Violence and Conflict

What kind of world do we live in, what kind of people are we - that some of us cheer, and we are encouraged to - when a war (whatever the justifications or lack thereof) breaks out?

Violence has been used to solve conflicts between human for ages. It is nothing new. The only thing that has changed in recent history is the power and scope of destruction, which many militaries and paramilitaries now use, both in overt actions and/or in more subtle threatening postures. The advent of nuclear technology in the twentieth century, and biological and chemical technologies in the last 500 years has made our world far more dangerous, and terrible; and far less livable.

Can violence be used to resolve conflict? Does it actually work? The answer I propose is: yes and no. On the surface of it, brute physical violence can be utilized to quell uprisings, stifle dissent and maintain adherence in threatened populations. But as the current situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia or Columbia (to name but a few examples), and past situations in El Salvador, or Vietnam clearly show, the use of violent military force can fail in the resolution of conflicts.

What are some of the consequences of using violence to establish a system of order? There are several aspects (which usually apply to parties on both 'sides' of the conflict), some obvious like death, permanent disability and/or psychological anguish. There are more subtle implications, like lingering oppression and repression, a debasing of humanity, the establishment of a fear based social system, loss of moral direction, hate based thinking, and indignity generally.

How can conflicts be resolved without resorting to violence? There are several methods of achieving resolution without necessitating the inane plummet into degenerative violence. I am no expert on this, but I know that most situations can be resolved through the employment of open, honest, fair communications and dialogue.

Whom benefits when conflicts degrade into physical violence? Violence benefits various groups of people who are associated with its use. Usually those who benefit hold positions of power; i.e. decision makers, policy makers, privateers, and the weapons and military industry and its keepers. Interestingly, it seems that fundamentalist Islam is also benefiting from the military operation in Iraq, as it is serving to further polarize many people in opposition to American Imperialism in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Which parties are maligned? A valid argument can be made that everyone, especially in today's globalized world, is maligned when violent conflicts break out. Even those who appear to benefit are worsened, by the degenerative effects of violence. Although the surface appearance, the gain in wealth, control and power seem like they would benefit those recipients, in actuality, even those in power suffer a debasement of moral clarity and relationship with the world. By positioning themselves to gain in power and control, they actually debase their own moral character and align themselves with the injury that has been wreaked directly on so many.

It is obvious that those who suffer most directly are the innocent people caught between the fire of the fighters on the ground and the bombs from the sky. The soldiers and fighters also suffer obvious harm from direct involvement in violence. Their lives are forever changed by the visceral, and what must be surreal experiences involved in combat, the taking of others' lives, and the constant fear of capture, death or being permanently wounded and suffering. Their minds are contaminated with the stigma of violence, the psychological ramifications are intense and long-lasting.

As a new millennium spreads out before us, we, both as individuals and as humans collectively must start asking important questions about ourselves and the societies we live in. How we are related (as individuals and in the sense of larger communities) to the use of violence or the threat of violence to solve conflicts is one such importanat question.

What kind of world do we hope to live in? Violence can wreak havoc on those seemingly far removed from it. Apathy can strike at the will of those who don't or won't stand up to the problems we face. We are in positions to lose very much from the outcomes of policies and the consequences of violence. It is up to us, each one of us as individuals, to make conscious decisions on a daily basis. We can choose Love, Hope, Trust, humility, Perseverance, Openness, Community etc. Or we can choose Apathy, Fear, Isolation, Hate etc.

I would rather light a candle to find the way out, than curse the darkness. - based on a Chinese proverb

p.s. Please leave a comment; suggestions, things to add, or criticism are welcomed.

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Aldo Leopold: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

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