Give Peace a Chance

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Two new books call into question the future of war as we know it.

A Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is a theory about the way wars will be fought in the future. RMAs often drive recommendations for technological and organizational change in military institutions. Gunpowder, for instance, led to massive changes in the way wars were fought and thought about.

Earlier this year, two books were released that suggest technological advances will combine with human nature to bring about the next RMA. The books, P.W. Singer’s Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution in the 21st Century and Capt. Paul K. Chappell’s Will War Ever End?: A Soldier’s Vision for Peace for the 21st Century, were released within days of each other; they ask some very similar questions, and even come to some of the same conclusions, but their approaches could not be more different.

In Wired for War, Singer, a 29-year-old Brookings Institute fellow, argues that the next RMA will be built around robotics. He addresses pertinent philosophical questions such as whether machines can commit war crimes. Perhaps most intriguingly, he argues that in diminishing the emotional risks of combat, robots on the battlefield may also defuse emotional calls often used to rally support for wars, perhaps diminishing the human appetite for war altogether.

Rather than focusing on technology, Chappell’s book deals primarily with a historic and deeply controversial question: “Is man naturally violent or peaceful?” Chappell, also 29, graduated from West Point in 2002 (where he was a classmate of this reviewer’s), was deployed to Baghdad in 2006 and 2007, and currently commands a Patriot battery at Fort Bliss, TX. Will War Ever End? is the precursor to his forthcoming book, The End of War.

Chappell’s book is actually two complementary works. One is descriptive, analyzing the nature of humanity and questioning the assumption that it is inherently violent and aggressive. The other is prescriptive, calling for action and laying out loose guidelines for how mankind might start the process of achieving peace in our time.

Few authors would dare to engage in such a deeply controversial and historic argument, and fewer would do so from such a personal perspective. Chappell’s strikingly intimate work details painful experiences that have caused him to look for explanations of man’s basic nature. He starts by trying to understand “every Army’s greatest problem”—how militaries condition soldiers not to retreat when battle begins. He starts with the early Greek militaries, moving all the way up through the contemporary American military’s system of medals for valor, along the way developing a psychology of warfare that supports his overall assertion that it can be ended.

Humans are inherently peaceful beings, Chappell argues, and we require cooperation and community for basic survival. He details “the indestructible bond” of unconditional love between soldiers, and from the soldiers to those for whom they are fighting and willing to die. Aggression and posturing, on and off the battlefield, are tactics to avoid a fight altogether by mentally overwhelming the adversary.

Chappell offers two key terms, redefined for the psychological lexicon of warfare: fury and rage. Fury is the combination of unconditional love and adrenaline that makes us fight for loved ones who are in danger. Conversely, rage is the combination of hatred and adrenaline that leads to a limitless and irrational violence. “Fury,” Chappell notes, “is a survival instinct that makes us natural protectors but not natural killers.” Rage results not only in harm to our fellow man, but also to ourselves because of the diminishing qualities of hatred.

The logic of Will War Ever End? is summed up as follows:

“It is a fact that war drives people insane, that the greatest problem of every army is how to stop soldiers from running away, that being loving allows us to be brave, that cooperation is the key to our survival, that unconditional love builds an indestructible bond between people, that we have a stronger instinct to posture than to kill, that fury motivates us to protect our loved ones, that hatred is always painful, that unconditional love is inherently joyful, and that unconditional love is stronger than hatred. This is simply who we are and these facts prove that human beings are not naturally violent. War is not inevitable, and we all have the power to help end war and ensure the survival of humanity.”

Paul K. Chappell

Paul K. Chappell

Chappell goes on to describe how humanity can unlock its naturally peaceful nature. The necessity of changing the path we are on, he argues, is enhanced by rapid increases in combat strength throughout the world. “A hundred years ago, human beings were developing automatic machine guns. Today we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over.” A new model will also be necessary to combat real sources of terrorism in the current age of asymmetric warfare.

He calls for “Soldiers of Peace,” modeled after Gandhi and Socrates, to wage peace with ideas and words instead of weapons. He calls upon us to return to the principles of unconditional love and struggle toward a “New Enlightenment.” This, he claims, will allow us to understand the mechanics of hatred and how it leads to warfare. Lastly, he asks us to start at the local level by discussing these ideas with our friends and family.

Readers of Chappell’s book will almost certainly fall into two immediate camps: those who view his theses as achievable and those who view them as naïve. Critics will point to Chappell’s reliance on the book On Killing, by Lt. Colonel David Grossman for its psychological schema, and they will question some of his premises and conclusions. Supporters will be extremely pleased that a veteran of modern warfare offers this hope for a peaceful future. But even if they disagree with his ideas, honest readers will conclude that Chappell has undertaken a huge and important project, and will look forward to seeing how it is further developed in The End of War, and to finding out if, in fact, peace is the next Revolution in Military Affairs.

Caleb S. Cage is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, and a veteran of the Iraq War. He is the co-author of the book, The Gods of Diyala: Transfer of Command in Iraq (Texas A&M, 2008), about his time as a platoon leader, and his essays and fiction have appeared in War, Literature, and the Arts, Red Rock Review, High Country News, Small Wars Journal, and various other publications and anthologies. More from this author →