Army Captain Paul K. Chappell attended West Point with an usual goal, "determined to study war the way a doctor studies an illness." What he found in his studies and in a war tour in Iraq was a pragmatic way of envisioning what it would take to create a cure for war fever. "In the U.S. Army, as in ancient Greece, the most admired trait in soldiers is not their ability to kill but their willingness to sacrifice for their friends," Chappell notes in his new book, Will War Ever End? A Soldier's Vision of Peace for the 21st Century (Ashoka Books, 2009). His book argues that soldiers and folks at home, in order to protect each other, should mount a concerted campaign to wind down warmaking, due to the massively deadly threat of military escalation in the nuclear age. A better way of dealing with international disputes, he contends, is to adapt nonviolent tactics to produce conflict resolution that de-escalates violence.
In an essay titled "How Patriotism Can Save America," posted earlier this year on The Huffington Post and other websites, Chappell summed up his call for peace actions in terms that echo the stance of Veterans For Peace and other antiwar vets groups: "With the survival of our planet now at stake, our country needs patriotic Americans to question, think critically, and pioneer this democratic experiment. Now more than ever, our country needs us to help it become a beacon of hope that exports peace instead of war." Chappell, who served seven years on active duty after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 2002, is the Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
In his book, Chappell argues that the war on terrorism "can never be won with an army alone, because terrorism is not a place we can occupy or a dictator we can overthrow." He also notes "how multiple deployments have pushed many soldiers to the breaking point." He argues that military actions are stoking the hatred fueling angry people who use terrorism as a tactic in fighting for their beliefs and causes. "If we are going to win the war on terrorism ... the United States will require many more soldiers, and not just soldiers who are armed with guns. ... During the challenging years ahead, our planet will need soldiers of peace who understand this truth of our brotherhood, because our survival in an interconnected world will not depend upon our ability to wage war. The fate of humanity will depend upon our willingness to wage peace."
Chappell grew up in a military family, where his view of war's widespread consequences was shaped by his father's raging threats to shoot himself. His mother, he adds, grew up in Japan during World War II and then moved to Korea, where her family endured the Korean War, where Chappell's father began a 30-year military career, which also included combat in Vietnam. "Throughout my childhood, I watched my father lose his grip on reality ... Rage overshadowed his once peaceful nature, and when I heard him complain about violent nightmares, I realized that something called war had taken my gentle father from me ... when I was a teenager, I wanted to know if war will ever end."
At West Point, Chappell studied peacemakers as well as warmakers. Gandhi, he discovered, was a British army medic during the Boer War in South Africa, where he took close measure of the British military culture that he outmanuevered to gain India's independence with a nonviolent campaign. Chappell found that some other West Pointers had come to the same conclusion as Gandhi. His book quotes General Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address as president, in which he warned that "another war could utterly destroy this civilization" and that people must learn "to compose differences" without war.
Chappell found a model for banishing war in the 19th century campaigns to ban slavery. "Slavery existed on a global scale for thousands of years, but due to the courageous actions of our ancestors who fought this injustice, no country today sanctions slavery. Together we have the capacity to create a world where countries no longer sanction war."
He was struck by how hard the military has had to work to train and prod soldiers to fight a battle, rather than flee for safety. This is proof, he argues, that humans don't have a gene for waging wars. And he took note of General Omar Bradley's comment after leading armies in World War II: "Modern war visits destruction on the victor and the vanquished alike. Our only complete assurance of surviving World War III is to halt it before it starts." Reflecting on his own military career, which started at West Point and spanned two world wars, Bradley stated, in a 1948 Memorial Day speech: "Wars can be prevented just as surely as they are provoked."
In the foreword to Will War Ever End?, Lt. Col. (ret.) Dave Grossman noted "there is cause to hope, and believe, that there can be an end to war. The West has won the Cold War without resorting to mega-death ... In recent years we have exercised the choice to step back from the brink of nuclear destruction." Chappell is currently finishing a sequel titled The End of War, designed to offer what Grossman calls a "toolbox" of information on peace actions.
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(This article is also posted at Opinion Forum and at the Chicago Sun-Times.)