The Bad in the Good and the Good in the Bad

EDITORIAL, 14 Nov 2011

#191 | Johan Galtung, 14 Nov 2011 - TRANSCEND Media Service

(Same as last week. -TMS editor) The world is ambiguous, with forces and counter-forces, for good and for bad.  Contradiction is the rule, with bad in the good and good in the bad, etc.  And there are verbal contradictions; there is the opinion, and the other opinion, as Al Jazeera says, valid and invalid, whether such verbal debates reflect non-verbal contradictions or not. Thus, this column and author reap counter-arguments, and any author should be grateful to opponents.  What can I learn?  Factual mistakes?  Logical?  How to be so clear as to avoid misunderstandings?  Or state assumptions, like ambiguity?

More particularly, there were strong reactions in Tübingen, Germany, on 16 July, when I compared Hitler’s killings during World War II–including shoah–to US killings all over the world since WWII.  There was a reaction to my keynote address to the World Humanist Congress in Oslo on 12 August (this column 15 August)[i], and to a talk at the University of Oslo on 30 September on the background for the horrors in Norway on 22 July.[ii]

One recurrent theme is democracy vs. autocracy, the USA being the former and Hitler’s Germany the latter.  They cannot even be compared–ruling out a key method of understanding–the assumption being that democracies can do only good having a mandate from the people and autocracies nothing good, having no such mandate.

This approach is at odds with the ambiguity of reality and leads to inability to remedy such ills of democracy as a war-prone people seeing democracy as a license to kill, and to inability to understand why Hitler was attractive to so many, like by opening for social mobility through the divide between “common people” and the “well-conditioned”.  Democracy may see itself as infallible and engage in massive direct violence whereas autocracy may try to reduce structural violence.  Ambiguity, in other words.

But Democratic Peace, democracies do not fight each other?  Wrong: the 1973 US-supported coup against Chile’s Salvador Allende; the France-EU-supported Front de Libération Nationale-FLN 1990 coup in Algeria; the 1999 US-NATO war against a Milosevic reasonably elected by Serbians; the Israeli siege of Gaza with a democratically elected Hamas.  That thesis is for members of the inner club.  But, abolish the UN Security Council’s veto and allow the UN General Assembly override, or better, a UN Peoples’ Assembly directly elected, and we are in peace business, with global democracy.  The thesis is empirically wrong, logically flawed by confusing intra- and inter-state, and imposes Western style multi-party national election democracy as opposed to transparency and dialogue democracy.[iii]  Ambiguity again!

Like the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Charter 08 and Liu Xiaobo for freedom of expression.  But how does Liu use free speech?[iv]

How can China achieve real change? Liu:

Three hundred years of colonization.  It took Hong Kong one hundred years to become what it is.  Given the size of China–it would need 300 years.”

“The free world led by the U.S. fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights…The major wars that the U.S. became involved in are all morally defensible”.

“No matter what, the war against Saddam Hussein is just!  The decision by President Bush is right!”

“When looking back on the Middle East war at the inception of Israel, Israel was battling with the entire Arab world, with the fire stoked up by Arabs”.

He has the right to endorse colonialism, all US-led wars, leave unmentioned UN resolutions and the peaceful resolution that ended the Cold War and probably will do so in the Middle East.  But by endorsing him as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the committee put freedom of expression above the struggle against colonialism, the UN, peaceful resolution, the human right to life, etc.  The prize could have been given to Charter 08, not to Liu.  Ambiguity again.

The same applies to Israel.  Yakov M. Rabin’s A Threat From Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism[v] distinguishes between transnational Judaism and nation-state zionism in Israel.

There are the beauties of everlasting dialogue, also about oneself for self-improvement, and the ideas, used by zionism, of chosen people (Exodus 19:5-6) with a promised land (Genesis 15:18-21).[vi]  In no way can critique of the zionist state of Israel, with its “New Religion”, violence, disregard for UN resolutions, and no vision of peace beyond undefined “defensible borders” be silenced with the word “anti-semitism”.  Thus, the monster who killed 77 Norwegians with a bomb and guns on 22 July this year, mentioned “Israel” 359 times in his Manifesto; his christian-zionist leanings have to be pointed out as well as his templar-free mason affiliations.  Ambiguities all over, bad in the good.

But, if there is ambiguity in everything, then how about my own peace vs. war-violence?  Just the same.  Peace harbors the absence of the challenge, the excitement of violence, and in war, the presence of dedication, heroism, sacrifice.  Like health may harbor complacency and disease a deep reflection on the meaning of life and death.  But consciousness about ambiguity may help us overcome the tyranny of false dichotomies.  Neither peace nor health should be taken for granted–if they are, they are soon lost–but be seen as something to work on every day, one way or the other.  As for excitement: transforming conflict offers more challenge than most people can absorb.  So does a fight against cancer.  Be prepared.

Buddhism combines deep meditation with a long, healthy life.  So does dedication to peace.  Nevertheless, we can learn from disease and war, from the good in the bad, and work even better for health and peace, knowing more.  This is what the philosopher-psychologist William James did in his superb Essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” (1906), using the good in the bad as a bridge to the good.  Like in Gandhi’s satyagraha brigades, with their latter-day imitations, up to the Arab Spring: dedication, courage, heroism, sacrifice.


[i]. Staffan Gunnarson, Vice-President of the European Humanist Federation,

Yes, I critique the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu, but I do not extend this to Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov; I have found in them no glorification of colonialism and war.  Obviously not in Ossietzky either.

Yes, I find important similarities between what happened in Norway on 22 July, killing young laborites and the Norwegian killing of what they call taliban: use of massive violence  for political purposes (aka fascism); very poor theories of how violence will work, removed from reality; legitimation in history and christian-zionist ideology in one, and democracy as license to kill in the other; the enormous suffering caused in both places; and the defiance, the violence will not work!

Yes, I do not believe in imposing upon Afghanistan our form of life by means of violence; this is also known as colonialism and imperialism.  Afghanistan, like all societies, needs change, and it is coming, from neighbors and other countries in the ummah, peacefully; not from infidels by means of war.

Yes, China and Cuba do not have multi-party national elections, but that in no way rules out extremely important human rights contributions, like lifting 400 million from misery to lower middle class from 1991 to 2004 (in line with the East Asian theory of socio-economic rights first, then civil-political, “opening up” as the Chinese say and practice), like lifting tens of thousands of women out of prostitution when Cuba was a brothel for North America into literacy and dignity.  Multi-party elections or not capture only a little fraction of the human condition.

It must have been problematic for Gunnarson that the huge congress audience rewarded my speech with a standing ovation.

[ii].  John Færseth, “Galtung leker med ilden”, Dagbladet (a Norwegian tabloid) 5 October 2011.

 Yes, I see the membership in the Free Masons and the Templars as important because of oaths among members and the secrecy: ties of loyalty that constitute a collectivity of solidarity, support, perhaps also cooperation on that day of his atrocious attack on categories of people, those working in government buildings and AUF (Workers’ Youth League) members at Utöya.  Just like the collectivity of Norwegian-NATO soldiers killing an Afghan category they call “taliban” in Afghanistan; oaths, secrecy, solidarity. The Norwegian author Erik Rudström, like others, assumes ties with organizations such as Skull and Bones at Yale and the secret services.  The refusal of the Norwegian secret services to be investigated (for its lack of warning) by anybody but themselves–so far accepted by the government, a blow to Norwegian democracy–is compatible with that hypothesis.

Yes, to catch him would have been easy: a list of everybody with a gun license in Norway, a list of everybody who bought that major bomb ingredient, the artificial fertilizer of Oklahoma-McVeigh fame, the hints from Poland, a list of highly anti-Muslim websites, and he is in the intersection.  Elementary, trivial.

Yes, there are conspiracies in history; like the American, French and Russian revolutions, like the two world wars, like the 240+ US interventions in other countries.  True, such theories remain hypotheses until they are overwhelmingly confirmed by facts.  Read Anthony Sutton’s books about Skull and Bones and judge for yourself.  My conclusion: interesting, but I need more evidence like for “the USA inflicted 9/11 on itself”.

Yes, Rudström mentions “The Zion Protocols”, says he does not know who wrote them–the “Elders”, the Russian secret police or Maurice de Joly–but read them as a guide to our world and judge for yourself.  My conclusion: interesting, but I need more evidence.

For Norwegian readers my talk was published in Morgenbladet on 7 October 2011; read it and judge for yourself.

[iii].  For details, see Chapter 3, The “Democratic Peace” Hypothesis: An Epistemological Fraud”, in Galtung, Scott, Democracy*Peace*Development, TRANSCEND University Press, No. 2, 2008.

[iv].  See Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, “The ‘Right Dissident’: Liu Xiaobo and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize”.

[v].  London: ZED, 2006.

[vi].  For a recent critique of the chosen people idea, see Gideon Levy “Jewish people are just that, people, and far from chosen”, Ha’aretz, 9 October 2011.  Exactly, “just that, people” and as such not unambiguously good, incapable of ever doing wrong.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Nov 2011.

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5 Responses to “The Bad in the Good and the Good in the Bad”

  1. Alberto Portugheis says:

    Dear Johan,

    Thank you for your writings and enormous efforts to bring about a better world.

    As you know, my own personal experience, studies and observation, has lead me to view things from a different perspective.

    What for you is “……such ills of democracy as a war-prone people seeing democracy as a license to kill”, I´m afraid I see the world with a different pair of eyes (or glasses).

    To me the “licence to kill” has nothing to do with “Democracy” and has nothing to do with “war-prone people”.
    People, the people of a country, the masses, whether they live in a so called “democratic” country or under a military dictatorship, are NEVER prone to wars and killings. The masses are simply brainwashed by the elite minority that rules the world and sheeplishly accept that that a war is inevitable.

    Furthermore, soldiers kill “against” their will, simply because as soldiers, they are forced to obey orders. You can stop people in the streets of every country in the world and ask the question “do you like wars?” “would you like your country to have a war?”. The answer will always be a rotund NO.

    So, if nobody wants a war, how come we have a war after war?

    What Hitler said and did once he became the the Chancellor of Germany, is not as important as understanding “who” (including several foreign powerful people and organisations) put him in power and why.

    Not only warmonger and war-lover Winston Churchill said it, but many others did “World War II – and its 27 million dead – could have been avoided, but commercial and other interests were very strong.

    An influencial American military – whose name I can´t remember right now – said “in order for us to have this long and bloody Game of War, we had to continuously lie to the masses, make them believe many lies, with the help of the Press.”.

    Things have sadly not changed and the “puppet”politicians in power now use not only the Media, but also psychologists, educationalists, Public Relations consultants, etc, to further the lethal aims (financially rewarding) of Bankers, Churches, gold, oil and Media barons and weapon manufacturers.


  2. I agree with Mr. galtung.

  3. Alberto Portugheis says:

    Fumihiko Nishino,

    I don´t write for others to agree with me. I only write with the purpose of making people think for themselves and make up their own minds.

    It sounds as if you were not aware of USA military activities and “plans” in – and from – Japan.


    Alberto Portugheis

  4. satoshi says:

    Three things:

    1. Alberto’s comment and discussion on ‘license to kill’ as above reminds me of Osho’s argument as follows:


    An authentic education will not only teach your mind because mind can give you a good livelihood, but not a good life. The heart cannot give you a good livelihood, but it can give you a good life. And there is no reason to choose between two: use the mind for that which it is made, and use the heart fir that which it is made.

    Religions, politicians, business people, warriors all want the mind to be trained. And heart can be a disturbance, it is going to be a disturbance.

    If you are a soldier and if you have a heart, you cannot kill the enemy. The moment you take your gun to kill someone, your heart will say, ‘Just as you have a wife waiting for you – your children, your old mother and father this poor man’s wife must be waiting also, his children, his old mother and father, waiting for the son to return home.’

    He has not done anything to you, and you are going to kill him. For what? To get an award from the military academy? To get promotion?


    Source: Osho “Gold Nuggets: Messages from Existence,” published by Osho International Foundation, 1988/2009, p61.

    2. As to the license to kill – what a horrible license!–, if anyone has the authority to issue such a license, who has the authority to issue the license to kill the one who issues that license? As you see, this logic is endless. This implies that there is nobody to issue such license. If someone claims that s/he has such authority, s/he should know that other people have the same authority to issue the same type of license to kill him.

    Why kill someone? As I repeat many times by using any opportunity, we humans are all brothers and sisters! Accordingly let me cite Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) again: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (Unfortunately, many of those who chant human rights out there cannot answer this simple question: ”What is written in the Article 1 of the UDHR?”)

    If you want to live, let her/him live as well. The Golden Rule: “Do to others what you want them to do to you.” By the way, is there anyone who has the authority to issue the license to live? How about the “license to be in peace”? Much better than the license to kill.

    3. For your information on the US military in Japan:

    If you will visit Okinawa, for instance, you will be overwhelmed by the huge military base (with allegedly secretly stored some nuclear weapons) of the US, which occupies some 60% of the land of Okinawa. Needless to say, the US military presence can be seen almost all over Japan even though the number of their soldiers now is less than before. (My elementary school was near from the US airbase. We, then children, saw their military airplanes at a very low altitude many times a day every day.)

  5. […] tross for at protokollene forlengst er avslørt som et falsum, har fredsforskeren blant annet skrevet at “(Rudstrøm) says he does not know who wrote them–the ’Elders’, the Russian secret […]