Not Soon Enough: Meditations on Ending War and Visioning Peace
FEATURED RESEARCH PAPER, 23 May 2022
“‘Did you actually shoot people, shoot at living people?’ The eyes of the young people showed surprise and sparked with reproach and bewilderment. Life was sacred.”
— Aleksandra Kollontai, 1922
March 2022 –To end war, we need to challenge the futures fallacies we use to construct reality. We also need to envision peaceful futures. This essay analyses a ‘failure of (futures) imagination’ behind wars and concludes with four meditations/visions on peace.
Positive Futures Visions vs Used Futures
One hundred years ago, Aleksandra Kollontai (Алекса́ндра Миха́йловна Коллонта́й), a revolutionary, politician, theorist, and diplomat, wrote a short eutopian story entitled “Soon” in which she imagined society forty-eight years hence. In her story, on the future date of 7th January 1970, previously known as (Eastern Orthodox) Christmas, there is a festive gathering centred around a dialogue between younger and older generations. The younger wanted to know what the years prior and during the world revolution (of 1917) were like. The older generation was eager to share memories and wisdom acquired since. The young were healthy, supple, and strong. They loved life and loved to laugh. This was because the commune:
“…strictly followed the rule that every member should have time for relaxation and the care for his or her person. The communards loved beauty and simplicity, and they did not force or distort nature. The life of the commune is organized in the most rational way. Everyone has a profession, and everyone has some favourite pursuit. Everyone works at their own vocation for two hours a day, contributing in this way to the running of the commune. The rest of the time the individual is free to devote his or her energies to the type of work he or she enjoys-to science, technology, art, agriculture, or teaching. Young men and women work together at the same professions. Life is organized so that people do not live in families but in groups, according to their ages. Children have their “palaces”, the young people their smaller homes; adults live together communally in the various ways that suit them, and the old people together in their “houses”. In the communes there are no rich people and no poor people; the very words “rich” and “poor” have no meaning and have been forgotten. The members of the commune do not have to worry about their material needs, for they are provided with everything: food, clothes, books, and entertainment. In return for this the individual provides two hours’ daily work for the commune, and the rest of the time the discoveries of a creative and enquiring mind. The commune has no enemies, for all the neighbouring peoples and nations have long since organized themselves in a similar fashion and the world is a federation of communes. The younger generation does not know what war is.” (Kollontai, 1922)
Image: Celebration at the Kolkhoz (1967) by Yuri Vasilevich Chudinov
Futures visions such as Kollontai’s, of a world without wars and violence, are particularly salient just before, during, or in the aftermath of violent conflict. But even then, the commitment and persistence to create peaceful societies is usually limited to a few people. While most people, most of the time, do not particularly desire violent wars, they nonetheless commonly get caught in what could best be described as a ‘pub brawl’. In the pub brawl scenario, a troublemaker, or two, start a fight, and soon enough the rest of the pub partakes in it and engages in violence. The spread of mob mentality, blaming others while justifying one’s own violence, arguments about not wanting to but being ‘forced’ to engage, demonisation of the opponent, and so on, continue until people collectively create the future that they claim is precisely the one that they wished to avoid.
One of the best ways to describe wars is in terms of a collective ‘failure of imagination’. This failure of imagination limits futures possibilities to either one, or at best two. If one, the war must be waged as there is no other option. If two, either there is ‘perfect peace’ (read: all that I/we/our side wants) or, alternatively, violence, no matter how lousy, detrimental, damaging, and counterproductive.
Wars are commonly supported by ‘used futures’ – the term refers to the strategies from the past that we keep on repeating even though they are no longer in line with our desired visions for the future (Inayatullah, 2008). So even when people consciously choose not to engage in violence, the existing system overrides it. The infrastructures of the yesteryears swallow first some, and then all of us. We want peace and security, yet commonly utilise strategies that destroy both. So in addition to replacing narratives, discourses and metaphors which support war and violence, we also need to change the social system and structure. In a nutshell, that means redirection of resources that support militaries into those that support peaceful conflict resolution. Without a simultaneous change of narratives and the systemic strategies to support them, our efforts in creating a peaceful present/future will always fall short.
Wars are almost always supported by past discourses: events cherry picked from history that justify why we must act in a certain way. A particular event/series of events from history are highlighted – whether appeasement of the Nazis, the Crusades, or any specific past battles, past grievances, and injustices – rather than a vision of a peaceful and just future. Peace histories (Boulding, 2000) are conveniently forgotten, and contemporary peace cultures, communities and discourses silenced.
Futures Fallacies That Lead to War
Image: The Phantom Horseman (1870-93) by John Gilbert, Birmingham Museums Trust via Unsplash
Wars are also commonly supported by ‘futures fallacies’ (Milojević, 2021). These include:
(1) The linear projection fallacy, or the error of presuming that future change will be a simple and steady extension of past trends. That is, given that empires and other dominator societies exist because of the violence they engaged in in the past, they assume it is, once again, going to work and give them the future they desire. In terms of the used future, this is an 18th or 19th century strategy utilised in the 21st.
(2) The ceteris paribus fallacy, or the error of considering only one single aspect of change. That is, the assumption that one can only consider the military aspect when designing strategies and not the economic, demographic, cultural, environmental, psychological, and so on. Wars are commonly seen in one-dimensional and myopic terms. What is forgotten is the myriad of negative consequences that follow them, during, in the immediate aftermath as well as long term, generationally, even measured in hundreds if not thousands of years.
(3) The arrival fallacy, or the error of envisioning possible futures as static objects such as a destination or goal. Apparently, peace is a state that is achieved after violence, rather than, more accurately, seen as a process that needs to be reinforced and performed daily and which each and every act of violence immediately destroys. But, of course, as has been stressed many times before, peace is not a state that results from violence which is its opposite. Rather, it is a strategy that cannot be separated from an inherently dynamic process: a process which absolutely must utilise nonviolent means.
(4) The planning fallacy, or the error of over-promising due to an optimistic bias in prediction. That is, wars are envisioned to last shorter and have fewer negative consequences than what almost always actually manifests in reality. If this was not so, we would not still be experiencing the consequences of WW1 and WW2, the Cold War and related proxy wars, and centuries old colonisation processes.
(5) The fallacy of overinflated agency, or the error of not being able to separate conspiratory politics – “real-world covert and clandestine activities” (Bale, 2007) – from conspiratorial ideation. In conspirational ideation, opponents are not seen as real humans with different values, beliefs, and political goals as well as often diverse, even competing, images and interest. Rather, they are construed as inhuman, superhuman and/or anti-human beings who are Evil (the Devil?) Incarnate.
(6) The future negation fallacy, or the error of denying the existence of the future due to present bias and preference for immediate gratification. That is, the long-term consequence of violence and war are rarely considered in the strategic ‘chess game’ evoked by those that promote and engage in them. In the toxically masculinist pub brawl only the next domino falling is of any concern, if even that.
(7) The present-attention fallacy, or the error of ignoring or minimising phenomena that exist but which cannot be remembered or retrieved with ease in the present moment. That is, there is narrow focus on the latest newsworthy issue because that is easy to retrieve from memory. Very few are interested in the long-term and systemic causes of the ‘pub brawl’ – including the global existence of social militarism, patriarchal policy making, the absence of a truly democratic and socially just world order, weapons production and trade as a legitimate business, nationalismS, imperialism and colonisation, anthropocentrism, double standards based on existing power arrangements, etc. etc.
(8) The future personal exemption fallacy, or the error of being overly optimistic about one’s own future despite the realistic or even dystopian take on our collective futures. There will be a war – that is for certain – and many people will die and will be physically and psychologically damaged – that is beyond doubt. However, me and my nearest and dearest, will somehow manage, win, or not suffer at all. The reality, on the other hand, is that even when wars are ‘won’ there is always a high degree of loss. This loss frequently includes, in the end, the loss of life or its quality by those that instigate them. The price their descendants pay – in terms of the commonly found dehumanisation and addiction to power – is even higher. And yet, each person who commits and sometimes gets put on trial for war crimes starts by believing in their own innocence, righteousness, and benevolence as well as long-term benefits to their own group.
Vision and Action
Image: Otpor (Ressistance) Demonstrations against the dictatorial regime of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia (1998-2000)
Peace theorists, activists, and futurists have argued time and time again that these fallacies and failures of imagination can be successfully addressed, or, at least, minimised. The strategies they propose do not just include the absence of war and direct, physical violence and destruction. Rather, they include the presence of peaceful behaviour, peace-making and peacekeeping in real action, both in theory (stories we tell) and practice (how we actually act). The strategies proposed also commonly focus on the absence of structural, systemic violence, as in social and economic violence, as well as on the absence of cultural and epistemological violence and any type of exploitation. In other words, they focus on the presence of social justice. This goes hand in hand with the presence, or the introduction of politics, building of structures, nurturing of values and creation of a culture that prevents or minimises the possibility of violence arising in the first place. Moreover, it includes the presence of continuous peacebuilding, inclusion and values of reciprocity and fairness. Finally, violence will continue being endemic and war seen as a legitimate means for conflict resolution until we see a shift in worldview, from the dominator to partnership model (Eisler, 2000). The latter is about the creation of ‘gentle societies’ (Boulding, 2000), which are based on life-affirming and life-enhancing values and structures. It is also based on ‘life being sacred’ and not on humans being seen as pawns, or irrelevant and replaceable actors in somebody else’s drama. It is about a process of practicing harmony within oneself and with others, within one’s family and community, with diverse groups of people, with the world and even the environment. So instead of ‘choosing sides’, ‘win-lose’, ‘either-or’, one or at most two futures alternatives, we need to develop habits of imagining a multiplicity of peaceful processes and strategies for our future, based on progressive and constructive narratives. And we need to elect leaders who embody and communicate these peaceful strategies. Finally, if we must act to remedy, minimise and address violence by others, this has to be done nonviolently, through the ‘force more powerful’ (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000) such as, for example, civil disobedience. ‘Bringing down a dictator’ (York, 2002) is also possible by, for example, utilising 198 methods of nonviolent action (Sharp, 1973), or nowadays certainly by even more given our access to new technologies.
In sum, until the global political system abandons its previous and current failure of imagination and enhances its peace-oriented futures literacy, wars and violence will never end. Indeed, they will continue perpetually feeding future wars and violence, as they had been for millennia.
Critique and Vision
The three main poisons of militarism, patriarchy, and nationalism/imperialism, and some others, that currently feed into wars and violence need to be critiqued for sure. At the same time, alternatives – such as, for example, pacifism, gender-partnership/feminism, and humanism – need to be envisioned in specific terms. What do these alternatives mean concretely? How do we change our political, economic, social and cultural systems to reflect them? What type of narratives do we tell and promote? How do we change our own lives to reflect these alternative stories and positive visions for the future? What do we do differently? And most importantly, how do we link these visions of positive futures to our current decision-making?
Engaging in failures of imagination, used futures, and futures fallacies will ensure that we individually and collectively make prophesies supporting futures we do not want, and even see our worst fears manifest. Instead, below is a proposal, and an invitation to continue working in alignment with our best hopes for the future. Rather than having some vague and tacit image of the future, the proposal explicitly states both what is not and what indeed is wanted. While our concrete visions may differ, at the very least we can start imagining differently. And, like previous generations of peace theorists and activists, we can continue believing that these alternatives can be as real and realistic as our current, dominant, violence-addicted pathologies.
Four Visions/Meditations on Peace
Vision 1: Rejecting Dystopia
Image: Valentin Salja, Unsplash
Because no war can end all wars
Because a war cannot end the war
Because this war is no different than other wars
Because our war is as bad as their war
Because wars on other people’s soils are as awful as wars on ours
Because wars always take longer than initially thought
Because those that support war never envision it as it really is
Because there is no logic or fairness in random killings
Because innocents and the vulnerable always suffer
Because soldiers suffer too
Because wars create more injustices even when ‘just’
Because wars cost and can rarely be afforded
Because after wars we are never the same
Because our current weapons are too dangerous for the survival of us all
Because conflicts could be resolved via nonviolent means
Because we can focus on our similarities rather than on our differences
Because in wars family lives are disrupted
Because in wars it is harder to protect our children
Because during wars people die from preventable causes
Because during wars gentleness and kindness are hard to find
Because there are just too many unintended bad outcomes
Because there is always a myriad of short-term and long-term negative consequences
Because the negative consequences last for generations
Because in wars people sometimes lose their souls
Because every war is always worse than what comes before and after it
Because if we want peace we should prepare for and practice peace
Because we could always find alternatives to the war
Because wars take away hope and ruin dreams
Because wars are end states – ‘the pits’ – in which people’s bodies and spirits are buried
Because we could do better
For all those and many more reasons, each and every war should be rejected
Vision 2: Peace Manifesto
“Because [this moment]must be a new beginning, an opportunity to transform – all together – the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and non-violence.
Because this transformation demands the participation of each and every one of us, and must offer young people and future generations the values that can inspire them to shape a world based on justice, solidarity, liberty, dignity, harmony and prosperity for all.
Because the culture of peace can underpin sustainable development, environmental protection and the well-being of each person.
Because I am aware of my share of responsibility for the future of humanity, in particular to the children of today and tomorrow.
I pledge – in my daily life, in my family, my work, my community, my country and my region – to:
Respect all life. Respect the life and dignity of each human being without discrimination or prejudice.
Reject violence. Practice active non-violence, rejecting violence in all its forms: physical, sexual, psychological, economic and social, in particular towards the most deprived and vulnerable including children and adolescents.
Share with others. Share my time and material resources in a spirit of generosity to put an end to exclusion, injustice, and political and economic oppression.
Listen to understand. Defend freedom of expression and cultural diversity, giving preference always to dialogue and listening without engaging in fanaticism, defamation, and the rejection of others.
Preserve the planet. Promote consumer behaviour that is responsible and development practices that respect all forms of life and preserve the balance of nature on the planet.
Rediscover solidarity. Contribute to the development of my community, with the full participation of women and respect for democratic principles, in order to create together new forms of solidarity. ” (Manifesto, 2000, slightly modified by the author)
Vision 3: Feminist Eutopia
Image: UN Women/Ruby Taylor, https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/multimedia/2020/2/illustration-equiterra-gender-equality-utopia
“We want a world where inequality based on class, gender, and race is absent from every country, and from the relationships among countries.
We want a world where basic needs become basic rights and where poverty and all forms of violence are eliminated.
Each person will have the opportunity to develop her or his full potential and creativity, and [human]values of nurturance and solidarity will characterize human relationships” (Sen & Grown, 1984).
We want a world in which all our voices would be heard.
We want a world where parenting would be highly valued, and we would all be proud of our mothers’ and fathers’ peace making roles. We also want a world where parenting would be a choice and not imposed on us by a society.
“In such a world women’s reproductive role will be redefined: childcare will be shared by men, women, and society as a whole” (Sen & Grown, 1984).
In such a world men’s protective role will be redefined: instead of national security it will be human security – arising from the abandonment of all forms of direct and structural violence – that will become a main goal shared by men, women, and society as a whole.
This global human security will incorporate four basic visions: “the birthright vision . . . in which the basic human needs of the Earth’s people are met; the vision of women as equal partners which centres on the full equality of women and men in the public and the private spheres; the transcendence-of-violence vision which projects a world free of war and the physical abuse of women [and men], and the vision of an ecological community which perceives a world built on common interests and sharing, and respect and care for planet Earth” (Reardon, 1993).
Therefore, “we want a world where the massive resources now used in the production of the means of destruction will be diverted to areas where they will help to relieve oppression both inside and outside the home.
This technological revolution will eliminate disease and hunger, and give women the means for the safe control of their fertility” (Sen & Grown, 1984).
This technological revolution will be re-channelled into global human security, giving humans means for the safe control of their lives within ever increasing environmental challenges.
We want the world to be seen as it truly is: “interconnected, interdependent and interrelated” (Boulding, 1990), wherein the centrality of human relatedness is recognised; and so is our connection within broader planetary ecology.
“We want a world where all institutions are open to participatory democratic processes, where women share in determining priorities and making decisions” (Sen & Grown, 1984).
We want a world where societies and economies are transformed and restructured so to meet the objectives of equality, development and peace by improving employment, health and education.
We want a world where schools and hospitals will get all the money they need while destructive industries will have to hold a bake sale (WILPF, n.d.).
We want a world consisting of ‘gentle’ societies (Boulding, 1990) based on principles of ‘partnership’ (Eisler, 2002) in all human affairs.
We want a world where not only negative aspects of ‘human nature’ are perceived as ‘realistic’, rather, we want a world where positive aspects of human nature – such as capacity for sharing, altruism, non-violence, peaceful conflict resolution, cooperation, caring, negotiation and constructive communication – are seen as equally, if not more, ‘real’.
We want a world in which willingness to negotiate with those we disagree with would not be seen as the sign of weakness but rather as that of strength.
We want a world where peace would not be seen as a state but rather as a continual process that needs to be enacted daily in all our affairs.
We want a world where not waging of wars but rather peace-building, peace-making and peace-keeping activities would be seen as the activities necessary for the maintenance of peace.
We want a world where we would “make heroes of those who demand peace”, where “bullying in all forms would be unacceptable”, and where “we dialogue more and argue less” (Ellison, 2004).
We want a world where “being happy would be a career [and life]goal” and where we would “extend care and compassion to all members of our [global]community” (Ellison, 2004).
We want a world in which peace would be both men’s as well as women’s business.
In that world that we want, people will say: “peace begins with me” (Ellison, 2004).
Vision 4: Peace Begins with Me
Image: Lina Trochez, Unsplash
“I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with . . . poisons [of unconscious & violent living]is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations.
I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing [nonviolence in all my affairs].
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.
We cannot support any act of killing; no killing can be justified.
But not to kill is not enough.
We must also learn ways to prevent others from killing.
We must be determined not to condone killing [and other forms of violence], even in our minds.
The only way out of violence and conflict is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love, and understanding.
All of us can practice nonviolence.
We begin by recognizing that, in the depths of our consciousness, we have both the seeds of [peace]and the seeds of violence.
We realize that, at any given moment, we can behave with either violence or [peace].
Peace is every step. . . Each step we make should be peace.
If we cultivate the seeds of compassion, we nourish peace within us and around us.
We have to practice the cultivation of peace individually and in our relationships.
We need to practice peace with our partner, children, friends, neighbours, and society.
Even if what you said or did failed to stop the war [and violence], what is important is that you tried.
I understand that a proper [practice]. . . is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society. . .
Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.
We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.
This means that we can realize peace right in the present moment with our look, our smile, our words, and our actions.
When we are deeply in touch with the present moment, we can see that all our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.
Seeing this, we will know what to do and what not to do – for ourselves, our ancestors, our children, and their children.
Breathe, you are alive!
Are you planting seeds of joy and peace?
Remember, the practice of peace always begins right here, right now.
Shall we continue our journey?” (With the exception of the text in brackets which is the author’s addition or replacement of the original wording, all other text are combined quotes from works by Hanh 2003, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c, & 2010.)
Image: New Pioneers by Mark Henson, https://www.markhensonart.com/
War partly emerges from futures fallacies, a lack of a positive vision, and specifically a lack of imagination. We need alternative, peace-promoting visions. The above four: rejecting dystopias, the peace manifesto, a feminist eutopia, and “peace begins with me” are assets for this planetary journey towards a peaceful world. Certainly, they help us to continue moving in the direction of the world Aleksandra Kollontai imagined a hundred years ago.
Ackerman, P. and DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. Palgrave Macmillan.
Bale, J. M. (2007). Political paranoia v. political realism: On distinguishing between bogus conspiracy theories and genuine conspiratorial politics. Patterns of Prejudice, 41, 45–60.
Boulding, E. (1990). Building a global civic culture: Education for an interdependent world. Syracuse University Press.
Boulding, E. (2000). Cultures of peace: The hidden side of history. Syracuse University Press.
Eisler, R. (2000). Tomorrow’s children: A blueprint for partnership education in the 21st century. Westview Press.
Eisler, R. (2002). The power of partnership: Seven relationships that will change your life. New World Library.
Ellison, S. (2004). If women ruled the world: How to create the world we want to live in—stories, ideas, and inspiration for change. Inner Ocean Publishing.
Hanh, T. N. (2003). Creating true peace: Ending conflict in yourself, your family, your community and the world. Random House.
Hanh, T. N. (2008a). The art of power. HarperCollins.
Hanh, T. N. (2008b). For a future to be possible. Read How You Want.com.
Hanh, T. N. (2008c). Breathe, you are alive! The sutra on the full awareness of breathing. Read How You Want.com.
Hanh, T. N. (2010). Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life. Random House.
Inayatullah, S. (2008). Six pillars: Futures thinking for transforming. Foresight. 10(1): 4–28.
Kollontai, A. (1922). Soon (In 48 Years’ Time). Alexandra Kollontai selected writings. Lawrence Hill & Co. 1977. https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1922/soon.htm
Manifesto (2000). Manifesto for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence, produced by a group of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates with the help of UNESCO. http://culture-of-peace.info/history/Manifesto-launch.pdf
Milojević, I. (2021). Futures Fallacies: What They Are and What We Can Do About Them. Journal of Futures Studies. 25(4): 1–16.
Milojević, I. (2013). Breathing: Violence in, peace out. University of Queensland Press.
Milojević, I. (2003). Hegemonic and marginalised utopias in the contemporary western world. Policy Futures in Education. 1(3): 440–466.
Reardon, B. (1993). Women and peace: Feminist visions of global security. State University of New York Press
Sen, G. & Grown, C. (1984). Development, crises and alternative visions: Third world women’s perspectives. Monthly Review Press.
Sharpe, G. (1973). 198 methods of nonviolent action. https://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/198-methods-of-nonviolent-action/
WILPF (n.d.). Slogan by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
York, S. (2002). Bringing down a dictator. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/bringing-dictator-english/
- I use the term eutopian to denote a ‘good’ and possible place vs. ‘perfect’ and impossible as applied in the term utopian. See more in Milojević, 2003. ↑
- These four ‘meditations’ were originally written for Breathing: Violence In, Peace Out (2013, University of Queensland Press), as a ‘pause’/reflection between ‘in and out breaths’ of four chapters. However, they were removed by the publisher because of the potential danger of ‘alienating the academic audience’. ↑
Dr. Ivana Milojević is a researcher, writer and educator with a trans-disciplinary professional background in sociology, education, gender, peace and futures studies and Director of Metafuture. She was awarded a PhD in Education in 2003 by the University of Queensland and has previously held professorships at several universities. Her books include: Breathing: Violence In, Peace Out (2013); Who Is Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Workbook for Peace Education, Interculturality and Gender Equity. Eduko: Novi Sad (2012) and more.
Tags: Future Studies, Futures, Peace, Peace Research, War
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