When I went to work in Mozambique on behalf of UNESCO to help develop a national culture of peace program in the early 90’s, my African friends criticized the European notion of building a culture of peace. “No, they told me, you don’t build a culture of peace. You cultivate it.”
The culture of war, on the other hand, is built. Empires and their states are built on fear through domination, exploitation, control of information, and the development and use (or threat) of armed force. Economic enterprises are constructed within this shield. Entire economic systems are built, eventually to be ruled by speculation. As a result the culture of war is not sustainable. Fear is eventually overcome by courage, and the truth eventually will out. Arms production exhausts the economy. And speculation, like a house of cards, eventually crashes. From time to time, these spectacular, unsustainable institutions collapse and leave space for the sustainable processes of culture.
And so human history, human culture, slowly, by fits and starts, makes its way forward. Culture is not a state of being, but a process. It is not static, but dynamic. It is not built but cultivated. As stated in the UN Declaration on a Culture of Peace (UN Resolution A-53-243), it consists of “values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behavior and ways of life.” It is a social, not an individual process. It is not “inner peace.” Instead, it is political in the sense that Aristotle meant when he began his greatest work with “Man is a political animal”, linking the word “political” to “polis,” the city.
The process is not steady. We may plant seeds and fail to see the results afterwards. We may harvest fruit and have to wait for the winter before planting again. But slowly, over time, the culture grows – that is our theme and our hope for the future.
There is a terrible urgency to what we are doing. We know from history that when empires crash, there is great suffering, and there is an immediate cry to rebuild the structures of the culture of war that are stronger than ever – what is known as fascism. If we are not prepared at that moment to make the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace, we will risk a transition to fascism.
To help us attain universality for the culture of peace we need to continue involving the United Nations in this process. Even though it is now controlled by states with their cultures of war, the time will come when we can reclaim the United Nations, as the Charter says, in the name of “We the peoples….”