A Little Future History?

EDITORIAL, 28 Apr 2008

#6 | Johan Galtung

I have in front of me the 120 members of the SwissZulassungs-kommision who decide whether a young man who refusesmilitary service should be accepted as conscientious objector and betransferred to Zivildienst, civil service.  Criteria: is theirconscience, not necessarily religious, compelling, and is the youngman’s construction of reality, from inner conscience-intentions to theouter actions-consequences contradiction-free?      Their work is nowcoming to an end: the Swiss parliament is about to operationalize theGesinnungs-Prüfung, conscience-testing, down to a simple figure, 1.5: is the young man willing to accept 50% longer service?   And – if thenew system works to the disfavor of recruitment to the army, does hetake even 1.8?

Workshopthemes: what are the findings of peace studies, and what are theexperiences from peace work?  So I present my conclusions: violence isin general a monument over unresolved conflict.  Hence, [1] solve theconflict, nonviolently, with empathy and creativity and [2] have apurely defensive, non-provocative defense where people can choosebetween conventional military, militia and non-military defense, and weshould be in reasonably good shape.  To do this be attentive not onlyto direct but also to structural and cultural violence, and not only tothe intentions behind warfare but to the consequences.


Mostof the two-day seminar was dedicated to conflict resolution and theTRANSCEND method, using the book 50 Years: 100 Peace & ConflictPerspectives (TRANSCEND University Press, 2008 – seewww.transcend.org/tup).

PeaceService is No. 2 of those perspectives (No. 1, as one may guess, ispeace research).  Permit me to quote:

“With military service came conscientious objection to that service.For objection to prevail over the duty to the state the reason wouldhave to be rooted above the state, like in God, in a super-state likethe UN, or in Reason itself. For the duty to be compelling thereasoning would have to be made public, like in applications for COstatus in some countries.  And the reasoning would have to beuniversalizable (Kant), applicable to all on the same situation.  Ifcompelling and universalizable to most, then in a democracyconscription is dead.”

Let us look backward, recovering a narrative well known to those of uswho have lived parts of it, less known to others.

Phase 1:  Obligatory military service means exactly that.  Thealternative is death by execution as traitor to the national causeand/or as deserter/coward.  A non-man.  The milder version would besocial death, expulsion, loss of citizen rights.

Phase 2:  Objection is criminalized, handed over to civilian courts,and the punishment is imprisonment in times of war and in times ofpeace.  Repeated objection is seen as recidivism and the reaction isrepeated imprisonment.

Phase 3:  The absurdity of Phase 2 becomes increasingly clear toincreasingly many and stimulates a search for transfer to analternative service for those who felt Thou shalt not kill as generallyvalid, not only an in-group morality, like as non-combatant in thearmed forces (like ambulance service, keeping the risks at about thesame level as for the combatants).

Phase 4:  However, it soon becomes clear that the objection for mostwas not only to the combatant role where they might have to kill, butto the military institution as such.  The conscience testing remained. The search for an alternative service was on, if not with the samerisks as military service at least with the same costs: away fromnormal civilian life in the family, at school, at work, heavy likelogging and drainage of swamps, or menial social work, and 1.X longerduration that military service; X to be debated and adjusted.

Phase 5: The absurdity of phase 4 became obvious.  More and moreobjectors requested peace service, were willing to refuse non-peacealternative service and to suffer imprisonment for that second orderobjection.  The content changed, like toward research assistance inpeace research institutes and development service abroad, similar tothe (a misnomer) Peace Corps.

And that is about where we are today.  So, let us now look forward andextend the narrative into the future:

Phase 6:  The peace service becomes ever more attractive, not as an actof omission (non-killing), but to accommodate countless acts ofcommission: peace-building between parties in conflict, nonviolentinter-positioning, mediation, conciliation. With the opening ofmilitary service to young women comes peace service for young women. The whole service may not always do that much good, but at the veryleast it does no harm.

Phase 7:  The absurdity of war and the military becomes ever more clearto ever more people.  At the very least those who choose the militaryoption will have to have good reasons for killing, maiming anddestroying.  Justification for joining the military will have to berooted in higher purposes and be presented publicly for a commission. “I enjoy killing” is for individual benefit, and so is “killing anIraqi for Green Card,” “killing two Iraqis for college education.” Theylearn correct answers: kill Iraqis-Afghans for freedom-democracy-humanrights.

Phase 8:  The German word Gewissen means conscience, the word Wissenmeans knowledge.  Gradually the commission testing the would-besoldiers includes actions and their consequences, good intentions beinginsufficient.  Please tell us in detail about the consequences of thelast wars – – -, but also of the last non-resistances, includingnon-nonviolencies.

Phase 9:  War service looks more and more dubious.  To deter peoplefrom choosing that option they have to serve 1.Y peace service, now X+Ymore than the original military service.

Phase 10:  War as a social institution no longer has democraticlegitimacy, young men and women have voted with their choices. Majoritarian pro-military sentiment can be located in older niches ofthe population, say 65 and above. Fighting is made more compatible withmore advanced age.

And with them war as a legitimate social institution follows slaveryand colonialism to the garbage heap of history.  Resquiat in pacem. There will still be violence.  But not massive violence supported bymassive legitimacy.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Apr 2008.

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