Still Thinking Conflict

EDITORIAL, 6 May 2024

#847 | Prof. Johan Galtung - TRANSCEND Media Service

In an important article in the leading Austrian newspaper Der Standard (16-17 Feb 2008), Hans Küng, the famous president of the World Ethos Foundation, calls for more than “change” from a new US president. He calls for basic change, guided by a new ethos. And Küng gives a number of examples of misguided policies by the present US and Israeli administrations.

Not difficult to agree. But something even more basic than a new ethos also has to happen, like coming to terms with conflicts where the USA is involved. And exactly with the term conflict, how to think about conflict, let alone solving it.

Of course, nobody has a monopoly on defining that rather key term,regulating the use of the word. But we are all entitled to discuss it.How that C-word is used does matter.

I remember from my childhood stories from the Wild West and the white pioneers penetrating the wilderness with three dangers lurking and lurching: wild nature, wild animals, wild, savage, “hostile Indians.” Read The Journal of John Winthrop, the real founder of the USA, 12times elected governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, for stories.Hostile they were, and in addition “they hate us”. With that the conflict is defined as Attitude, hatred + Behavior, hostility; A + B.Today conveniently summarized as being “anti-American”, or worse:”terrorist”.

What is missing in the case of early colonist Winthrop?  Like the Pilgrim Fathers, the 102 on the Mayflower in 1620–35 of them separatist Puritans who had settled in the Netherlands–who founded the Plymouth Colony? The C for contradiction in an ABC-triangle for conflict. The idea of a contradiction over ownership and use of land.Much land and much contradiction. The colonists wanted to own what the”Indians” used as theirs.

And which term did they use when hatred + hostility spelt violence?Trouble, frequent in Anglo-American conflict speak.  Trouble is their violent behavior and hatred, meaning they have to be changed by a range of measures, from killing and bribing them to converting them, into friendly, even loving Indians.

Unfortunately, there are deep implications flowing from this naiveté,by no way saying that hatred and hostile acts are not important. What is left out is the contradiction, the pro et contra dicere, talking for and against, Self and Other and the goals they have, what they want,their values and interests.  For Self and against Other are easy. To listen to for Other and against Self is harder, and very difficult if one sees oneself as Good only and Other as pure Evil. So keep it like that.

How do we get from the easy to the difficult? Through dicere, talking,talking with, also called a dialogue, through the word, the dicere, to identify the problem,`issue,’ clash, incompatibility or whatever it is called.  The problem.

Take Iran. Hatred and hostility certificates attributed to the other side simplify matters. They are like that. Launch sanctions. Very few believe that they work by making the other side yield, like giving up enrichment. But one may believe in a different function: to stigmatize,to mark Iran for destruction like a tree is marked for felling, in the forest. Rather that than approaching the issue: regretting what USA-UK did in 1953.

Take Hamas.  The attribute as “terrorist” makes talking with them a total waste of time as their only goal is evil.  Of course that is facade. The real problem with talking is that they might have something to say that would make the issue less clear and clean. There may be some light in what they say that might shed some shadows on our own position. As Carter found.

Take Syria. Spy on them, designate a building and kill two flies, Syria and North Korea, with one strike: Israeli bombing.  Put together a narrative uncomfortably similar to Colin Powell’s one and a half hour UN Security Council presentation. Do not talk with them publicly. But the Syrian ambassador was on the media saying, let them play out their narrative, it will implode from the inside. We’ll explode it from the outside. A nuclear facility with no barbed wire, alone in the desert,no security? Maybe Syria’s narrative will get the upper hand over a narrative designed to prevent trading North Korean nuclear disarmament for normalization (diplomatic relations-peace treaty), and reverting the Golan Heights to Syria as a park and an economic free zone?

Take Venezuela, take Cuba. Paraguay goes left – something basic has happened to the country that was devastated by their neighbors, egged on by the UK, in 1874 for economic success due to collective landownership and self-reliance. That something is now all over Latin America. Why not talk with all of them?

For lack of maturity. The USA has an immature, autistic approach to its conflicts, like a spoiled child. A leadership has to come to grips with the root of conflicts–not symptoms like hatred and hostility–the contradiction itself, a problem in search of a solution. And be a good team player as USians often are; the team being the world. Seeing a contradiction as dangerous and as an opportunity to create something new. Like cooperation with Iran on non-oil energy. Like cooperation with Hamas on a two state solution. Like cooperation with Syria on a Middle East Community, starting with the Golan Heights. Like a new American Hemisphere, a true American Union – with the USA as an equal partner, like Germany became in the EU.

So much challenge!  So much opportunity. So much, yes, joy!!


Originally posted on 21 Apr 2008 – #5

Johan Galtung (24 Oct 1930 – 17 Feb 2024), a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, was the founder of TRANSCEND International, TRANSCEND Media Service, and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize numerous times and was awarded among others the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative NPP. Galtung has mediated in over 150 conflicts in more than 150 countries, and written more than 170 books on peace and related issues, 96 as the sole author. More than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. His book, Transcend and Transform, was translated to 25 languages. He has published more than 1700 articles and book chapters and over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 May 2024.

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