“In the pursuit of peace through war, we often find ourselves chasing an illusion, one that history and human suffering have proven time and again to be unattainable. This article delves into the paradox of seeking peace through conflict, analyzing the historical and contemporary evidence that suggests there are better, more humane alternatives to resolve our global differences.”
Throughout history, war has been a seemingly perpetual presence, a source of hope for peace and resolution, but often an agent of further discord. The conflict-ridden history of humankind has provided a stark contrast to the optimistic narratives that often precede war. The notion of “total war” as a means to achieve lasting peace was vividly illustrated during World War I, infamously known as “the war to end all wars.” However, rather than ushering in an era of tranquility, this brutal conflict resulted in widespread destruction, the redrawing of national boundaries, and the emergence of unresolved tensions, setting the stage for the even more devastating World War II. This historical example, among many others, underscores the fallacy of believing that military force alone can deliver enduring peace. The inability of war to generate lasting stability is not just a historical observation but a timeless truth, evident in the ongoing conflicts and challenges facing the modern world.
In the contemporary context, the War on Terror initiated after the September 11, 2001 attacks stands as a pertinent case study. While the goal of eradicating terrorism and securing global peace was undoubtedly noble, the utilization of military force as the primary instrument has given rise to a protracted and inconclusive struggle. The cost, both in terms of lives lost and financial resources expended, has been substantial, raising significant questions about the effectiveness of such an approach. Moreover, rather than eradicating terrorism, the conflict has spurred further radicalization and insurgencies, illustrating how war can inadvertently nourish the seeds of future conflicts. The complexities of these modern conflicts highlight the enduring illusion of peace through war, reinforcing the need for a more comprehensive and multifaceted approach to resolving global differences and securing a genuinely peaceful world.
The Costs of War
War is often justified as a means of securing peace and stability, but this argument is based on a false premise. War does not create peace; it only creates more violence, suffering, and instability. War is not a solution; it is a problem.
The human cost of war is immense. According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen have directly killed 897,000 to 929,000 people as of September 2021. This figure does not include the indirect deaths caused by war-related disease, displacement, and loss of access to food or clean water. The project estimates that the indirect deaths may be four times higher than the direct deaths. Moreover, war has displaced 38 million people from their homes and created millions of refugees. This figure does not include the indirect deaths caused by war-related disease, displacement, and loss of access to food or clean water.
The economic cost of war is also enormous. The Costs of War project estimates that the U.S. federal spending on the post-9/11 wars exceeded $8 trillion as of September 2021. The economic cost of war is also enormous. The Costs of War project estimates that the U.S. spending on the wars represents only a fraction of the total global spending on war and militarization. According to SIPRI, the global military expenditure in 2020, was $1.79 trillion, which is equivalent to 2.2% of global GDP or $239 per person.
The opportunity cost of war is incalculable. Imagine what could have been achieved if the human lives lost to war were spared and if the financial resources spent on war were invested in more productive and peaceful endeavors. Imagine how much progress could have been made in reducing poverty, improving health, expanding education, enhancing democracy, protecting human rights, and addressing climate change. Imagine how much more peaceful and prosperous the world could have been if war was not an option.
War is not inevitable; it is a choice. It is a choice that has devastating consequences for humanity and the planet. It is a choice that does not bring peace; it only breeds more conflict and violence. It is a choice that we must reject and resist. We must choose peace through dialogue, diplomacy, cooperation, and justice. We must choose peace through strength of our values and vision, not through force of our weapons and violence. We must choose peace through peace.
History serves as a harsh reminder of the illusory nature of peace through war. Consider World War I, a conflict often called “the war to end all wars.” Instead, it led to the rise of nationalism and set the stage for World War II. The idea that military force could create lasting peace was shattered by the devastating consequences of these two wars.
- World War II was a direct consequence of World War I, as the unresolved issues and grievances from the previous war fueled the rise of fascism and totalitarianism in Europe and Asia. Adolf Hitler, who came to power in Germany in 1933, sought to reverse the Treaty of Versailles and expand his “Third Reich” by invading neighboring countries. Japan, which had ambitions to dominate Asia and the Pacific, also launched aggressive attacks on China and other nations.
- The war resulted in more than 40 million casualties, including about 20 million deaths. It also caused widespread destruction, social upheaval, and economic collapse in many countries. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war, imposed harsh reparations and territorial losses on Germany, which contributed to its resentment and humiliation.
- World War I was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. The complex web of alliances and rivalries among European powers soon dragged them into a global war that lasted from 1914 to 1918.
- The war lasted from 1939 to 1945 and involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. It was the deadliest war in human history, with an estimated 75 million deaths, including about 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. It also witnessed the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, which marked the dawn of the nuclear age.
- The war ended with the defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan by the Allied powers, which included Britain, France, the Soviet Union, China, and the United States. The United Nations was established in 1945 to promote international cooperation and prevent future wars. However, the Cold War soon emerged as a new source of tension and conflict between the Soviet Union and its allies (the Eastern Bloc) and the United States and its allies (the Western Bloc).
The post-9/11 era also provides a contemporary example of the elusive nature of peace through war. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan aimed to eliminate terrorism and establish peace, but it resulted in a protracted and costly conflict with no clear resolution in sight.
These historical examples show that war does not bring peace, but rather breeds more violence and hatred. War is not a solution to political or ideological disputes, but a symptom of human folly and failure. War is not a noble or heroic endeavor, but a tragic and horrific waste of lives and resources. War is not a means to an end, but an end in itself.
Diplomacy as an Alternative
Diplomacy and peaceful negotiation present a more viable path to resolving conflicts and fostering lasting peace. The United Nations, founded in 1945, was established with the primary goal of preventing war and promoting international cooperation. While the UN has faced challenges and criticisms, it has played a pivotal role in mediating conflicts and advancing diplomatic solutions.
One notable success story is the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) in 2015, which demonstrated that diplomacy, when given the chance, can effectively address complex global issues. Diplomatic efforts like these emphasize the importance of dialogue, negotiation, and compromise in resolving disputes.
The UN has also contributed to peace and security by facilitating various peace processes around the world. For example, in 1991, the UN helped end the civil war in Cambodia by organizing a peace conference, deploying a peacekeeping mission, and overseeing free elections.
In 1995, the UN brokered the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and established a framework for political reconciliation. In 2005, the UN supported the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the second civil war in Sudan, and paved the way for the South Sudan in 2011.
Besides its role in conflict resolution, the UN has also achieved considerable success in other non-political matter, such as eradicating smallpox, saving cultural heritage sites, promoting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, and advancing sustainable development. These achievements show that the UN is not only a forum for diplomacy, but also a platform for global action and partnership.
The Humanitarian Toll
War disproportionately impacts civilians who are caught in the crossfire, leading to suffering, displacement, and death. Civilian casualties in modern conflicts are a stark reminder of the illusory nature of peace through war. The protection of civilian populations should be paramount, and alternatives to war should be explored to ensure their safety.
According to systemic review of 66 articles published in October 2021, estimating the number of civilian casualties in modern armed conflicts is challenging due to various factors, such as lack of access, under reporting, political bias, and methodological limitations. However, some estimates suggests that civilians account for nearly 90 percent of war time casualties, and that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths has increased from 1:1 in World War I to 10:1 in some contemporary conflicts. These figures indicate that modern warfare has become more indiscriminate and devastating for non-combatants, especially in urban areas where explosive weapons with wide-area effects are used.
The impact of war on civilians is not only measured by deaths, but also by injuries, disabilities, psychological trauma, displacement, hunger, disease, and human rights violations. For example in 2021 alone, at least 11,000 civilians were killed in 12 conflicts around the world, while millions more were wounded or maimed by landmines, cluster munitions, improvised explosive devices, and other remnants of war. Moreover, war has forced more than 100 million people flee their homes by the end of 2021, creating the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Many of these displaced people face dire humanitarian conditions and lack access to basic services, such as health care, education, water, and sanitation. Furthermore, war has exacerbated food insecurity for 140 million people in 24 countries in 2021, as conflict disrupts food production, distribution, and availability. War also increases the risk of infectious diseases, such as cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, and COVID-19, as health systems are damaged or destroyed by violence. Additionally, war exposes civilians to various forms of human rights abuses, such as rape, torture, abduction, recruitment of child soldiers, and denial of humanitarian assistance.
As of October 28, 2023, the situation of civilians in some of the most affected countries by war has not improved significantly. According to the latest reports from various sources:
In Afghanistan, more than 4,000 civilians have been killed or injured since the Taliban takeover in August 2023. The country faces a humanitarian crisis as millions of people are in need of food, water, health care, and protection. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence and discrimination under the Taliban rule. The UN has appealed for $606 million to provide urgent assistance to 11 million people until the end of 2023.
In Yemen, more than 230 civilians have been killed or injured by airstrikes and shelling since January 2023. The country remains the world’s worst humanitarian disaster as more than 20 million people are in need of aid. The ongoing conflict has caused widespread famine, cholera outbreaks, and COVID-19 infections. The UN has warned that Yemen is on the brink of collapse unless a political solution is reached soon.
In Syria, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed or injured by various attacks since January 2023. The country is still divided by multiple armed groups and foreign powers after more than a decade of war. More than 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria and more than 6 million are refugees in neighboring countries. The UN has called for an end to hostilities and a nationwide ceasefire to allow for humanitarian access and political dialogue.
In Ethiopia, more than 2 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Tigray region since November 2020. The region faces a humanitarian emergency as hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of famine due to blocked aid deliveries and looting. Reports of massacres, rapes, and forced recruitment have been documented by human rights groups. The UN has urged all parties to respect international humanitarian law and to allow unhindered access to humanitarian workers.
The humanitarian toll of war on civilians is unacceptable and preventable. The international community has a moral and legal obligation to protect civilians from the horrors of war and to uphold the principles of international humanitarian law. The Security Council has a special responsibility to ensure that its resolutions on the protection of civilians are implemented and respected by all parties to conflict. Diplomacy and peaceful negotiation should be prioritized over military intervention and coercion as means to resolve disputes and promote peace. War is not inevitable; it is a choice that can be avoided or ended by political will and human compassion.
The Role of International Organizations
International organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) provide humanitarian aid and medical care in conflict zones. They highlight the importance of alleviating suffering and promoting peace through humanitarian efforts rather than military action.
The ICRC is an independent, neutral, and impartial organization that works to protect and assist people affected by armed conflicts and other situations of violence. It operates based on the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. It also promotes respect for international humanitarian law and human rights. The ICRC has been working in over 100 countries around the world, providing emergency relief, health care, water and sanitation, economic security restoring family links, detention visits, and other services to millions of people.
In 2023, the ICRC appealed for 2.8 billion Swiss francs for its operations, with largest budgets allocated for Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Iraq.
Some of the main activities and achievements of the ICRC in 2023 include:
- Treating over 300,000 wounded and sick people in its health facilities and supporting over 1,000 health centers and hospitals.
- Distributing food and essential items to over 10 million people and providing cash or vouchers to over 4 million people.
- Improving access to safe water and sanitation for over 20 million people and repairing or constructing water and sanitation infrastructure.
- Reuniting over 5,000 separated family members, including children, and facilitating over 1 million phone calls or messages between them.
- Visiting over 500,000 detainees in over 80 countries and providing them with health care, hygiene items, and legal assistance.
- Raising awareness and training on international humanitarian law and human rights among over 300,000 weapon bearers, authorities, civil society actors, and media professionals.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters, and exclusion from health care. It operates based on the principles of medical ethics, impartiality, independence, bearing witness, accountability, and transparency. It also advocates for the rights and needs of its patients. MSF has been working in over 70 countries around the world, providing medical care, mental health support, nutrition programs, vaccination campaigns, surgical interventions, and other services to million of people.
In 2023, MSF responded to various crises and emergencies around the world. Some of the main activities and achievements of MSF in 2023 include:
- Providing medical care to over 2000 civilians injured by airstrikes and shelling in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas conflict in October 2023. MSF also supported four main hospitals in Gaza with supplies and staff.
- Treating over 10,000 patients with COVID-19 complications in India during the second wave of the pandemic in April-May 2023. MSF also supported oxygen, production plants, isolation centers, testing facilities, and vaccination sites.
- Assisting over 50,000 people displaced by violence in Tigray region of Ethiopia since November 2020. MSF also provided healthcare, water and sanitation services, food distributions, and protection activities in Tigray and neighboring countries.
- Vaccinating over 1 million children against measles in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during a massive outbreak that killed over 7,000 people in 2020-2021.
- Supporting over 20 hospitals and health centers in Yemen with medical supplies, staff training, and emergency referrals. MSF also treated over 5000 war-wounded patients and over 3000 malnourished children in Yemen.
These examples show that international organizations play a vital role in providing humanitarian assistance and medical care to people affected by war and violence. They also show that these organizations face many challenges and risks in their work. They often operate in insecure environments where they are exposed to attacks or threats from armed groups or parties to conflict. They also face difficulties in accessing people in need due to restrictions or blockages imposed by authorities or other actors. They also struggle to raise funds or resources to sustain their operations amid competing demands or donor fatigue. Despite these challenges, they remain committed to their humanitarian mission and values. They also call for more respect for international humanitarian law and human rights by all parties involved in conflicts. They urge for more diplomatic efforts to prevent or end wars and to promote peace and justice.
The Psychological Impact of War
War has far-reaching psychological consequences, not only for those directly involved but also for society as a whole. The trauma, stress, and fear generated by war can perpetuate cycles of violence and social unrest. A peaceful approach, grounded in dialogue and conflict resolution, can help heal these psychological wounds.
The psychological effects of war on civilians are manifold and long-lasting. War can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, somatic complaints, suicidal ideation or behavior, and other mental health problems. War can also impair cognitive functioning, memory, attention span, learning abilities, and academic performance. War can also affect emotional regulation, self-esteem, social skills, interpersonal relationships, and moral development. War can also trigger existential crises, spiritual distress, and loss of meaning or purpose in life.
The psychological impact of war is not limited to those who directly experience it. It can also affect those who witness it through media or social networks. A study conducted in October 2023, found that exposure to war-related news on social media was associated with increased level of stress, anxiety, and depression among young adults from different countries. The study also found that social media users tended to share more negative than positive news about the war, creating a spiral of negativity and distress. The study suggested that limiting exposure to war-related news and seeking positive information could help reduce the psychological impact of war.
The psychological impact of war can also be transmitted across generations. Children born to parents who suffered from war trauma may inherit their parents’ psychological vulnerabilities or develop their own mental health problems due to environmental factors. A study conducted in October 2023 found that children born to mothers who experienced prenatal stress due to the war in Ukraine had higher level of cortisol and level of oxytocin than children born to mothers who did not experience prenatal stress. The study also found that these children had lower birth weight and poorer cognitive development than their counterparts. The study suggested that providing psychological support to pregnant women affected by war could help improve their mental health and their children’s outcomes.
The psychological impact of war can be mitigated by various interventions at individual, family, community, and societal levels. Some examples of effective interventions are:
- Psychological first aid (PFA): a supportive and compassionate presence designed to de-escalate extreme arousal, mitigate acute distress and despair, and link to more advanced mental health services when necessary and available.
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT): a short-term psychotherapy that helps people process traumatic memories, challenge negative beliefs, and develop coping skills.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): a psychotherapy that uses eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to facilitate the processing of traumatic memories and reduce their emotional impact.
- Narrative exposure therapy (NET): a psychotherapy that helps people construct a coherent and meaningful life story that integrates traumatic experiences and positive aspects of their identity.
- Group interventions: various forms of group therapy or support groups that provide a safe space for people to share their experiences, feelings, and coping strategies with others who have similar backgrounds or problems.
- Family interventions: various forms of family therapy or counseling that help families cope with the effects of war on their relationships, communication, and functioning.
- Community interventions: various forms of community-based programs or activities that aim to enhance social cohesion, trust, and resilience among people affected by war.
- Societal interventions: various forms of political or legal actions that aim to prevent or end wars, promote human rights and justice, and foster reconciliation and peace among former enemies.
War is a major source of psychological distress and suffering for millions of people around the world. It can have lasting and profound effects on individuals, families, communities, and societies. However, war is not inevitable; it is a choice that can be avoided or ended by political will and human compassion.
The Role of Education and Understanding
Fostering a culture of peace and understanding is crucial in achieving lasting global peace. Education and cultural exchange programs can promote tolerance, empathy, and respect for diverse perspectives, ultimately reducing the root causes of conflict.
According to a report by UNESCO published in October 2023, education is a powerful tool for building peace and preventing violence. The report states that education can contribute to peace by:
- Developing critical thinking, media literacy, and intercultural competencies among learners, which can help them resist manipulation, misinformation, and extremism.
- Promoting human rights, democracy, and social justice, which can foster a sense of belonging, inclusion, and participation among diverse groups.
- Addressing the historical and contemporary causes and consequences of conflicts, which can enhance understanding, reconciliation, and healing among former enemies.
- Providing opportunities for dialogue, collaboration, and exchange, which can build trust, friendship, and solidarity among people from different backgrounds and cultures.
The report also highlights some examples of successful educational initiatives that have advanced peace and understanding around the world. For instance:
- The Peace Education Program (PEP) in Colombia is a national curriculum that aims to develop a culture of peace among students and teachers. The program covers topics such as conflict resolution, human rights, citizenship, democracy, and diversity. The program has reached over 8 million students and 300,000 teachers since its inception in 2004.
- The Seeds of Peace program is an international organization that brings together young leaders from regions of conflict to engage in dialogue and leadership development. The program offers summer camps, online courses, regional workshops, and alumni networks. The program has involved over 7,000 participants from 27 countries since its founding in 1993.
- The Erasmus+ program is a European Union initiative that supports education, training, youth, and sport activities across Europe and beyond. The program offers opportunities for students, staff, volunteers, and organizations to study, work, learn, or cooperate in different countries. The program has benefited over 10 million people from over 200 countries since its launch in 2014.
These examples show that education and cultural exchange programs can play a vital role in creating a more peaceful and understanding world. They can also inspire more people to become agents of change and advocates for peace in their communities and societies.
The illusion of peace through war has been dispelled by the harsh realities of history and the contemporary world. War exacts a tremendous human and economic toll, with peace remaining a distant ideal. The lessons of history and the current state of global conflicts urge us to seek more humane and effective alternatives.
Diplomacy, humanitarian efforts, international cooperation, and education are key ingredients in the recipe for lasting peace. While achieving global peace may seem like an insurmountable challenge, it is a challenge worth pursuing for the sake of humanity’s future. As individuals and societies, we must collectively work towards breaking free from the illusion of peace through war and embrace a more enlightened, constructive path to a peaceful world. It is in this pursuit that true and lasting peace can be realized.
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