A history of peace


First aired on The Current (06/04/12)

Are human beings violent by nature or desirous of peace? It's a question that's been debated since people developed the ability to debate. And it's a tough one to answer, as it seems that war and conflict have been nearly omnipresent around the world throughout history.

John Gittings, a former correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and now a member of the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace's editorial board, agrees that there has been a lot of fighting over the years. But he argues that our perception of war is likely skewed, and that the vast majority of people throughout history lived and died without meeting violent ends. So why are we so fixated on bloodshed?

"There is no doubt that war is dramatic, it's exciting," Gittings told The Current in a recent interview. "There are some war historians, quite serious ones, who say that war is sexy. I could quote you one historian, I won't give you his name, who said men like fighting because women like men who like fighting."

glorious-art-125.jpgWe've all heard the expression "war is written by the winners." True, Gittings said, but "it's also been written on the whole by the warriors." Throughout his research, he's discovered numerous examples of notable figures and groups advocating against warfare and promoting peace. Only their voices are usually drowned out by those who push for the fighting and conquering, at least in the history books. Gittings wanted to take a different approach in his new documentation of war and peace The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Iliad to Iraq.

"What I've done in my book is to look at what you might call the narrative of peace. And I've gone back to the ancient Chinese philosophers, those who followed Confucius, who sat in the tea house at the gate of the city-states during the warring states period of China and advised the rulers on how to avoid war, not how to make war. And you can carry through the early Christian fathers and their opposition to war, the Renaissance thinkers ... through the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, on to the 19th century when peace becomes the subject and concern of tens of thousands. You have the beginnings of what you might call the modern peace movement, [and] on to the 20th century when peace becomes the concern of millions and is to this day. And there is a rich body of argument and thought both on how to preserve peace and how to make it."