 651.2 billion dollars for military spending, including emergency discretionary spending and supplemental spending (document)

According to a June 2009 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report, the U.S. accounted for 42 percent of the global arms spending in 2008. And more recently, the New York Times reported that "the United States expanded its role as the world's leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals…." U.S. weapons deals have increased from $25.4 billion in 2007 to $37.8 in 2008, or "68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar…." (New York Times, "U.S. Increases Its Share of Worldwide Arms Market," September 6, 2009).

Our nation's illogical faith in militarism has very real consequences for many Americans.

While our government continues its open-ended spending on warfare to "keep America safe," tens of thousands die annually due to poverty and lack of health care. Every day, uninsured Americans like my family face the terrorism of being deprived of basic healthcare–knowing that should we get too sick or injured, our entire lives might implode. In fact, more than 44,789 Americans die annually for lack of healthcare services. And when our nation's obsession with militarism isn't inducing the government to ignore imperiled American lives, it is actively resulting in the deprivation of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children of their one and only human life. In recent years, our military campaigns have led to the killing of more than 500,000 Iraqi civilians and thousands more In Afghanistan.

For those confused about Pakistani outrage over American intervention, consider the following. In 2009, counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen, who helped design Petraeus' Iraq surge, told Congress that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are backfiring and should be stopped. "Since 2006, we've killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we've killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular." Go figure.

If we are going to attempt to eradicate any faith, let it be the sanguinary faith in war–the dropping of bombs and the firing of missiles–to bring about peace. It makes us less safe, threatens not only humankind but the planet itself and perpetuates the worst kind of horrors. In addition to demanding that our elected leaders respect the separation of church and state, we should demand that they renounce the false dictum that war ends war, terrorism ends terrorism and murder ends murder.

So humanists, let us take up the task of calling for a disavowal of faith in massive military violence as a means to achieve peace. Let us join the great humanist leader Corliss Lamont, who viewed the struggle against war as part and parcel of his humanism. Among the original signers of Humanist Manifesto II and the 1981 winner of the Gandhi Peace Award, Lamont spoke out against the first U.S. invasion of Iraq. His thoughts about war, expressed during a terrible time of world-wide war, bear repeating:

Surely, of all the evils that beset our tortured civilization, war is the most hideous and devastating. Its ever more awful actualities, paralyzing the minds even of those who view from afar, dramatically sum up and symbolize as nothing else can do the degradation and dilemmas of this age. But however fearful the horror, this is no time to throw up our hands in despair and abandon the struggle for peace. On the contrary, it is a time to renew as never before our energies and our efforts; to seek out the reasons for past failures; to discover the proper cure for war by unraveling its true causes. The task is pressing for unless we men can put an end to war, war will most certainly put an end to us. (You Might Like Socialism: A Way of Life for Modern Man; (1939), p. 144)   

On March 20, 2010, Humanists for Peace will participate in a national march in Washington, D.C. to end the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. I urge anyone interested in once again making peace a humanist issue to contact me at sabletide@yahoo.com.


(Jeff Nall is the founder of Humanists for Peace and the author of Perpetual Revolt: Essays on Peace & Justice and The Shared Values of Secular, Spiritual, and Religious Progressives (Howling Dog Press). In June, Nall will lead a session titled "Why Peace is a Humanist Issue: Humanism and Past and Present Anti-war Activism" at the 2010 American Humanist Association's annual conference in San Jose. )