Okot Nyormoi, editor

Destruction of war“Is war the answer to a troubled world” is a question which has been asked many times by many people. For most people who have ever been in wars, fought in wars, were victimized as innocent bystanders, or have simply read about the horrors of wars, the answer is a resounding NO. The no answer was best articulated by Edwin Starr, an African American musician in 1969 when he asked, “What is war good for?”. His answer was emphatically, “Absolutely nothing”. He went on to say that war is nothing but a heartbreaker, friend only to the undertaker.

If war is good for nothing and is only good for the undertaker, why haven’t humans stopped wars? History shows that European past is littered with wars, lasting for months, years and even centuries. The Roman, the Ottoman, Russian, and other empires, expanded their territories through wars of conquest, but they also eventually declined due to succession as well as wars of liberation from one group or another. Cultural wars pitted Catholics vs Protestants, Christians vs Muslims, and others at the cost of millions of lives. These wars have left bitter taste in the mouths of the combatants which still lingers till today.

Africa has suffered from both internal wars between communities as well as violence associated with the horrific slave trade, and colonial domination and exploitation. Similarly, Asia has not been spared of wars. Various dynasties in China, Southeast Asia and other regions waged wars of conquest and occupation. These, too, have left bitter legacies shrouded by suspicion between nations or religious groups.

In modern times, we had two world wars, the Korean wars, the Viet Nam war, the Israeli-Arab war, the USA-Iraq war, and the recently concluded Afghanistan-USA war. In Africa, there were liberation wars in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, Libya, and South Sudan, to name some. A partial list of African countries having ongoing wars includes Somalia, Mozambique, Mali, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.

Not to be outdone, Uganda just invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo for the third time; this time, allegedly in pursuit of a shadowy rebel group, the Allied Democratic Force (ADF), which it previously proclaimed to have vanquished. Russia appears to be itching for a fight with NATO at its border with Ukraine. China and the USA are producing supersonic missiles in preparation for a possible war for world domination.

Regardless of the particularity of the terrain, all fighting groups claim to be fighting just wars. On the one hand, wars against states are often justified by alleged injustice, impunity, unfairness, oppression, exploitation, and domination. On the other hand, state-instigated wars  are always justified allegedly by the responsibility for providing security for persons and property against the “bad guys”. The irony of it all is that in nearly all cases, states which are victorious against rebels merely return to the status qua ante and continue to perpetuate the same conditions which give birth to rebel groups. Similarly,  victorious rebels often end up doing the same thing they fought against. The end of one war simply sets up the stage for another war unless the underlying causes are addressed. The underlying causes can only be best addressed politically or diplomatically.

Though the victors of wars always thumb their chests and say that they won, objectively, it is not the killing and destruction that end wars. Instead, it is the futility of war and the final realization that war is not the answer. The two world wars, Korean war, Viet Nam war, Falkland Island war, Biafra war, South African war, the 20-year war in Northern Uganda, and you named them. They all ended when it was realized that war was not the answer.

To paraphrase Einstein, doing the same thing over and over is madness. Are humans mad because they have been fighting wars over and over? Some people would say no, because they believe that fighting wars is just in the nature of humans; encoded in the human genome. They turned to Archaeological evidence which shows that war dates to only about 10,000 years. Some geneticists blamed violence on the Y chromosome and monoamine oxidase, the long sought after “warrior gene”. Unfortunately, none of the so-called evidence for human propensity for war has stood the test of time. Therefore, we are compelled to accept that war is not an inert biological curse of humans. Rather, it is a learned cultural behavior. As such, it can be unlearned.

It is understandable that even if war is a cultural innovation, it is hard, if not impossible, for fatalists and pessimists to imagine a world without wars. For them, it is simply utopian to imagine that such a world can exist. However, it is encouraging to know that there are so many difficult seemingly unimaginable things which humans have accomplished. Who would have thought human lives can be extended by organ transplantation, humans would fly in the sky like birds or go to the moon and return with a piece of rock you can see and touch? Difficult things! Absolutely! But, unless we can imagine the possibility or a war-free world, it can never be attempted, and without attempt to actualize it, the idea will simply be dead before it starts.

Peace VisualizationThe good thing is that there are already encouraging signs from small but incremental lessons learned from past wars, namely the realization and acceptance of the fact that wars are not the answer to all human conflicts. Negotiation is a better option just like most parents teach their children to use their words instead of resorting to fights as the only option for resolving disputes. If children can be taught to use their words, surely, responsible adult humans can learn to address underlying problems, without going to war, which if left unattended invariably lead to wars.

Change will come if we can imagine it. However, it will not come unless we struggle for it. But how, you may ask. It is simple and complicated. It must start with  a conversation you need to have within yourself and with the people you associate with. Meanwhile, enjoy another iconic song by another African American musician who believed that "CHANGE IS GONNA COME".