Friday, 3 May 2013

Book Review-Editorial: The End of War

John Horgan. The End of War. San Francisco, California: McSweeney's Books, 2012. ISBN: 9078-1-936365-36-4. 228 pp.

The End of War is close to my heart and mind as a Doukhobor. I cannot review this book without also adding my own editorial comments. So this is a review-editorial about abolishing war.

Horgan argues that there is no future for this diabolic institution. War will vanish like cannibalism and slavery. He believes as I do, that we can abolish war if we make our minds to do it and set up the structures to make it happen.

Using the collective wisdom of many scholars, Horgan urges us to stop using mines, bombs and other weapons that kill indiscriminately. This includes drones that US President Obama's administration has deployed to carry out assassinations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper is planning to order combat drones — a backward step in world civilization. We Canadians ought to rise up and speak up against this dangerous policy. As well, we need to stop selling weapons to other nations, and to their adversaries.

Much of the arguments on ending wars can be summed up in a meeting in Seville, Spain in 1986, when scientists under the auspices of the United Nations, drafted a statement that begins with five propositions:

It is scientifically incorrect to say that ..
  1. we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.
  2. war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into our human nature.
  3. in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behavior more than for other kinds of behavior.
  4. humans have a 'violent brain'.
  5. war is caused by 'instinct' or any single motivation.
The statement concludes 'that biology does not condemn humanity to war, and that humanity can be freed from the bondage of biological pessimism. ... The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us.' UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, approved the Seville Statement in 1989 and has circulated it around the world and many professional organizations have endorsed it.

I appreciated the many quotes from prominent world scientists, philosophers, neurophysiologists, anthropologists and activists, as well as military figures in support of his thesis, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lev N. Tolstoy, Margaret Mead, Gene Sharp, John Mueller, David Grossman, and others.
  • There is 'powerful human resistance toward killing one's own species' (p.60). That is why almost 30 percent of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 98 percent of World War II veterans who endured sixty days of combat suffered a psychiatric breakdown (p. 63).
  • As Grossman notes, 'training and propaganda can overcome men's sympathy for the aversion to harming others' (p.66). Also 'violent media, and especially extremely realistic "first-person shooter" games, condition users to overcome their natural aversion to killing"' (p.120).
  • There is 'no clear-cut correlation between resource scarcity and warfare' (p.86).
  • Not all societies wage war. War has never been observed among a Himalayan people called the Lepchas or among the Eskimos (p.101). Margaret Mead's most powerful account of war is her 1940 essay Warfare is Only an Invention — Not a Biological Necessity (p. 101). Mead believes that for the invention of peace to work, 'the first requirement [is] to believe that such an invention is possible' (p.122). Another way to say this is: 'Where there is a will, there is a way' (p.124).
  • 'Docility and bounded nationality — or stupidity, to put it bluntly — help explain why young men throughout history have embraced the terrible lie of the Roman propagandist Horace: ..."It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country"' (110).
  • In any society, there are 'bad apples' that kill. But 'war is the ultimate bad barrel' (114). The institution of war is the main culprit. Abolishing war should be our first priority.
  • Costa Rica, a small county in central America, abolished its army in 1949. In the World Database of Happiness, Costa Rica has received the highest score, while the United States ranked much lower down.  Horgan writes: 'Instead of spending on arms, over the past half century, Costa Rica's government invested in education, as well as healthcare, environmental conservation, and tourism, all of which helped make the country more prosperous, healthy, and happy. There is no single way to peace, but peace is the way to solve many other problems' (p.148).
Politicians, take note. Be brave and make ending war a priority. By ending the war and even the threat of war will transform the world in many creative ways. Your contribution to this process will make you one of the pioneers in getting rid of this diabolical institution.

As an interim step, the creation of Departments of Peace in each country, at the cabinet level, could be a great stimulus to peace-making instead of empty rhetoric. Canadians need to support Bill C-373, an initiative to establish a Canadian Department of Peace. Also we need to look at the new support in this long road to peace called Center for Global Nonkilling. I am surprised that John Horgan missed these two very important references in his learned volume on war.

Readers, please read this book. It has wings. Dream a little and imagine a better future in a world without wars. This one is for you, your children and your grandchildren.

Find more about this book.


  1. Thank you Koozma,
    This does sound like a "must read". I too believe in the possibility of a world without war. We can, and will, make it happen.
    Cheers Gord

  2. An insightful review of an important book. Points you highlight in your review — financial, psychological and ethical damage prove the futility of wars as means of conflict resolution in 21st Century.

    As former NATO deputy supreme commander Sir Rupert Smith in his classic work, "The Utility of Force" writes about the limits of industrial military warfare leading to long-drawn conflicts and stalemates as shown in Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus, Iraq and Afghanistan, it is time that resources be devoted to finding alternate architecture of peace and peaceful modes of conflict resolution.

    In addition to Horton's book, I suggest your readers also look at the new volume, 'Nonkilling State and Security' published by Center for Global Nonkilling, Hawaii, which you mentioned at the end of your review.

  3. as a follow up to the Book - review the website and know that this website contains the follow up to the Planetary Initiative for the World We Choose - a 1983 global think tank that was predecessor to the "important book" the distinction is that homeplanet is now actualizing the vision mission of the PI movement and those that can look beyond the minor observations contained in this book , might find a path to follow to actualize the notions presented in the book. There is magic in the doing - Goethe.