The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and TFF Associate
December 10, 2006
Peace is a dynamic process of nonviolent social
interaction that results in security for all members of a society. Peace
is not a subject matter taught in many schools. I have often heard it
said that the curriculum is too full to add more, but what could be more
important than learning about making peace?
I think the “full curriculum”
is a justification for not wanting to challenge the status quo and teachers
are not rewarded for bringing new material into the classroom. I am a
proponent of bringing peace into every classroom. Basic questions need
to include: How can this problem be solved peacefully? Or, how could this
problem have been solved peacefully?
Blase Bonpane, who received the Nuclear Age
Peace Foundation’s 2006 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award, suggested
that when students study wars in history the only meaningful question
is: How could this war have been avoided? We need to stop glorifying war
in our cultures and our classrooms. If we want to support our troops,
we don’t send them to kill and be killed. If politicians choose
war, shouldn’t they also participate in the war? Why are there so
few children of political leaders participating in the wars they initiate?
We live in a culture of militarism that takes
war as the norm. How can we change this norm? How can we make peace the
norm and war the aberration? Why does our society allocate so much of
its resources to the military? Does the money that goes for “defense”
really defend us?
Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century, was among
the intellectual leaders who understood that nuclear weapons made war
too dangerous to continue.
Einstein was among those who called not only
for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but for the abolition of war. In
the Nuclear Age, war puts the future of civilization and the human species
at risk. The Earth could go on without humanity, but we cannot go on if
we do not bring our dangerous technologies, most prominently nuclear weapons,
under strict and effective international control.
Our schools teach nationalism and they do
so at a historical junction when the world needs global citizens. How
many students understand, for example, that there is no global problem
that can be solved by any one country, no matter how powerful that country
is? How many teachers understand this? Think about it, every global problem
– ranging from global warming to terrorism to the nuclear arms race
– requires international cooperation.
The United Nations takes a serious beating
in the US media, and of course it has its shortcomings, but if we didn’t
have the United Nations we’d have to invent it. Its major purpose
is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war….”
It is a safe environment where representatives of countries have a chance
to talk to each other. It is a place where representatives of governments
can deliberate on the great problems facing humanity, where they can plan
for the future and speak for future generations.
An important question to ask is: Who has
the responsibility to create and maintain peace? The answer, most obviously,
is that “we” do, we being all of us. It is easy, though to
become lost in the collective “we,” and therefore it must
include each of us. Beyond responsibility, there are questions of accountability.
That was the great lesson of the Nuremberg Tribunals following World War
II, where individual leaders were held to account under international
law for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
With leadership goes accountability. This is the principle on which the
International Criminal Court was established – to bring Nuremberg
into the Nuclear Age.
In teaching peace, there are three documents
with which every student should be familiar:
A) The United Nations Charter;
B) The Principles of Nuremberg and
C) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Without a firm grasp of these 20th century
innovations, one cannot be considered educated in the 21st century.
Let me suggest ten ways of teaching peace
that hopefully will make the lessons more compelling and real to the students.
1. Tell stories. One of the stories, a true
one, that I like best is the story of the Christmas Truce during World
War I. The British and German soldiers came out of their trenches, shared
food and drink, showed each other photos of their families and sang Christmas
carols together. They saw each other as human beings, and only returned
to their trenches, resuming the fighting, after being threatened by their
Another story is that of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who was exposed to
radiation poisoning when the US bombed Hiroshima. Ten years later Sadako
came down with Leukemia. She tried to regain her health by folding 1000
paper cranes, a Japanese symbol of longevity. On one of the cranes she
wrote, “I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over
the world.” Unfortunately, she died before she finished folding
the cranes. Her classmates finished the folding and today there is a statue
in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park dedicated to Sadako and other children
who died in the atomic blasts. The statue is always surrounded by tens
of thousands of paper cranes sent from all over the world.
2. Use Peace heroes as role models. There
are many amazing peace heroes, living and dead, who have made significant
contributions to peace during their lives. You can read sketches of some
of these heroes at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s website: www.wagingpeace.org.
You can also study such leaders as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Caesar
Chavez, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and others in greater
depth. When examining problems of peace, it is always helpful to ask the
question: What would Gandhi do? Or, fill in the name of your favorite
3. Infuse drama, art and poetry. Through
literature, art and poetry there is much to be learned about peace and
war. Lists of books, movies and poems can be found in the Peace Issues
section of the Nuclear Age Peace
Foundation homepage. Some of the classic books are All Quiet on the
Western Front, Johnny Got His Gun, and Dr. Strangelove. My favorite anti-war
movie is The King of Hearts. Such books and movies can open the door to
4. Teach critical thinking. Young people
have to learn how to ask questions and probe deeply, rather than just
accepting the word of authority figures. They also have to learn how to
gather evidence, how to evaluate the source of information, how to apply
logic, and so on.
5. Global perspective. Young people need
to break the bonds of nationalism and think globally. Applying a global
perspective allows one to see the world as a whole, rather than from the
narrow vantage point of a single country. We badly need education for
global citizenship. Just as many symbols are used that connote nationalism
(the flag, monuments, historical perspectives, etc.), we need to also
use symbols that connote global citizenship, such as the flag with the
beautiful representation of the Earth from outer space.
6. Reverse the Roman dictum. The Roman dictum
says, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” The human species
has followed that dictum for the past 2,500 years, and it has always resulted
in more war. We need to reverse the Roman dictum and prepare for peace
if that is what we truly desire. We prepare for peace by building a culture
of peace, within our nations and in the world. Peace is not only the absence
of war, but also positive actions to improve health, education and human
7. Reexamine historical myths. Most countries
have developed myths about their own goodness which are not historically
accurate. History is told through stories of battles, but there is far
more to history than this. These myths need to be exposed to the fresh
air of investigation. We will likely find that wars are not glorious and
victories are often built on unacceptable atrocities.
8. Teach peace as proactive. Many people
confuse peace with solitude, meditation and contemplation, but peace is
not passive. It is a dynamic set of forces kept in balance by individuals
and institutions committed to solving conflicts without violence. Peace
requires action. You cannot sit back and wait for peace to arrive. Individuals
must proactively work for peace. It is not a spectator sport. Anything
that one does to build community and cooperation is a contribution to
9. Engender the ability to empathize. Young
people must learn to empathize with others, to feel their pain and sorrow.
One way of killing empathy is to brand members of a group, including whole
countries, as enemies, and dehumanize the members of that group. Empathy
begins with the realization that each of us is a miracle, unique in all
the world. How can one miracle kill another or wage war, committing indiscriminate
10. Teach by example. To the extent that
a teacher can model peace in their own life, their lessons will be more
authentic. As well as teaching peace, we should try to live peace, making
empathy, cooperation and nonviolent conflict resolution part of our daily
I hope that some of these ideas may be helpful in making peace a subject
of study, concern and action, both in the classroom and beyond. Peace
has never been more important than in our nuclear-armed world, and we
each have a responsibility to study peace, live peace and teach peace.
We should also keep in mind that peace is a long-term project that once
achieved must be maintained. Peace requires persistence and a commitment
to never giving up.
Hamill, Sam (ed.), Poets Against the
War, New York: Nation Books, 2003.
Ikeda, Daisaku and David Krieger, Choose
Peace, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age, Santa Monica,
Middleway Press, 2002.
Krieger, David (ed.), Hold Hope, Wage
Peace, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 2005.
Krieger, David, Today Is Not a Good Day
for War, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 2005.
Krieger, David (ed.), Hope in a Dark
Time, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 2002.
McCarthy, Colman, I’d Rather Teach
Peace, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.
Rees, Stuart, Passion for Peace, Exercising
Power Creatively, Sidney, Australia: University of New Wales Press,
Wells, Leah, Teaching
Peace, A Guide for the Classroom and Everyday Life, Santa Barbara:
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 2003, Pdf-
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