Greenfield, Mass. (Special to Informed Comment) – Signs abound in Greenfield, Massachusetts’ downtown shop windows, among them PEACE, ART NOT WAR, FOOD FOR ALL NOT WAR, SOLAR NOT WAR, MAKE TEA NOT WAR… Why have so many shop owners and institutions, including the Greenfield Library and Greenfield Community Television, agreed to offer their store windows and inside spaces for these signs? “Because there’s nothing better than peace, John Lennon had it right,” said Mindy Vincent owner of consignment boutique, Hens and Chicks. Kelly Archer proprietor of Lucky Bird Thrift, which sells “good quality, pre-loved items,” explained that “love of peace brings about a positive vibration, which carries forward.” “I believe in peace,” Jeromy, owner of Laptop and Computer Repair, said succinctly.
Studies have found that “norms, rituals and values that favor peace joined with peace literacy taught to each new generation are most important for creating a peaceful society,” a society which resolves conflicts without resorting to violence. Greenfield Shops for Peace is one such value-laden public gesture.
Peaceful societies have always existed and exist now – they just don’t make the news. Of the thousands of daily acts of social kindness and peaceful resolution of disputes among groups of people and countries, none is as newsworthy as a mugging or murder or war. For some, this may create the impression that aggression is natural for humans, more so males, given the statistics. President John F. Kennedy, at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, did not think so: “The pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war…Moreover, some think it is impossible, war is natural and inevitable. Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by human beings.”
Renowned archeologist Dr. Marija Gimbutas has shown that war in Europe is relatively recent – 5,000-7,000 years ago – and not endemic to the human condition, given the existence of earlier egalitarian, non-patriarchal, peaceful societies in Europe. Further, societies that were once extremely warlike are now peaceful, such as the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland and the five tribal nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Costa Rica has eliminated its military in a hemispheric region where conflict has been rife.
In his book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Lt. Col. David Grossman examines the remarkable phenomenon regarding human resistance to killing that was uncovered in studies of soldiers’ firing rates in WWII. Most combat soldiers had low firing rates (15-20%); most who fired aimed above or to the side of their enemy. In the words of Brigadier General SL Marshall who documented the firing rates in that war, soldiers are “conscientious objectors…unable to kill their fellow man.”
Low firing rates in WWII increased to 55% percent in Korea and 95% in Vietnam only after the Army used techniques to condition recruits to kill, according to Grossman. But with boosted rates of shooting other human beings in combat, PTSD and suicide increased in soldiers from the moral injury of killing fellow human beings.
Post WWII desensitization of recruits to killing other human beings included using human-like targets; stereotyping the enemy as subhuman (“gooks” for Koreans and Vietnamese in those wars); adding chants while marching – “rape,” “kill,” “pillage”; using distance in killing with more long-range weapons to avoid seeing faces and hearing screams of those being killed; and focusing recruitment on (more malleable) teens. This training to kill is fortified by military history, war monuments and Hollywood media, all of which peddle a version of war that glorifies killing, portraying soldiers as noble killers. But studies show that 60 days of sustained combat cause 98% of soldiers to suffer psychiatric trauma. Combat exhaustion starts after 30 days – the reason for rotation for R&R.
So, what can we do to counter the power of military culture?
Give Peace Education a Chance
Peace literacy – the arts of listening, asking questions to achieve clarity and understanding, cultivating empathy and mutual communication; the skills of disciplined resolution of conflict and recognizing verbal and advertising manipulation; the history of successful non-violent revolutions – is as crucial as reading, writing and mathematics. As Gandhi avowed, “If peace schooling were taken as seriously as military schooling, our world would be a much different place.”
Imagine: with peace education in grades K-12 of Greenfield schools, isn’t it likely that disciplinary incidents, among them disruptive behavior, fighting, bullying and skipping school would continue their downward trend, as reported in the January 14 Greenfield Recorder. Would that not be one of the most useful education skills for life that we could give students? Good for them and good for the society they inhabit and will impact.
Greenfield Shops for Peace joins two other stellar western Massachusetts peace initiatives: Young Peacemakers and Active Bystanders. Add to these Peace Education in our schools and we will have the organic ingredients for a local and regional culture of peace.
Pat Hynes initiated Greenfield Shops for Peace on behalf of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice