Skip to Content

Share

Waging Peace


June 3, 2013

The West Point grad turned anti-violence advocate on the havoc of trauma, the false security of war, and training peace activists to be more like soldiers.

http://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Paul-Chappell-575px.jpg
Photo courtesy Roanoke College

The son of a Korean mother and a half-white, half-African American father, Paul Chappell recalls being told as a boy growing up in Alabama that “the only place in America where a black man has a fair chance is in the military.” While these words played a part in shaping Chappell’s young ambitions for the armed services, the main reason he went on to study at West Point and serve as an army captain in Iraq was his belief that war is a requirement of peace and security. He now describes this as a myth.

While still on active duty in 2008, Chappell published his first book, Will War Ever End? A Soldier’s Vision of Peace for the 21st Century, in which he began to lay out a strategic challenge to that pervasive belief. In his work, Chappell compared the tolerance for violence between nations to the historic tolerance for slavery and the subjugation of women. Institutions that were once deemed the norm, he argues, can collapse under the weight of their injustice through a nonviolent revolution of cultural values. Though Chappell left the army to serve as the director of peace leadership at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, he maintains it was his military background and training that allowed him to grasp nonviolence as a method for confronting injustice, and see Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi as gifted tacticians—“more strategic and more brilliant than any general I had ever studied before in history.” Today, Chappell works nationally and abroad to lecture and train activists—an undertaking that he believes requires the same degree of strategy and foresight as readying soldiers for battle. “Activism is the only art form where people think they can just show up to a protest and not have any training and write something on a sign and think they’re going to be effective,” Chappell told me. “I think we have to change the paradigm of activism toward recognizing that it is an extremely difficult art form. Your job is to transform how people think about the most controversial issues in the world.”

In his fourth book, The Art of Waging Peace: A Strategic Approach to Improving Our Lives and the World, due for publication this July, Chappell elaborates on his own evolving philosophy of what compels humans to become violent and his vision for creating a foundation for peace. Chappell treads carefully, speaking with a well-practiced precision that self-consciously skirts the possibility of alienating either Left or Right. But every so often his passion seems to well over his self-imposed borders, and he’ll concede to unleashing a small run of righteousness. “Nonviolence,” he said as we spoke on the phone between New York and California, “is an asymmetrical form of warfare to confront the present system not where it’s strongest—which is the realm of violence—but where it’s weakest, which is its moral authority.”

Katherine Rowland for Guernica

Guernica: You’ve said that you joined the military because you believed that it represented a means to peace and security. How was that belief inculcated?

Paul Chappell: I think one thing that led me to believe that the military was the means to peace and security was that this message is transmitted through every facet of American culture—American politicians, Hollywood, television, in school—we’re taught that war protects our freedom and our security and our way of life, and I heard that everywhere in our culture when I was growing up.

Guernica: And because of that you wanted to participate in that system?

Paul Chappell: That was part of it. Idealism also played a prominent role. Many people join the military with very idealistic views, with the ideals of service and sacrifice, helping others, making the world safe and spreading freedom and democracy. If you look at how military recruiting commercials are, how politicians speak, American politicians always frame the military in those terms. But part of it was my father was half-white and half-black, and he told me when I was growing up that the only place in America where a black man has a fair chance is in the military. My father had me when he was fifty-four years old, he was born in 1925—that was his reality when he was growing up under segregation—the only place a black man had a fair chance was pretty much the military.

Guernica: You had such a revolution in terms of belief, coming from being an active service member to a director of peace leadership. What led you to making these changes?

Paul Chappell: There were a wide variety of experiences, and it was an accumulation of many different turning points that led me here.

West Point trained me in strategic thinking, and when I started to read about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and nonviolence on my own, I thought, oh my goodness, these people are brilliant strategic thinkers, and I realized that Gandhi and King were more strategic and more brilliant than any general I had ever studied before in history. And there are some very strategic and very brilliant generals out there, but Gandhi and King were just so creative in how they innovated this new technique of nonviolent struggle that is able to effectively confront injustice.

Activism is the only art form where people think they can just show up to a protest and not have any training and write something on a sign and think they’re going to be effective.

Another realization was that what nonviolence has achieved thus far in human history are things people never would have thought possible. I’m half-Korean and a quarter white and a quarter black, and I grew up in Alabama, and you’re a woman, and this conversation would not have been possible two hundred years ago. And if you look at our country two hundred years ago, women couldn’t vote, women couldn’t go to college, women couldn’t own property. Two hundred years ago, women didn’t really speak in public or publish much. Even though the civil war kept the union together, it took a peaceful civil rights movement before African Americans truly got their human rights. The women’s rights movement was nonviolent, the civil rights movement was nonviolent; if nonviolence can create those kinds of changes, maybe the potential of that technique has not been fully tapped. If we were to fully understand the power of that technique, what else would be possible?

In terms of the many turning points I had, another one was especially important. The military has really excellent training in waging war, but most activists have no training in waging peace, and I realized that activists need to be as well trained in waging peace as soldiers are in waging war. Violinists, martial artists, and filmmakers all realize they need some sort of training to be effective, but activism is the only art form where people think they can just show up to a protest and not have any training and write something on a sign and think they’re going to be effective. And I think we have to change the paradigm of activism toward recognizing that it is an extremely difficult art form. Your job is to transform how people think about the most controversial issues in the world, and you’re trying to transform how people think when people might potentially kill you over these issues. It requires very detailed training. I think one reason activists aren’t more effective is that they don’t have the kind of training to take their activism to a higher level.

Guernica: This is more of a philosophical question, but you say we’re taught that war is peace and that idea is propagated widely, and yet there’s so much evidence to the contrary.

Paul Chappell: I think it’s a combination of overt manipulative propaganda and instances of simple misunderstanding. I can see how there was a time in human history when violence was equal to peace. For our ancestors living 50,000 years ago on the African Savannah, if they were being stalked by a pride of lions, the threat of violence by a human tribe against these predators is going to keep the tribe alive. And that’s how war propaganda typically functions, it tells a population that we’re protecting our freedom, we’re protecting our family, we’re fighting out of self-defense, these evil people want to come kill our family. And the war propaganda portrays the people attacking us as these nonhuman predators, tapping into that primordial part of our brain. But I think in the twenty-first century war is so different, we’re in this era where war is more dangerous than ever before, we’re threatening our security and freedom and peace in more ways than most people realize today.

Guernica: Can we also say that its benefits, if we can speak of them as such, are also confined to a far fewer body than they were before?

Paul Chappell: If you look at Eisenhower’s “Cross of Iron” speech and what we could pay for instead of military spending, how many schools we could build, how many hospitals we could build, how much food we could purchase, that is why Eisenhower compared military spending to crucifixion. General MacArthur said that with the money that countries spend on war we could abolish poverty from the face of the earth. And there was a University of Massachusetts, Amherst, study that concluded if we took the same amount of money spent on war-making and put it toward other industries we would employ far more people with higher wages. But a few people profit enormously from war, and with no draft anymore, the number of people directly hurt by the war system on American soil is far less, and the profits are much greater.

Guernica: In your book you say that as your ideas began to mature you didn’t feel alienated from your roots but rather began to develop a certain sympathy toward the pro-war perspective. Can you speak to that?

Paul Chappell: One of the crucial principles of waging peace is increasing your empathy, and as I increased my empathy I was able to better understand why people think in different ways, and able to find better ways of dialoguing with all kinds of people. It’s like Sun Tzu says in the Art of War: know your enemy. Where waging peace is concerned, the only way to truly know your enemy is through empathy, and when you have empathy for your enemy you realize that they’re not your enemy. Your real enemy is the ignorance that’s corrupting their mind, the misunderstanding—that’s your true enemy, not the particular person. But the empathy you have for that person makes all this change possible. For example, King had empathy for the people who were trying to kill him. The empathy he had for his opponents is what made him so effective and so powerful.

Guernica: The subject of empathy brings to mind a very powerful section in your book where you describe punching your fist through a window in rage, and that happened after you had already written your second book on peace and nonviolence. What about cultivating that empathy toward yourself? That seems like part of the work here, intercepting what you’ve described as the self-perpetuating cycle of trauma.

Paul Chappell: I think that for people who have had trauma, developing empathy for yourself is a lifelong journey. When someone has had trauma, developing empathy for yourself is almost as difficult as developing empathy for the people who have hurt you. And we have to forgive ourselves when we occasionally have a difficult day. The Dalai Lama says he still gets angry from time to time, and the important thing is to keep growing as a human being in the midst of this adversity and to learn and evolve from our difficult days.

Guernica: In retrospect, you can write about how you were so deeply traumatized and not mentally well, but were you aware of it at the time?

Paul Chappell: Trauma is like a maze: you don’t necessarily realize you’re in a maze at the time. Like in a nightmare, you don’t necessarily realize it’s a dream. When young children, especially, are traumatized, they don’t have the intellectual capacity to fully process their experiences—they’re not as self-reflective at that point. But as you become an adult, if you don’t develop ways of self-reflecting and dealing with your trauma, it’s going to result in self-destruction and you see that a lot. A lot of adults who haven’t been able to cope with their trauma and work toward inner-healing become self-destructive, whether it’s a very slow self-destruction like an addiction, or a very fast self-destruction like suicide.

Guernica: When you address the subject of your own trauma in the book, you make the point that you’re doing so in order to help remove some of the taboos we have around discussing the underlying causes of violence, and I wonder why we have such a reticence here. It seems like violence is everywhere and we can talk about it in a gloried or gory or even pornographic way, but to actually discuss the why of violence and to look at it critically seems like something we’re hesitant to engage in.

Paul Chappell: I think when we ask, why are people violent, we have to question very basic assumptions about our society and questioning those assumptions threatens certain power structures. We’re also challenging people’s deeply held beliefs, because if we’re naturally violent then we can be very content with inaction, but if violence has a cause that we can prevent—if violence is caused by trauma and conditioning and abuse—then we have a moral obligation to do something about it. For example, if black people are subhuman and born to be slaves, we can be very content with slavery, but if black people are human beings and not born to be slaves we confront a great injustice and have a moral obligation to do something about slavery. And that’s potentially a very dangerous situation to be in.

Guernica: Something that I try to wrap my head around is this common recourse to rage. You talk about it as turning to rage as a false blanket—even though it perpetuates further rage and violence. Why do we do that instead of turning toward peace?

Paul Chappell: As human beings we want people to feel what we feel, we have this need to communicate our emotions. If something really good happens in your life you want to communicate the good news, or if you have a bad day at work or a family member dies, you want someone who will listen to you. But what if you experience inexpressible violence that cannot be conveyed through words? How do you communicate that to someone? If for example, you’re a child and you’ve been beaten half to death—how do you communicate that to another person? One way is through beating that person half to death. If you’ve had a lot of violence growing up, inflicting violence on another person is a way to communicate how you feel, to make other people feel the fear that you feel in this really distorted form of communication.

In this era of mass media, war is actually counter-productive and events that result in civilian casualties overseas actually magnify the animosity towards the U.S.

Guernica: I totally agree that it’s distorted. But how can we say that people who experienced horrible instances of violence default to a state of perpetuating that violence, and yet at the same time assert, as you do, that violence is not a natural human impulse?

Paul Chappell: I think we have to see trauma as a wound, it’s a psychological wound similar to a physical wound, it’s a wounding of the mind. It can repair itself if the person does the right things, but like any other wound, it can become worse. The default setting of a physical wound is to heal. But if the physical wound is bad enough, the default state is to get worse. If the psychological wound is extremely severe—just like if a physical wound is extremely severe—self-repair becomes far more difficult and without extraordinary methods to heal yourself the wound will likely get worse. Trauma is a very deep, severe form of psychological wound, which can exceed the mind’s ability to naturally repair. And just as a severe physical wound that exceeds the body’s ability to self-repair can lead into a downward spiral of infection and death, an unhealed psychological wound can lead into a downward spiral of rage and madness.

Guernica: I imagine that wounded state can be exacerbated by the propaganda with which we’re saturated, which makes me think of the myths surrounding war that you present in your book. Peace remains woefully absent from our larger policy discussions, it’s dismissed as impractical, dismissed certainly as non-lucrative. I’m sure you encounter people all the time who say that without war our economy will collapse and that it’s us versus them. What would you say to someone who insists that the enemy is going to come and kill us unless we spend trillions on our defense?

Paul Chappell: I’d say I agree with your main concerns. I agree with you that I don’t want Americans to be killed, and I agree with you that there are people in other countries who have grievances and want to kill us. But, what if there is a better way than war to protect ourselves? What if there is a more effective way to protect our country? So I try to find common ground. You and I both have the same goal, and we both want our country to be safe, and one reason I oppose war is that I think it is not the most effective way to keep our country safe in the twenty-first century. In this era of mass media, war is actually counter-productive and military actions that result in civilian casualties overseas actually magnify the animosity towards the U.S. [In The Art of Waging Peace] I quote Lieutenant Colonel Cabaniss, a Marine who was interviewed on 60 Minutes, who said if you kill a thousand Taliban fighters and two civilians it’s a loss. Because of mass media, if you kill civilians in a foreign country you greatly magnify the number of people around the world who want to kill you. Since World War II, the majority of people killed in war have been civilians, and killing civilians in other countries in the age of mass media and the Internet endangers our national security.

But I think that one drawback to the peace movement is that it doesn’t provide an alternative plan, it doesn’t clearly communicate a security paradigm that could replace the war paradigm. And that’s what I focus on in the book, here is a security paradigm that is more effective than the war paradigm in keeping our country safe.

Guernica: I don’t mean to sound cynical, especially since so much of your book resists just that, but where is the peace movement?

Paul Chappell: I have heard many people say, “Oh the U.S. government is so stupid. If the U.S. government had really learned from the Vietnam War it would never have gotten into Iraq. The U.S. government never learned from history.” But actually the U.S. government learned a lot from the Vietnam War—so much that this is precisely why we went to war in Iraq. The U.S. government learned four things from the Vietnam War. The first thing was to get rid of the draft. If you look at the Vietnam era, the first major protests weren’t really happening until larger numbers of young people were at risk of getting drafted. Could you imagine what would happen if the government started pulling kids out of all these major universities to go fight in North Korea or Iran or if they had drafted kids to go fight in Iraq? I mean people would be rioting, people would be completely freaking out. Not having a draft was a calculated decision that would distance the American public from war and reduce the amount of opposition to the war effort. If there’s a draft going on, the population becomes connected to the war. The second thing the U.S. government learned from the Vietnam War is to embed journalists in military units, because this limits independent reporting. The third thing is to privatize the military as much as possible so you further separate the U.S. population from war. Nobody is really counting how many contractors have died, so the number of dead military service personnel is reduced and there are a lot of contractors who are foreigners. Also, privatizing the military is very profitable for some companies. And the fourth thing the government learned is to tell people that if they don’t support the war then they don’t support the troops. And now the U.S. government has gone even further in terms of the whole drone program. Now the American public is even further separated from the war, and this is all calculated.

It’s tragic the peace movement is so marginalized when peace is such a vital issue. In the age of nuclear weapons human survival depends on peace. So we have to turn that around. I think the peace movement can adapt, and can be vibrant again, but we have to have the right training and the right strategy.

But nonviolence is an asymmetrical form of warfare to confront the present system not where it’s strongest—which is the realm of violence—but where it’s weakest, which is its moral authority.

Guernica: In terms of waging peace as a strategic endeavor, how do you wage peace on a population-wide scale? Especially with regards to confronting entrenched trauma, and cynicism which is positively epidemic…

Paul Chappell: We have to start small. It starts with our own personal lives and every person who is able to work on this and spread this to other people, and in time it grows. I think that cynicism comes primarily from people’s sense of helplessness. People feel really helpless to change society and the world. Probably the worst feeling in the world is helplessness. If you have to choose between feeling helpless and wanting to change things but you can’t, or feeling cynical where nothing can change and nothing can ever get better, you’re going to choose cynicism, because cynicism is more psychologically comfortable than helplessness. So empowering people is the best way to get rid of cynicism. And I think that most people inherently want to feel like they have some control, some voice, some ability to shape the world around them. I think that human beings crave that, and cynicism is just this resignation owing to the fact that many people just feel helpless and rightfully so. I understand why they feel that way, and we just have to let them know that there are things we can do. Cynicism is extremely tempting, it’s probably the greatest temptation when activism is concerned. But look at King and Gandhi and Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony and what they were up against. They had a lot to be cynical about, and they weren’t, and if they weren’t why can’t we follow in their footsteps?

Guernica: You just said you have to let people know there are things they can do. How do we do that amid the cacophony of media and corporate interests, which are vying so mightily to claim people’s dollars and attention?

Paul Chappell: Here I draw from history. When people in the women’s rights movement said women should have the right to vote, the people who opposed that were in power, they controlled the government, they controlled most of the universities, they controlled most of the money, the media, society, the military, and the only thing the women’s rights activists had on their side was the truth. It is true that women are not intellectually and morally inferior to men, and the oppression of women was based on the myth of women’s inferiority. And when people promoted racial equality and opposed segregation, the people who supported segregation controlled everything. But again, the people who promoted civil rights had the truth, because it was not true that African Americans are subhuman. And when Galileo said the earth goes around the sun, the church controlled governments, militaries, religion. The Roman Catholic Church was a world superpower and how is Galileo’s little tiny voice going to oppose the giant of the Catholic Church? But now we can say the earth goes around the sun all day long and no one is going to oppose, torture, or kill us.

Today the media has enormous control over everything. But the power of truth wins out if the people in the movement are strategic and well trained enough, because they can find ways to cut through the propaganda. And this again is why training is so important. The forces we’re up against are enormously powerful, more powerful than most activists realize and that’s why we need the training, we have to step up our game, we have to take our action to another level. These forces are too powerful for us to be untrained in activism.

Guernica: And how do you respond when people say the truth will set us free or some variation of that—that’s total hogwash, because we’re introduced to variations of the truth all the time.

Paul Chappell: Well there are some things that are scientific truth, like the earth revolves around the sun, African Americans are not subhuman, women are not intellectually and morally inferior to men. But the truth doesn’t always win out. It’s not enough to have the truth, the person with the truth or the movement with the truth has to be strategic and well trained. If the people in the movement aren’t strategic, the truth is not going to have any real impact. But the problem now is whether the truth will win out in time, because the issues we’re dealing with now threaten human survival. War and nuclear weapons and environmental destruction threaten human survival. As important as the civil rights movement was, the human species wasn’t going to go extinct if civil rights weren’t achieved quickly enough. So the question now is will the truth win out before the human species drives itself extinct? It’s what King called the fierce urgency of now.

Guernica: In taking your strategic approach, do you feel you’ve had successes in adapting to the current environment?

Paul Chappell: I think I’ve been able to point out the propaganda’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses and holes, but I haven’t had the kind of reach that I think is necessary to empower a really large audience. I’ve been able to interact with many different kinds of people, I’ve been able to work with and shed some light on to these issues, but there’s a lot of noise out there, a lot of different interests and people competing for the same media venues. The difficulty too is that I don’t offer quick fixes. I don’t say, if we elect this president then all our problems are going to be solved, or if you just do these one or two things everything is going to be fixed. I really work hard to resist quick fixes and easy answers and in an era of instant gratification, people often want the quick fix. But the quick fix ultimately doesn’t solve the problem; it’s a band aid that doesn’t really heal the infection underneath.

Guernica: Have you had any opportunity to speak outside of the choir, so to speak?

Paul Chappell: I’ve spoken with a lot of people in ROTC and veterans and have had traction with Catholics and Presbyterians and mainstream religious groups, and I’m from a very conservative background, which helps. I grew up ultra-conservative. I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh religiously in high school and in some ways I still consider myself conservative and it allows me to speak in their language—a language that doesn’t alienate them. I believe in the American ideals and it really bothers me when our country, our government doesn’t live up to these ideals.

Guernica: But you still believe in them…

Paul Chappell: The ideals of the Declaration of Independence were ahead of their time, but we’re closer to those ideals than we were two hundred years ago. If anyone doubts that it’s much better to be a woman in 2013 than in 1813 on average, look at those three women who were kidnapped and held in Ohio. That’s a tragic story, but that’s what slavery was for black women in America. The only major difference between what [Ariel Castro] did and what happened to black women in history was that slave owners didn’t feel the need to hide anything. If you look at the amount of rape and sheer physical trauma to black women during slavery and when these three women were treated like that, it is morally unthinkable to us.

There are plenty of people today who continue to suffer terrible oppression, and we have a long way to go. But if we’ve made progress, why can’t we make more progress?

Guernica: Speaking of suffering, what about the role of social justice in waging peace?

Paul Chappell: One of the primary goals of waging peace is to create social justice. What King and Gandhi realized is that nonviolence is a superior technique, what they would call a superior weapon, for achieving social justice. King said that nonviolence is the most powerful weapon that oppressed people can use to overcome their oppression.

If you need to fight Mike Tyson in his prime, you shouldn’t choose boxing as your method, because he’s going to knock you unconscious. If you need to fight an unjust system that possesses enormous military power and you do not own your own air force and navy, you shouldn’t choose violence as your method because it is going to crush you. But nonviolence is an asymmetrical form of warfare to confront the present system not where it’s strongest—which is the realm of violence—but where it’s weakest, which is its moral authority.

Guernica: It seems like your strategy involves that tactic and a scientific truth onto which people can latch…

Paul Chappell: One thing I write a lot about is the many reasons why people become violent. If somebody gets malaria or cancer or HIV, nobody is going to say, “Oh, that’s just human nature.” But if somebody becomes violent, people say, “Oh, that’s just human nature.” But what if violence has a cause, what if it’s similar to an illness in how it has a cause and we can understand and prevent that cause?

We all know that war traumatizes the human brain. This is so noncontroversial that even the pro-war people now say that war is hell. But if human beings were naturally violent, why would war traumatize the human brain, why wouldn’t people go to war and become more mentally healthy? Why would children who grow up in violent households not be the beacons of mental health?

Guernica: You’ve said many times over that you’re anti-war but pro-military. But given that the military is the representation of war and violence, how do you stand behind that view?

Paul Chappell: I think that the purpose of the American military is to protect our country, and I think that the most effective way for the military to protect our country in the twenty-first century is to help people around the world.

Guernica: Do you think that the military is nimble enough to evolve to be a humanitarian organization?

Paul Chappell: I never underestimate the military’s ability to adapt. Militaries used to fight with horses and bows and arrows, but they adapted to a new world. The American military is already evolving in a new way; it has already recognized the need to reduce civilian casualties and to also do humanitarian work in order to win hearts and minds. That’s why we’re using drones, because we can’t carpet bomb a city the way we did in World War II, we can’t do a bombing campaign and just wipe out one hundred thousand people overnight. The purpose of the drones is to minimize civilian casualties, but unfortunately the drones are unreliable and they’re killing way too many civilians. They’re dangerous and counterproductive to our national security.

Guernica: And they are raising the level of hostility.

Paul Chappell: Exactly. It goes back to what we were talking about with mass media in the twenty-first century. If we kill civilians on foreign soil, like that Marine said on 60 Minutes, there’s a backlash. What would happen if a foreign army came and killed civilians on our soil? What would we do? We would freak out. People don’t like it when you come to their country and kill their people.

Peace is ultimately more than just the absence of war. Peace is also the presence of liberty, justice, opportunity, fairness, environmental sustainability, and other ingredients that create a healthy society. But it’s difficult to achieve those ingredients when the war system is wreaking havoc as it is today.

Guernica: One point you made in your book gave me pause. You define peace as the end of organized violence between countries and it made me want to stop you and ask about violence on the non-state level.

Paul Chappell: I discuss world peace as the absence of politically organized violence between countries, and the reason I make that distinction is because if I say world peace is possible, somebody is going to say, well somewhere in the world someone is always going to murder somebody. We have 7 billion people on the planet, somebody is going to murder somebody somewhere. But defining world peace as the end of politically organized violence between countries is a more feasible goal. Can’t we end countries massacring each other? Can’t we achieve that goal? There may always be some people in the world with some illegal slaves, which we can continue to reduce, but in the meantime isn’t it better that we got rid of state-sanctioned slavery, that it’s outlawed? Part of this comes back to cynicism. People might take world peace to mean the absolute end of all human violence where from now until the end of time no one ever hits anybody ever again, and that there will never be another crime committed or another rape or another murder, no one will ever spank their child. And that’s not what I mean. I mean having a goal where we can end politically organized violence between countries, and then we can more effectively work on our other problems.

As I say in Peaceful Revolution, peace is ultimately more than just the absence of war. Peace is also the presence of liberty, justice, opportunity, fairness, environmental sustainability, and other ingredients that create a healthy society. But it’s difficult to achieve those ingredients when the war system is wreaking havoc as it is today.

Guernica: Like you said before, we’re so inculcated in this culture of violence and war. If war were to be outlawed, perhaps that would have a positive trickle down effect?

Paul Chappell: Absolutely. If you tell a child don’t hit another child, don’t use violence to solve your problems, and then our government rushes to war, how can you tell children to not use violence to solve their problems? How can you tell kindergarteners don’t hit Johnny, when the American government so often uses bombs to solve its problems? I don’t think we could have achieved women’s rights without the abolition of slavery, because if you believe you can own people, and then you learn that people have rights and they cannot be owned and they have inherent dignity as human beings, it makes you question well, if we can’t treat black people like this, maybe we can’t treat women like this either. And so there’s a correlation where it affects how you see other issues. For example, many environmental activists aren’t actively opposing war, but how are we going to get people around the world to respect animal and plant life if they first don’t respect human life? If people are fine with governments killing women and children, good luck getting them to care about trees. I think that if we were to outlaw war it would be a revolution in human values that is essential for helping us solve many of our other problems.

G

To contact Guernica or Paul Chappell, please write here.

Readers like you make Guernica possible. Please show your support.

Tagged with:

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterAdd to BufferShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUpon
Submit to redditShare on App.netShare via email

You might also like

4 comments for Waging Peace

  1. Comment by CaroleRae on June 5, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Thank you for this article. I have shared it on facebook and intend to share it with other in The Peace Alliance!
    One question, why does the interviewer’s name appear before Mr. Chappell’s? Would like to see his name only under the title of the article and the interviewers name somewhere else.

  2. Comment by A Marine on June 12, 2013 at 8:59 am

    “Data over the years have revealed four patterns of response to traumatic events, Bonanno said. The most severe is chronic dysfunction, often manifesting as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which typically affects 5 to 30 percent of those involved in a disaster. Up to 25 percent of people display a recovery response, with another 15 percent showing a delayed stress response.

    The most common response is actually resilience, Bonanno said. Roughly 35 to 65 percent of people who experience a disaster return to their normal routine shortly after the event and stay there. A recent study of war veterans, for instance, not only demonstrated that roughly 7 percent of soldiers who were deployed developed PTSD, but that 83 percent showed exemplary mental health in the face of potentially traumatic combat situations.”

    http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2012/july-august-12/the-psychology-of-resilience.html

    I think the science shows that the vast majority of people who go to war, do in fact come back healthy, and generally in my experience working with young male Marines, their experiences generally make them more mature at a younger age than their civilian peers. Mr. Chapelle’s argument that “…if human beings were naturally violent, why would war traumatize the human brain, why wouldn’t people go to war and become more mentally health?” seems to be disproven by the science.

    A theory based on a dumb grunt’s reading of evolutionary psychology, is that both the capacity for violence and a capacity for altruism are both evolutionary tools that a rational mind can exploit, depending on the circumstances. Hopefully our rationality will reduce the need to use violence in the future, but I think that saying that violence isn’t innate to human nature, is incredibly inaccurate to put it generously.

    However that is not to say that I disagree with his main conclusion, that humanitarian involvement in the rest of the world is the most important tool towards insuring our security.

    “A soldier has to be much more than a man with a rifle whose only objective is to kill. He has to be part diplomat, part technician, part politician–and 100 percent a human being.”

    General Lewis W. Walt

  3. Comment by abhishek sharma on June 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    NO MORE KILLING. ONLY PEACE!

  4. Comment by Paul K. Chappell on June 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Dear General Lewis W. Walt (Didn’t the General Walt who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam die in 1989? Are you related to him, using his name, or happen to have the same name?),

    Thank you for sharing your good questions, and I appreciated this article and your thoughtful response. That article has several flaws in it that I would like to discuss. Here is an excerpt:

    “Bonanno has demonstrated through statistical modeling that humans are actually quite resilient in the face of disastrous events. While disasters can cause major psychological trauma that can’t be fixed with a quick and easy solution, over time most people demonstrate an impressive ability to rebound from a frightening incident . . . The most common response [to trauma] is actually resilience, Bonanno said. Roughly 35 to 65 percent of people who experience a disaster return to their normal routine shortly after the event and stay there. A recent study of war veterans, for instance, not only demonstrated that roughly 7 percent of soldiers who were deployed developed PTSD, but that 83 percent showed exemplary mental health in the face of potentially traumatic combat situations . . . Recent research has shown that resilience has also been the most common documented response to events such as a nightmare mudslide in Mexico or the 9/11 attacks. The prevalence of resilience suggests it stems from many sources.”

    1. The article makes its first error by not distinguishing between trauma caused by natural disasters and trauma caused by human beings. We know for a fact that trauma is much more severe when inflicted by a human being. For example, what is more traumatizing, falling off your bike and breaking your leg, or a group of attackers holding you down and breaking your leg with a baseball bat? In both situations the physical outcome is the same (your leg is broken), but if a human being holds you down and breaks your leg with a baseball bat, it is far more traumatizing. If you and your family are injured by a tornado, it is a lot less traumatizing than if someone breaks into your house and brutally beats you, your spouse, and children. When PTSD is concerned, the DSM states that “the disorder is apparently more severe and longer lasting when the stressor is of human design.” This article makes an error by conflating the psychological injury caused by natural disasters and the far more severe psychological injury caused by cruelty and violence inflicted upon us by other human beings.

    2. The second error is that the article does not take into account how intimate the violence is. In his book On Killing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman explains that the people who survived the London bombings in World War II do not have as much psychological trauma (because the violence was less intimate) than the people who were beaten and tortured in concentration camps during World War II, or the Vietnam veterans who killed women and children at close range where they could see the faces of their victims. Furthermore, most Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have not been in combat, so this study should look at the veterans who were engaged in intimate violence over a long period of time. This article is using an erroneous sample size, first of all by not distinguishing between the September 11th attacks (which is caused by human beings, and therefore will be more traumatizing) and a mudslide (which is a natural disaster), but also by not taking into account more intimate forms of trauma such as being raped and beaten (which is a more intimate form of violence that tends to be more traumatizing than surviving a terrorist bombing attack).

    3. The third error is that this article does not take into account the duration of the trauma or the age of the person experiencing the trauma (since children are more vulnerable to trauma than adults). For example, a child who spends years growing up in a violent household will not appear as resilient as a grown man who survives a mudslide.

    4. The fourth error is that this article does not take into account whether or not the person is able to rationalize the traumatic event. A natural disaster is easier to rationalize than a person viciously beating you, and World War II veterans were better able to rationalize their participation in war than Vietnam veterans.

    So yes, human beings appear to be resilient to natural disasters, but lumping natural disasters with trauma inflicted by human beings skews the results. If the author of that study were to look solely at events associated with the most intimate forms of violence found in war, such as killing at close range over an extended period of time where you can see the faces of your victims, the trauma of survivor’s guilt (believing that the death of your comrades is partly or fully your fault), and the impact of rape and massacres on civilian populations, especially on children whose brains are less resilient, the writer of that article would see much different effects than the psychological harm caused by earthquakes, mudslides, and other natural disasters. When war is not sanitized and is lacking the distancing mechanisms that reduce trauma, the anti-war and pro-war people are both correct when they say, “War is hell.” The most common response to interpersonal human on human violence (e.g., rape, maiming, the horrific murder of one’s family members), especially when it extends over a long period of time, is not resilience, but psychological injury.

    You are correct that violence and the threat of violence can serve a useful purpose (for example, our ancestors used violence and the threat of violence to protect themselves from predators), but again, when the physical injuries are equal being attacked by a human is more traumatizing than being attacked by an animal, so this must also be taken into account. If someone we know and trust viciously attacks us the impact is even worse, because our ability to trust human beings can become damaged. So there are many nuances of trauma that this article does not take into account. Thank you for your insightful questions.

    Respectfully,

    Paul

Leave a comment




Anti-Spam Quiz:

Subscribe without commenting