Tuesday, July 04, 2006

John J. Neumaier

Obstacles to the abolition of war

By John J. Neumaier

07/03/06 "
Information Clearing House" -- -- Some say “What a silly idea that war could ever be abolished. You can't change human nature!” But when you think about it, human nature has actually undergone significant evolutionary change. Just consider the development of language, and with it, the complexity of human communication and thought. And when it comes to resorting to war, it has become increasingly clear – at least to some observers – that it is a societal phenomenon rather than an unchangeable quality of human nature.

It’s true that violent social conflict has been around for as long as recorded history, but this doesn’t make it a law of nature. Still, many a conservative persists in invoking “human nature” to deny the very possibility of resolving societal conflicts without using permanently established armed forces. Nor is it surprising that those who benefit from militarism and the arms trade defend their deadly business in the name of patriotism, and rationalize it with the notion that warfare is part and parcel of good old “human nature”. (It was really memorable that even the World War II military leader President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the power of the “military-industrial complex”.)

At any rate, none of these claims about an unchangeable and warlike human nature invalidate the crucial point that, theoretically at least, it is not impossible for human beings to abolish war and eventually achieve permanent peace. Whether humanity will be sufficiently rational to end the recourse to war before a nuclear holocaust puts an end to civilization (or indeed to humanity itself) is another question.

This brings us to another relevant fact about socially and nationally organized violence, namely that the nature and scope of warfare has radically changed over the millennia. For example, the (now grotesque) practice of cannibalism (eating of one’s enemies’ flesh) has been almost completely overcome. However, the nuclear incineration of tens of thousands of human beings became part of twentieth century war history when President Harry Truman authorized the atomic bombing of the population of Nagasaki and of Hiroshima. Further “progress” in nuclear armaments - the horrendous and instantaneous killing, the lingering deaths and maiming of millions of human beings, probably tens of millions - evokes a terrifying possibility for future wars. Most ominous of all, the ever growing nuclear capacity of the military is now part of the weapons arsenal of many of the most powerful nation states. The government of the United States, the mightiest military power in world history, has declared its unwillingness to give up the first-strike option and is projecting a new era of weapons in space.

The daily war news from Iraq, of death and maiming of thousands of U.S. troops and of a far greater number of Iraqi civilians, and the destruction of cities are heartrending illustrations of the advanced technology of modern warfare.

Still, in spite of the ever growing inhumanity of war, people the world over tend to take the fighting of future wars for granted. All too many accept their governments’ recourse to war as “normal”, as a legitimate tool of a nation’s foreign policy. (Karl von Klausewitz famously put it “War is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means”.)

The recurrent use of war as state policy helps build its legitimacy. Since the end of World War II, the United States alone has been involved in more than a dozen wars, a fact that provides a powerful reinforcement for the view that war-making is a normal state of affairs. “We are a country at war,” intone the leaders, lending weight and a sense of inevitability to their unparalleled expansion of governmental power and secrecy, restrictions on civil liberties, and cutbacks in basic services.

Another way to win acceptance of recourse to war as being in the interest of the nation and morally justified, and indeed absolutely necessary, is for governments to subject their peoples to intense war propaganda. Ever more sophisticated psychological warfare, an integral part of modern war, is directed not only at the enemy but at the home front as well. It is an especially important propaganda device whenever a government is on the military offensive against another nation.

Although in the first World War (1914-1918), the government of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany was not alone in bringing the people to a nationalist fever-pitch when war was declared, its Prussian militarist tradition made it a European exemplar. The allied governments of Russia, France, England, and eventually the United States and other nations accomplished much the same. Thus, President Woodrow Wilson promoted war fever with the slogan “To make the world safe for democracy”. (Often government leaders are taken in by their own propaganda.)

While governments find it useful, even imperative, to use patriotic appeals to intensify war propaganda, they at the same time assure their people of their passionate commitment to peace. This is easier to do when a government is responding to an attack on the homeland, as when Japan attacked the U.S. navy at Pearl Harbor and the nation united behind President Franklin Roosevelt’s call to arms. Still, whatever the actual reasons for going to war, governments routinely portray their wars as defensive. And in 1949, the U..S. War Department was renamed the Department of Defense.

The war in Iraq provides a textbook illustration of how a government can engineer popular acceptance of waging war. The Bush administration succeeded (at first) in persuading a majority of Americans that the invasion of Iraq was necessary in order to prevent the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein from attacking the U.S. homeland with weapons of mass destruction. The President also claimed that this allegedly defensive war was part of the war on terrorism. In fact, however there was hostility between Osama bin Laden and Hussein, and no evidence of Al Qaeda having a stronghold in Iraq, at least not before the war. Of course, the U.S. public was kept in the dark regarding the true state of affairs. Then, as now, there is official silence about how the U.S. government for years strongly supported Saddam Hussein (especially during his Iraq war against Iran) in spite of the dictator’s well-known violence against his own people.

If we are concerned about the role of war in history, and more importantly, with its significance for humanity’s future, all of us need to think long and hard about it. We need to learn about and discuss its many aspects: the causes, the atrocities and the mass suffering it brings, the huge costs of war and preparation for war, the various forms and examples of war propaganda, terrorism and its background, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions and their violations, the issue of just or necessary wars, and especially the cause of peace, and humankind’s prospects for some day abolishing war altogether. Most of all we need to join in common actions in behalf of peace and social justice, here and abroad.

Poughkeepsie resident Dr. John J. Neumaier was president of SUNY New Paltz from 1968-72 and of Moorhead (Minn.) State University from 1958-68. He is philosophy professor emeritus of Empire State College, New York City. His column appears in the first Sunday Freeman of each month."

Dr. John Neumaier, the seventh president of the college, was born Hans Neumaier in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, the son of a prominent businessman and a famous opera star. Forced to leave Germany as a young man during the Nazi persecution of German Jews, young Neumaier came to the United States in 1940, changing his name to John. He was educated at the University of Minnesota, and taught philosophy at Hibbing College before becoming dean of the college in 1955. Dr. Neumaier became president of Moorhead State College in 1958 and served here until 1968, presiding over one the most dynamic eras of the school. He subsequently served as president of the College of New Paltz in New York, retiring in 1972.

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Rotary International

I was surprised, when searching the internet for more information about peace through understanding, to find that the Rotary Club came up. You see their insignia when you enter different towns and cities, alongside those of the Knights of Columbus, the Elks Club, and other civic organizations. However, if you look through their site, you will find that there is a repeated declaration of dedication to the ideal of peace through understanding. (They've also worked hard for the eradication of polio.) Here is what I gathered from their site that I thought was interesting, including all the references I could find to peace and understanding.


The Rotary Club was founded in 1905 by Paul Harris, a lawyer in Chicago, to promote bonhomie among professionals.

The early "Rotarians" realized that fellowship and mutual self-interest were not enough to keep a club of busy professionals meeting each week. Reaching out to improve the lives of the less fortunate proved to be an even more powerful motivation. The Rotary commitment to service began in 1907, when the Rotary Club of Chicago donated a horse to a preacher. The man's own horse had died, and because he was too poor to buy another one, he was unable to make the rounds of his churches and parishioners. A few weeks later, the club constructed Chicago's first public lavatory. With these inaugural projects, Rotary became the world's first service-club organization. After a few years, the organization spread to other cities, and the motto, "Service above self," was adopted.

By 1925, Rotary had grown to 200 clubs with more than 20,000 members. The organization's distinguished reputation attracted presidents, prime ministers, and a host of other luminaries to its ranks — among them composer Jean Sibelius, humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, author Thomas Mann, and diplomat Carlos P. Romulo.

From the earliest days of the organization, Rotarians were concerned with promoting high ethical standards in their professional lives. One of the world's most widely printed and quoted statements of business ethics is The 4-Way Test, which was created in 1932 by Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor (who later served as RI president) when he was asked to take charge of a company that was facing bankruptcy. This 24-word code of ethics for employees to follow in their business and professional lives became the guide for sales, production, advertising, and all relations with dealers and customers, and the survival of the company is credited to this simple philosophy. Adopted by Rotary in 1943, The 4-Way Test has been translated into more than a hundred languages and published in thousands of ways. It asks the following four questions:

"Of the things we think, say or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?

  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?


  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?"

Back in 1917, Rotary President Arch C. Klumph had proposed that an endowment be set up "for doing good in the world." In 1928, this endowment became a not-for-profit corporation known as The Rotary Foundation.

During and after World War II, Rotarians became increasingly involved in promoting international understanding. In 1945, 49 Rotary members served in 29 delegations to the United Nations Charter Conference. Rotary still actively participates in UN conferences by sending observers to major meetings and promoting the United Nations in Rotary publications. Rotary International's relationship with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) dates back to a 1943 London Rotary conference that promoted international cultural and educational exchanges. Attended by ministers of education and observers from around the world, and chaired by a past president of RI, the conference was an impetus to the establishment of UNESCO in 1946.

Since 1947, the Foundation has awarded more than US$1.1 billion in humanitarian and educational grants, which are initiated and administered by local Rotary clubs and districts. Started in 1965, Matching Grants for International Humanitarian Projects is a Rotary Foundation program that matches contributions raised by Rotary clubs and districts for international service projects involving clubs in two or more countries.

The Group Study Exchange program, also begun in 1965, has provided grants for more than 11,000 teams of men and women in the early stages of their business and professional careers to travel abroad and share vocational information with the representatives of their respective professions in another country. Team members spend four to six weeks studying the host country's institutions, economy, and culture while observing how their own professions are practiced abroad. More than 500 exchanges between paired Rotary districts occur each year, advancing the program's ultimate goal of promoting international understanding and goodwill.

The Foundation initiated Health, Hunger and Humanity (3-H) Grants in 1978. 3-H Grants are awarded to fund long-term, self-help grassroots development projects that are too large for one club or district to implement on its own. Projects must be self-sustaining after the 3-H grant funds have been expended.

Reflecting society in 1905, the organization had been limited to male members and remained so officially until 1989, when the Council on Legislation, Rotary's parliament, voted to eliminate the male-only provision, opening up membership to qualified women across the world (though the U.S. women Rotarians began to appear during the 1986-1987 Rotary year). Today, there are approximately 145,000 women Rotarians worldwide, many of them serving in leadership roles.

Object of Rotary

The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

FIRST. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;

SECOND. High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian's occupation as an opportunity to serve society;

THIRD. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian's personal, business, and community life;

FOURTH. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

Four Avenues of Service

Based on the Object of Rotary, the Four Avenues of Service are Rotary's philosophical cornerstone and the foundation on which club activity is based:

  • Club Service focuses on strengthening fellowship and ensuring the effective functioning of the club.
  • Vocational Service encourages Rotarians to serve others through their vocations and to practice high ethical standards.
  • Community Service covers the projects and activities the club undertakes to improve life in its community.
  • International Service encompasses actions taken to expand Rotary's humanitarian reach around the globe and to promote world understanding and peace.

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Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Program

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Participants: Past and present
A lotus in the reflecting pool at Chulalongkorn University's beautiful campus. Photo by Jenn Weidman/The Rotary Foundation
1 July 2006 (for January 2007 session); 1 December 2006 (for July 2007 session).
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Contact Us:
Email: mailto:bangkok.peacestudies@rotary.org?subject=Rotary
Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Program
One Rotary Center
1560 Sherman Avenue
Evanston, IL 60201-3698
Phone: 847-866-3000
Fax: 847-866-0934

Meet the participants

Hasmukhkumar Patel


Patel sees the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Program as a way to find new ways to address conflict in society at a local level.

Program participants of the inaugural 2006-07 session come from all lines of work: nongovernmental organizations, military, academia, and more. Meet the current participants, including Patel.

The vision

The Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Program was established to provide professionals from around the world the opportunity to be trained in conflict resolution and mediation strategies and to become better equipped to help prevent and resolve conflict, as well as foster policies and create settings that ensure peace, worldwide. Offered in English, the program is aimed at mid- to upper-level professionals in governments, nongovernmental organizations, and private corporations. Beginning July 2006, the intensive three-month course housed at the newly established Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand will accept up to 30 program participants per session for two sessions per year. Each session will include both academic learning and practical fieldwork components. The program aims to:

  • Inspire people to work for a culture of peace and tolerance while enhancing their capacity, knowledge, and skill to do so, in part by generating interaction between practitioners and academics
  • Provide advanced international educational opportunities for Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Program participants chosen from different countries and cultures on the basis of their potential as leaders in government, business, education, media, and other professions
  • Provide a means for The Rotary Foundation and Rotarians to increase their effectiveness in promoting greater tolerance and cooperation among peoples, leading to world understanding and peace.

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Rotary Centers for International Studies
in peace and conflict resolution

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Rotary World Peace Fellow alumni uses skills learned at Rotary Center

Strigel was among the inaugural class of Rotary World Peace Fellows, who began the two-year master's degree program in 2002 at one of seven Rotary Centers for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution hosted by eight leading universities around the world.

Information for Rotary World Peace Fellows

Pre-Departure Orientation

PowerPoint presentation (10 MB)
PDF file* (524 K)

Rotary World Peace Fellows' Applied Field Experience

During their summer break, Rotary World Peace Fellows undertake applied field experience as part of their two-year, master's-level degree program* in conflict resolution, peace studies and international relations. Fellows pursue internships, field research and other activities that aid in their professional development. Many Fellows use this opportunity to further their international understanding by exposing themselves to a different region of the world.

Europe and Central Asia

Central America and the Caribbean

Middle East and North Africa

North America

South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific

Sub-Saharan Africa

South America

*Fellows at the University of Bradford undertake a 12-month master's degree program, immediately followed by a 12-month master's of philosophy degree program.

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