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Teaching Peace
by David Krieger, December 7, 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: the United Nations Charter, the Principles of Nuremberg and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Without a firm grasp of these 20th century innovations, one cannot be considered educated in the 21st century.