An Introduction to Our Topic: Resistance

Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.

Hannah Arendt

Of all the quotes that I have given my students to ponder, this one typically causes the most confusion. The idea of power and violence as opposites does not easily resonate. Consider one of the United States’ 10 active Nimitz-class aircraft carriers: “…in all the battle fleets of the world there is no ship even remotely comparable…weighing in at some ninety-seven thousand tons fully loaded, longer than three football fields, cruising at a speed above thirty knots, and powered by nuclear reactors that give it an essentially infinite radius of action” (Bacevitch 2013: 16). Upon seeing its looming presence on the horizon, non-Americans are like to experience fear, awe, anger, or some combination of these, at this immense display of US military might. But, for decades, concerns have raged both inside and outside of military circles about the vulnerability of this massively expensive concentration of military power, particularly to an aerial missile attack, and the enormous significance – strategic and psychological – of any successful sinking.

Indeed, much about military power rests on illusion. While militaries ostensibly exist to defend a population from enemy attack, military strategists admit that the capacity to defend is very limited, and for the most part the military’s power to protect is rooted in the capacity to inflict similar or greater punishment on the opposing side. Somewhat more noticeable are the enormous costs of war and militarism – the human lives sacrificed, the financial resources consumed and the devastating effects on our natural world, but the suggestion that nonviolent methods provide a real alternative to violence, particularly when facing an armed opponent, seems to defy logic.

In one of the most radical and influential nonviolent peace campaigns, the courageous women of Greenham Common regularly sought to illustrate the illusive nature of military security. In their protest against the stationing of US nuclear missiles on British soil in the early 1980s, the women regularly found creative ways to breach the military base, demonstrating time after time the absurdity of a nuclear weapons base’s inability to prevent unarmed women from breaking through its fences, and in one dramatic action on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, they put the naked, ash-covered female body into play to shut down the base’s activity for a day (Jones 1987: 201). The symbolism was powerful: an image of almost complete vulnerability overwhelming the seemingly omnipotent power of militarized authority. greenham-common

Many nonviolent tactics indeed involve performance, with the activists striving to demonstrate that real power lies not with those who control the weapons, but with those who refuse to obey. Significantly, militarized responses are also involved in performance, hoping that their displays of military weaponry will create fear and deter opponents; indeed, it is the hope that the threat will suffice that underscores our frequently expressed conviction that war preparations provide us with peace and security. And, while many military strategists admit that occasional resorts to force are needed to ensure a nation’s credibility, fundamentally, when governments use their instruments of destruction against either domestic opponents or foreign enemies, and in so doing unleash actions that are devastating and unpredictable in their consequences, the performance has failed. This is the meaning behind Arendt’s quote: the use of military power is a sign of a regime’s weakness, not strength.

Significantly, research on nonviolent movements highlight something more: governments seem to prefer confronting violent opponents than dedicated nonviolent ones. In interviews after WWII with renowned military strategist Sir Liddell Hart, German generals expressed how nonviolent resistance baffled them and how it was a relief when resistance became violent (quoted in Sharp 1973: 586). Indeed, there are many examples of governments seeking to infiltrate nonviolent movements in order to push activists towards violence, thereby providing the justification for a brutal crackdown. For nonviolent strategist Gene Sharp, the regime’s use of violence against nonviolent activists is a key turning point: if the protestors respond with violence, failure is usually inevitable as they cannot compete with the destructive power of the state; but if the activists continue to resist nonviolently, the political costs of violent repression typically increase, potentially threatening the stability of the regime itself (583-586). As Robert Holmes notes, “beyond a certain point increments in the capacity for violence cease to yield increase in power. Beyond that point, in fact, one’s power may decrease, however much destructive force one commands” (2012: 235).

This of course brings us to the inevitable question that is raised when the potential of nonviolent resistance is under discussion. As Holmes puts it: “They want to know how you would stop an enemy tank by going limp or melt the heart of a Hitler by turning the other cheek. Fair enough questions. At least as fair as asking them how you defend yourself against a twenty-megaton nuclear bomb about to explode overhead” (2012: 235).

There seems to be renewed scholarly interest in nonviolent resistance, hopefully a sign that our collective faith in violence is beginning to wane. In one recent book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Erika Chenoweth and Maria Stephen compared the effectiveness of violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns, and the results stunned at least one of the authors (see the Ted Talk below). Among 323 major violent insurgencies and nonviolent mass movements that occurred from 1900 to 2006, nonviolent campaigns proved to be twice as effective as violent insurgencies, succeeding more than 55 percent of the time. The average nonviolent campaign also appealed to a broader section of society, involving more than four times as many active participants, and resulted in far fewer human costs and more democratic outcomes.

In this first collection of articles on nonviolent resistance, we offer much to consider. We begin with a discussion of Nelson Mandela’s leadership of the black majority’s opposition to South Africa’s system of apartheid, and its transition from an armed struggle to a mass nonviolent movement. Several articles then go deeper into examining the potential of nonviolent resistance, and the factors that promote success. The collection, though, does not ignore the difficult realities. Cynthia Cockburn addresses the pacifist dilemma – what to do when you face a brutal opponent; this topic is then continued in Bartowski and Kahf’s discuss of the forgotten successes of Syrian’s nonviolent resistance against the Assad regime and Maria Stephen’s strategic analysis of how to defeat ISIS without violence. We then end with an inspiring look at the way that public art is being used to resist war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East and a provocative suggestion of using nonviolence to resist armed invasion. Our intention here is to inspire and provoke a new look at the grossly underestimated potential of nonviolent methods of resistance – something that our world so desperately needs.

Pat Romano
Humanities, Dawson College
Founding Editor, Inspire Solutions

Bacevich, Andrew J.  The New American Militarism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Chenoweth, Erika and Maria Stephen, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Holmes, Robert L. “War, Power and Nonviolence.” Nonviolence in Theory and Practice. Eds. Robert L. Holmes and Barry L. Gan. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2012. 233-238.

Jones, Lynne. “Perceptions of ‘Peace Women’ at Greenham Common 1981-85: A Participant’s View.” Images of Women in Peace and War: Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspectives. Eds. Sharon MacDonald, Pat Holden and Shirley Ardener. London, Macmillan, 1987. 179-204.

Sharp, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action: Power and Struggle. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973.

To watch some wonderful videos that document Greenham Common’s resistance to nuclear weapons, click on the above picture.

Watch Erika Chenoweth discussing her stunning results confirming the greater effectiveness of nonviolent methods of resistance in her Ted Talk.

An Introduction to Our Topic: Gender and Peacebuilding

But presently I would come to know you had arrived at some fresh decision more fatally foolish than ever. ‘Ah! My dear man,’ I would say, ‘what madness next!’ But he would only look at me askance and say: ‘Just weave your web, please; else your cheeks will smart for hours. War is men’s business!’

From the play Lysistrata, by Aristophanes, Athens, 411 BCE.

Men and war, women and peace – these gendered ideas have endured over the centuries, and continue to resonate in our world today. War frequently has been depicted as the quintessential male activity; one that offers confirmation of manhood and proof of first class citizenship. Human responses that have been viewed to be problematic for the warrior – fear, uncertainty, guilt, grief, empathy, compassion, and nonviolence have been feminized, and women linked to war’s opposite. In Aristophanes’ famous play, women actually prevail, exasperated by their men’s continuous warring, the women from all sides decide to take action by banning their men from the bedrooms; all it takes is one night for the men to lay down their arms. If only it were that easy!

But these ideas of warring men and peaceful women are far from accurate representations of the real world. In surveys of US riflemen immediately after close combat with German or Japanese troops during WW2, only 15 to 20% admitted to firing their rifle at the enemy (Grossman 1995, 3-4). The most decorated British soldier of the First World War was a stretcher bearer, a man who would rather die than kill (Elshtain 1987: 204). And, of course, the extent to which warring does not come naturally to men is demonstrated over and over through the significant number of veterans of modern war who return home physically intact, but psychologically broken. Similarly, women have diverse relationships to war; during wartime most have provided important support and they are in recent years increasingly crossing the ultimate barrier of combat.

However, the image of the peaceful woman, or the outsider to war when her essential support becomes visible, is deeply rooted. The traditional feminine counterpart to the warrior’s sacrifice is the mother’s sacrifice; a British bishop in WWI made it starkly clear what was expected: she was a woman who saw “neither sense nor reason in the slaying or maiming of those whom she has brought into the world”, but who gave her sons “without a word,” with “no reproach,” and with “noble endurance.” (Grayzel 1999: 227-228) And, still today, a military mother who has lost a child to war is asked to lay a wreath on Remembrance Day; no such gesture is offered to a father whose son or daughter has died in war.

During WWI, though, women were also demanding their right to express their views on war. As Cynthia Cockburn’s article, “Women’s Power to Stop War: Hubris or Hope,” notes, in the midst of WWI, more than a thousand women from 12 countries travelled to The Hague to talk peace, dispatching women envoys to speak to the heads of state in belligerent and neutral countries. These women later strongly opposed the Versailles Treaty, arguing that it was simply creating the foundations for more war.

Many women’s peace actions that followed have sought to transform the culturally-devalued symbols of the “feminine”. In the early 1980s, women from all over the United Kingdom came to Greenham Common to establish a permanent peace camp outside an American military base in Britain to protest the deploying of US nuclear weapons on British soil; in one action they stripped naked, covered themselves in ash to commemorate the victims of Nagasaki, and laid down on the main road, successfully blockaded the base, turning a symbol of physical vulnerability into strength (Jones 1987: 201). In 1988, Israeli women formed Women in Black, a group that uses the image of the silent, grieving woman to demonstrate their outrage over their country’s policies in the occupied territories; it has since become an international movement against war. More recently, Liberian Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee bridged religious and ethnic divides to unite women into becoming a powerful voice for peace, and in one key moment prevented the security forces from arresting the protesting women during a tense standoff outside ongoing peace talks by threatening to disrobe; in African culture, such an act by a married or elderly woman represented a powerful curse on the man.

In their diverse struggles, women have shaped a particular critique of war. They have illustrated that war is at the extreme end of a continuum of violence, pointing out that the struggle against war must involve efforts to end all violence. Over and over again, they have revealed the extent to which the violence of war results in an increase in other forms of societal violence, including the sexual abuse of women, that peace must mean more than the absence of war and that it will only endure if it focuses on meeting the basic needs of individuals and communities. They have also offered a powerful critique of militarized security, demonstrating how so-called protectors can all too easily become threats; the frequent sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers is a disheartening example (Wolfe).

In the official world of international and national peace negotiations, however, women’s voices are still silenced. Ironically, it tends to be those who did the fighting who are expected to become their country’s peacemakers. Last month marked the 15th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This resolution, passed unanimously on October 31, 2000 after years of feminist campaigning, calls for the equal participation and full involvement of women in all initiatives to maintain and promote peace and security. The resolution was historic, seen by feminist activists as confirming recognition that leaving women on the sidelines leads to the failure of peace efforts.

Unfortunately, too little has changed. Bringing a gender perspective into UN peace and security efforts has kept attention on the widespread sexual abuse that is so often a part of war, but it has continued to keep women in the primary role of victims. Women were signatories in only two out of 61 peace agreements between August 2008 and March 2012 and represented less than 3% of chief mediators and 9% of negotiators in 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011. Moreover, the issue of women’s lack of security in post-conflict situations – and relatedly the needs of civilians and communities – continue to be ignored: in a review of 585 peace agreements signed between 1990 and 2010 only 92 contained references to women (O’Gorman).

Our latest collection of articles draws attention to the need to listen to women’s voices on war and peace, but also on the extent to which women themselves refuse to be pushed to the sidelines. While the violence against women both during war and so-called times of peace remains at epidemic levels, many women’s responses are inspiring, and point to the extent to which the traditional gendered ideas of rational male agency and women’s passivity, or naiveté about the serious issues facing our world, are not only inherently flawed, but fundamentally damaging to our construction of a more peaceful world.

In addition to Cynthia Cockburn’s questioning of whether women really have the power to end war, we invite you to read her account of an important meeting that brought Bosnian and Syrian women together to confer about what happens when women are excluded from peace negotiations. We offer, however, an important reminder that women’s peacemaking role should not be taken for granted by examining the diverse motives that have led women to leave their homes to offer their support to the Islamic State. Women, though, are also asserting their agency in trying to protect the women suffering under the violence of ISIS, as illustrated in an interview with Iraqi women’s rights activist Yanar Mohammed. Finally, this collection includes two articles addressing women’s efforts to respond to the worldwide problem of rape, including one by Dawson student Catherine Duret on the value of a transformative justice approach for many victims of sexual assault, and then ends with a passionate call by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, given on the launching of a major women’s international peace initiative, to focus attention on the need for a peace treaty to finally bring the Korean War, the longest unresolved war in modern history, to an end.

Pat Romano
Humanities, Dawson College

For an award-winning film on the women of Liberia’s struggle for peace,
watch the film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, from the wonderful PBS series Women, War and Peace.


For a picture of women’s varied peace efforts over the years, have a look at the following:

A Partial Chronology of Women’s Peace Activism

Works Cited
Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Women and War. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

Grayzel, Susan A. Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France During the First World War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Grossman, David. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1995.

Jones, Lynne. “Perceptions of ‘Peace Women’ at Greenham Common 1981-85: A Participant’s View.” Images of Women in Peace and War: Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspectives. Eds. Sharon MacDonald, Pat Holden and Shirley Ardener. London, Macmillan, 1987. 179-204

O’Gorman, Eleanor. “On the Frontline: Women Building Peace. OpenDemcracy 50/50. 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.

Wolfe, Lauren. “The UN Is Not Serious About Its Peacekeeper Rape Problem.” Foreign Policy. 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.

Women’s Power to Stop War: Hubris or Hope

As the world’s oldest women’s international peace organization, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, prepared for its 100th anniversary this year, Cynthia Cockburn looked back to the roots of women’s peace activism, illustrating that from its beginning women took a holistic perspective, drawing out the links between women’s rights, social justice and peace. She ends her article by looking ahead, proclaiming that women’s power to end war lies in their reach, “into every corner of life, into the heart of families, into civil society and, increasingly, into the structures of governance.”


On the sixth day of the Second Battle of Ypres, one of the First World War’s most futile and costly engagements, chlorine gas, a new weapon of choice, was seeping over the trenches. The battle would end in stalemate, leaving 105,000 dead and wounded men. A mere hundred miles north of the battlefield, at The Hague, in neutral Netherlands, more than a thousand women assembled to talk peace. They travelled there from twelve countries, on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the conflict, drawn by a belief that women could achieve something male leaders were unwilling or unable to do: stop the carnage. When the congress ended, they despatched women envoys to heads of state in belligerent and neutral countries, urging them to initiate a peace commission. In vain. The war continued for another three years until 37 million men, women and children had died.

The organization emerging from the Hague Congress called itself the International Women’s Committee for Permanent Peace. A few years on, it would be renamed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and establish an office in Geneva. So, today, we of WILPF are mourning the victims of Ypres and simultaneously marking our 99th birthday. As we do so, and prepare for our centenary a year hence, we are rolling out a world-wide mobilization under the bold banner-headline: Women’s Power to Stop War.

Bold… but also bald. The slogan stops people in their tracks, we find. They pause and puzzle over it. Are WILPF making a statement of fact here, or is this mere aspiration? The story of the Hague Congress hardly inspires confidence in women’s power to stop war. Besides, the very fact that we have a centenary to ‘celebrate’, that we have had wars to contest throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, suggests not power but impotence.

If we really mean women have the power to stop war, in what does that ability reside? Why has it been ineffective till now? How may we believe in it? Recently I was invited to sketch out the first draft of a new Manifesto for WILPF. It will be debated in the organization throughout this year, and a final version issued at our centenary Congress a year from now, when we shall once more assemble in The Hague. To prepare for this daunting writing job (or to put it off a little longer?) I sat down, as is my wont, to read. Setting aside for the moment women’s failure in 1915 to achieve a peace initiative and end the war, I took from my shelf some books about women’s activism in the preceding period, in the early 20th and late 19th century.

What they reminded me was that the concern with ‘peace’ of many of our fore-runners emerged from, or combined with, engagement in other social movements. They did not limit themselves to the injunction ‘thou shalt not kill’, but addressed injustice, inequality, exploitation and unfreedom, laying the groundwork for a women’s peace movement in the 20th century that would understand these wrongs as presaging violence, and indeed as of themselves violent. Women’s campaigning tended to be joined-up, holistic.

The rapid urbanization of Britain, the USA and other industrializing societies in the latter part of the 19th century had brought widespread, and highly visible, suffering to the poor. Exploitative conditions of labour, together with appalling housing conditions, lack of sanitation and consequent disease experienced by the growing industrial workforce and their families gave rise to socialist and social reform movements. Many women gave their energies to humanitarian philanthropic work. Others were active in the anti-slavery movement. And some joined campaigns against war – the Crimean war, the American civil war, the Franco-Prussian war, the Boer war.

Middle class women’s exposure to the oppression of others heightened consciousness of their own oppression as women. The more involved they became in social and charitable projects, the more they felt the injustice of their inferiorisation by the confident public men who led these institutions. (For decades after their foundation in 1816 the Peace Societies did not allow women members to speak at meetings. It would be 73 years before the men agreed to accept a woman on the national committee.) Unlike male pacifists, then, whether secular or religious, women were liable to note the gender implications of war. Had not Mary Wollstonecraft, first and boldest of feminist writers, stated emphatically way back in 1792 that militarism threatened women by reinforcing masculine habits of authority and hierarchy? She wrote, in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, ‘Every corps is a chain of despots…submitting and tyrannizing without exercising their reason’. The failure of successive Reform Acts to accord women the vote led to a surging suffrage movement, at its height just before the outbreak of World War I.

Now – look where the founders of WILPF learned their activism. Jane Addams, who presided over the Hague Congress, was already a well-known figure in the USA for her pioneering social work. She founded Hull House in Chicago, one of the first settlements, a refuge for the poor. She was incipiently socialist, campaigning nation-wide for child labour laws and trade unions. She espoused women’s rights, joining the suffrage movement. Then, as war threatened, she embraced peace campaigning. Addams was nothing if not holistic in her activism. Historian Catherine Foster writes of her, ‘Partly because of her work with poor people [she] believed strongly that there could be no peace without social and economic justice’.

Then consider how many of the women who founded WILPF came to it directly from the struggle for women’s political representation. In Britain as war approached there were two strong suffrage organizations, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies with 50,000 members, and the smaller Women’s Social and Political Union. Both split on the war issue. While most of their members supported the government, some became the backbone of the women’s peace movement. Suffrage and peace activism remained tightly linked in the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance, to which many anti-war pro-suffrage women shifted their allegiance.

Consider two women who travelled from Europe to the USA in 1914 to galvanize women’s opposition to the war and support the launch of a National Woman’s Peace Party in Washington. One was Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, a British woman whose activism had been formed in both socialist and suffrage movements and whose concern with peace was founded, as she wrote, on ‘the idea of the solidarity of women [that] had taken a deep hold upon many of us; so deep that it could not be shaken even by the fact that men of many nations were at war’. Another was Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian feminist and suffragist, member of the IWSA. Often sharing a platform, these two women from enemy nations would later be present at the Hague Congress and go on to be active in the League. Aletta Jacobs, an opening speaker at the Congress, was president of the Dutch suffrage movement. Thus there was in the 1915 peace initiative a deeply embedded belief that women’s entry into politics bringing with them a wealth of fresh and gender-specific experience, their full acceptance on equal terms in public life, would of itself contribute to ending militarism and the taken-for-granted use of war as foreign policy.

The imbrication of struggles for social reform and women’s rights with the women’s peace movement showed its effects in WILPF’s campaign for a just peace after the 1918 Armistice. The leaders that gathered in Paris in 1919 to dictate the terms of peace to the defeated Central Powers were all men, despite women’s appeal for the inclusion of women delegates. Women from seventeen countries therefore autonomously organized their own congress. It took place in Zurich just as the text of the Treaty of Versailles was issued. The women were shocked by its savagely punitive terms which condemned the defeated populations to hunger, poverty and disease for a generation to come. And here we see clearly women’s distinctive ‘take’ on war – a recognition of the link between the power relations of the powerful and weak nations, the ruling and ruled class, and the dominant and subordinated sex.

The Women’s Charter issued by WILPF (which took its present name at the Zurich congress) was of course an appeal for universal disarmament, an international mechanism to ensure permanent peace and an end to the ‘right’ of any government to make war. But it also called for the social, political and economic status of women to be recognized as of supreme international importance. They demanded the franchise, freedom from dependence and full equality for women universally. They called for recognition that women’s services to the world as wage earners and homemakers are essential to peace. Women should be eligible for every position in the anticipated League of Nations. In addition, they showed concern for minority rights and racial equality; called for self-government for colonized peoples; the right of asylum for those fleeing persecution. They also had a revolutionary economic vision: fair distribution; and controls on capitalists and profiteers. They expressed sympathy for workers’ (nonviolent) uprising.

In this way, in explicitly seeking, beyond the end of one war, the eradication of war itself, WILPF was obliged to identify and address war’s root causes. It thus became a holistic movement for freedom and justice, against oppression and exploitation – in other words a movement against both physical violence and what would come to be termed ‘structural violence’. In doing so it drew strength and experience from the campaigns from which it had originally sprung: those for social reform and women’s rights.

It is this holistic, multi-facetted struggle for a nonviolent revolution in the relations of gender, class, ethnicity and nation to which we shall soon commit ourselves anew in our forthcoming centenary Manifesto. If we assert, with breath-taking optimism, Women’s Power to Stop War, it’s not to suggest that women ‘have power’ – on most counts we have little. Rather, it’s to remind ourselves that we have agency. Of course, not all women lack privilege and security. Nonetheless, women as a sex have seen millennia of injustice, many of us have learned how to organize, and above all we have reach, into every corner of life, into the heart of families, into civil society and, increasingly, into the structures of governance. ‘Our weapons’, reads our campaign website, ‘are dialogue, knowledge and insistence.’ Women as women are the ones who have the potential to translate the principle and practice of ‘care’ from the individual to collective, so that a caring society becomes the principle of politics, embraced by men and women alike. And war becomes unthinkable.


Cynthia Cockburn is an honorary professor in the Department of Sociology at London’s City University and at the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of Women and Gender. She has is the author of many books and academic articles, including her most recent book, Antimilitarism: Political and Gender Dynamics of Peace Movements. She has also been a long time peace activist involved in the international feminist peace groups, Women in Black against War and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

This article was originally published on the openDemocracy 50.50 website. You can find the original article by clicking here. OpenDemocracy is a digital commons committed to promoting human rights, peacebuilding and reconciliation. The 50.50 project has an ever-growing collection of articles on the issues of inclusion and gender equality, and many wonderful ones dealing with gender, war and peace. We encourage you to join the conversation at All articles are published under Creative Commons licensing.

To celebrate their 100th anniversary, the WILPF proclaimed the bold slogan
“Women’s Power to Stop War” and wrote a new manifesto on what needs to be done to create a world without war.

We invite you to consider the potential of peace presented in the WILPF’s new manifesto by clicking here, and watch the following inspiring videos:

A celebration of 100 years of peace activism, a reminder of misplaced priorities and a cogent call for peace by WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees.

From Northern Ireland to Korea: The Power of Nonviolence and Love in Action

Seventy years ago Korea was divided into two separate states by the US and former Soviet Union — an event which precipitated the 1950–53 Korean War. The war resulted in the death of 4 million Koreans, mostly civilian, and left millions of families separated by a 2 mile wide demilitarized zone. This past May, thirty international women peacemakers from around the world walked with thousands of Korean women, north and south, to call for an end to the Korean War — the world’s longest un-ended war, the reunification of families and women’s leadership in the peace process. As the women prepared to cross, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire spoke of the role of women in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and her hopes that they can play a similar role to end the more than 60 year cold war between North and South Korea.


Dear Friends,

Good Morning – Jo-eun-achim-imnida

I believe passionately in the power of women as peacebuilders because I have witnessed their power of nonviolent love in action. In l976 when Northern Ireland was on the brink of civil war, it was the civil community, particularly women, who marched in their thousands against the ongoing violence, and articulated a clear moral message ‘stop the violence, stop the killing, there is another way to solve our problems’.

When my sister Anne’s three children were killed in ‘the troubles’ in August, l976, their deaths, preceded as they were by thousands of violent deaths, touched the conscience of us all. Many people realized violence was wrong, life was sacred, and indeed we each had a right not to be killed and a responsibility not to kill each other. There was also an acknowledgement that violence was fueling retaliatory violence and deepening the fear and anger in the community. Something had to break this vicious downward cycle, of killing and destruction.

It was the civil community, particularly women, who by articulating ethical and moral values, and by calling on everyone including the political leaders and governments, faith and spiritual leaders, paramilitary groups, to take up their responsibility, unambiguously reject all violence, and begin, through dialogue to solve the problems faced by the Northern Irish people.

There was an acknowledgement by all parties, both state and non-state actors, that militarism and paramilitarism could not solve the deeply complex, historical, ethnic, political problems, which the Northern Irish people had inherited. Indeed for every bullet fired, bomb exploded, civil and political rights curtailed, there was a violent reaction. Women, many of whom experienced at first hand horrific violence, raised their voices and mobilized to end the war. They started to make space to create the critical will of the political leaders and paramilitaries to enter into genuine dialogue, diplomacy, compromise and co-operation. Women insisted that violent begets violence and this included violent rhetoric and a demonization of each other. They acknowledged that we needed to start peacebuilding in our own hearts, homes, communities, schools, and to teach peace, nonviolence and conflict resolution. The task of building a culture of nonkilling and nonviolence and changing the mindsets of militarism and war, was taken up by many people as they embraced a new consciousness of respect for each other, diversity, and the environment.

In a divided society, such as Northern Ireland, where there was a great deal of fear and anxiety, and where identities are changing, people are often traumatized by separation, isolation, and they lack confidence and belief in themselves and each other. Therefore it is not enough to insist only on dialogue, courageous and risk-taking efforts must be made, by both people – and particularly by political leaders – to open the paths to dialogue. In Northern Ireland in order to give people a chance to talk, and to listen to each other, women/men/youth helped to set up hundreds of peace groups. They traveled across Northern Ireland, setting up exchanges and discussing how to cross the emotional/religious/political divides and how to build a just, equal, and peaceful Northern Ireland.

They also traveled across the border to the Republic of Ireland to build links, cultural exchanges, economic co-operation. In the North of Ireland, women visited the prisoners and families who had lost loved ones during ‘the troubles.’ Their focus was on forgiveness and reconciliation, realizing that forgiveness is the key to peace. When the peace process was happening in Northern Ireland women played a critical and decisive role at the negotiating table, insisting on all inclusive, unconditional talks and bringing difficult issues, such as demilitarization, prisoners’ rights, equality and minority rights, to the power sharing negotiations. We have been blessed to see an end to the Northern Irish violent conflict, but acknowledge too that post-conflict peacebuilding is a work in progress.

I pray this story gives hope, and helps to deepen your confidence, courage and conviction that peace is possible. Indeed, it is a basic human right and a concrete step to ending the suffering. In North Korea, we are conscious that you and your families have suffered so much, and I am truly sorry for this. Our delegation have come on this visit, to both North and South Korea, and to walk across the De-Militarized Zone as we want to tell you that we love you, we care for you all, and we join in solidarity with you and your work to end the Korean war, unite Korean families, and bring more women into the peace process and negotiating table for a peace treaty.

President Obama said recently in response to the opening up of diplomatic relations with USA/Cuba, ’50 years of isolation for Cuba has not worked’, we hope he will also say that ’70 years of isolation for North Korea has not worked, and it’s time to end the war, time for peace’. Such visionary political leadership would not only give hope to the Korean people as they build a nonkilling peaceful Korea, but also to the whole world that disarmament and peace is possible through diplomacy, not war.

Thank you – gamsa-hamnida

Peace and happiness to you all – pyongwha-rul-derimnida.


To find out more about this major initiative undertaken by women peacemakers, watch this short video.

For a list of the thirty women peacemakers who have launched this project, click here.

Mairead Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her extraordinary actions to help end the deep ethnic/political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. She shares the award with Betty Williams. Mairead organized, together with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, massive peace demonstrations appealing for an end to the bloodshed and a nonviolent solution to the conflict. They co-founded the Peace People, a movement committed to building a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland.

This article was originally published on the openDemocracy 50.50 website. You can find the original article by clicking here. OpenDemocracy is a digital commons committed to promoting human rights, reconciliation and peacebuilding. The 50.50 project has an ever-growing collection of articles on the issues of inclusion and gender equality, and many wonderful ones dealing with gender, war and peace. We encourage you to join the conversation at . All articles are published under Creative Commons licensing.


Some More Resources for Teaching about Truth and Reconciliation

Truth and Reconciliation initiatives are not new, but there seems to be new commitment to creating spaces where ordinary people, divided by their personal histories, can listen to each other. Here are a few of these powerful expressions of peacebuilding that can be examined in classes, and links to some resources that provide an understanding of the psychological roots of reconciliation.


The Power of Storytelling
Over and over we are reminded of the power of personal stories to promote empathy and reconciliation. You will find some wonderful videos and links embedded within the articles in this collection, but here are a few more.

• Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi have a powerful friendship born of unthinkable loss. Rodriguez’ son was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001; el-Wafi’s son Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted of a role in those attacks and is serving a life sentence. Both mothers wanted to sought a meeting with the other, and since then found forgiveness and friendship. Watch their Ted’s Talk video below.

• Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling is the home of an oral history project that explores the experiences and memories of Montrealers’ who have been displaced by mass violence, ranging from the Holocaust to the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides, to political violence in Haiti, Latin America and South Asia. The project hopes that the act of listening intently to how these survivors speak of their memories, may bring us to an understanding of what these experiences mean to them and how they can be retold. You can access some of these stories by clicking here.

The Forgiveness Project is a British initiative that uses the real stories of victims and perpetrators to encourage people to consider alternatives to resentment, retaliation and revenge. The stories in their acclaimed exhibit, The F-Word, reveals that forgiveness is often difficult, costly, and painful, but also potentially transformative. You can read some of the stories here.

• As a result of the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of police officers in the US, the Center for Educational Equity and the Peace and Justice Studies Association have just launched The Truth-Telling Project with the aim of developing a national and community-based conversation on race and class through a truth and reconciliation process. Their website includes some excellent articles by leading American peace educators.

Understanding the Psychology behind Reconciliation: Two Important Approaches

Psychologist Ervin Staub’s life-long commitment to understanding the psychological roots of cruelty, as well as the human capacity to care for others even at risk to themselves, was born out of experience. In 1944, Staub and his family were given protective identity papers by Raoul Wallenberg, which allowed them to flee Nazi-occupied Hungry. He eventually made his way to the US where he studied psychology and is today a Psychology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Founding Director of its Ph.D. concentration in the Psychology of Peace and Violence.

In recent years, Professor Staub has worked extensively in the area of reconciliation, developing a project in Amsterdam to improve Dutch-Muslim relations, one in New Orleans to promote healing and reconciliation in the wake of Katrina, and numerous projects in Rwanda to help promote healing and reconciliation between victims and perpetrators, among others. He has written many articles on the psychological roots of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. You can find many on-line by clicking here.


James Gilligan, the opening keynote speaker to Dawson’s 2011 Conference, Youth and Violence: The Role of Education, has shaped much thinking on the need for a restorative justice approach in criminal justice systems. For 30 years, Dr. Gilligan was a member of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, where he directed the mental health services for the Massachusetts prison system. Dr. Gilligan is recognized worldwide for his promotion of a shift in our perspective on violence from punishment to prevention. His work has revealed how shame and humiliation cause violent behaviour and inhibit the sense of guilty and empathy needed for perpetrators to recognize the suffering they have inflicted on others. You can watch his wonderful keynote talk by clicking here.

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Ivan Freud from Dawson’s Religion Department calls on us to think about the potential of religion to promote peace in both the socio-political sphere and within ourselves. With references to six religious perspectives, he shows us the peaceful values within the world’s religions, highlighting the necessity for collaboration among religious leaders and followers of the world’s diverse religious and spiritual traditions.


By looking at the past relationship of peace and religion we will gain a better understanding of the potential future relationship between peace and religion and the role that each one of us may play in that future.

Before addressing the relationship between peace and religion, it is important to recognize both the constructive and destructive effects of political, economic, and social conditions on religious thought and action. It is important to note that throughout history and in all world religions, religious actors have been forces of both peace and violence.

Allow me to tell you a story…

A young First Nations Brave is distraught and goes to see the Chief, the Elder of his tribe, and tells him: “Chief, I am concerned, worried, I’ve got two wolves inside of me fighting, one is kind, compassionate, understanding, empathetic and peaceful, the other is mean, angry, vengeful, jealous and violent and I am concerned as to which one will win! To which the Chief answers: “Whichever one you feed.”

In other words, according to this story, the choices we make contribute to either more or less peace in the world, the choice being ours, hence Mahatma Gandhi’s challenge to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

In our consideration of what the relationship between peace and religion has been to date, let us first consider the relationship of religion to “outer peace”, peace in the socio-political sphere, then its relationship to “inner peace”, peace within the individual.

Outer Peace and Religion
In 2010, ten years after the first Millennium World Peace Summit of Spiritual and Religious Leaders was held at the United Nations, 6 religious scholars were invited to reflect on the background paper of the conference penned by David Little, entitled “Religion, World Order, and Peace.”

As an example of the past relationship between outer peace and religion, allow me to offer, though very briefly, the highlights of these 6 perspectives. Along with each insight, I’ll also ask you to consider which wolf would be fed by the insight provided.

African Religions
Wande Ambimbola, writing on behalf of African religions, underlines the need for the United Nations to participate directly in upholding human rights, minority rights, and the rights of indigenous peoples as outlined in such legal statutes as the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1993), as well as the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (1994). These are to be upheld in the face of “coercive manipulation” and “shameful and violent” attempts at conversion.

1. In other words, do people have a right to not be subjected to violent proselityzation? Which wolf would be fed by protecting, through legal, non-violent means, those who are most vulnerable?

Varun Soni writing from the perspective of Hinduism stresses the importance of engaging a “hermeneutics of peace,” an interpretative framework, that, if peace by peaceful means is considered a sacred priority, would be a basis for selecting, accentuating, and coordinating, texts, doctrines, and practices from different religious traditions.

2. Seeing as there are both peaceful and violent elements in all world religions and considering the context of their composition, which wolf would be fed by promoting the nonviolent, peace-supporting interpretations of religious texts, doctrines and practices?

James Heft, writing from the Christian perspective, emphasizes that while recognizing the damage done in the past, we can nonetheless remain hopeful given that “… the non-violent dispositions of Christianity… are exerting a growing influence on Church teaching” stressing the importance of paying attention to the place of forgiveness, accountability, reconciliation and restorative justice in post-conflict settings.

3. When considering the relationship of Christianity and peace, which wolf would be fed by focusing on the peace-enhancing teachings of Christianity’s founder rather than the atrocities committed in his name?

In discussing the relationship of Judaism to peace, Jeff Israel brings forth a subject of broad importance, namely the connection between religious, non-religious, and ethnic beliefs to national identity as an international problem that needs urgent attention as it underlies many of the festering tensions found in cases of ethno-religious and ethno-national conflicts around the world.

4. Which wolf would be fed by endorsing the establishment and recognition of “just states” in bringing about and maintaining peace?

Commenting from the perspective of Islam, Abdulaziz Sachedina suggests that the challenge of achieving a reasonable balance between heartfelt religious conviction and commitment to a public sphere governed by human rights and the rule of law would best be addressed by highlighting the universal notions of democracy, pluralism, and human rights within Islamic scriptures and tradition. This would, in turn, form the foundations for a belief in a “functional secularity” which, being informed, if only in part, by moral and metaphysical beliefs would attract the support of both the liberal and conservative wings of Islam.

5.Which wolf would be fed by demonstrating respect in accommodating religious perspectives on socio-political matters?

In addressing Buddhism’s contribution to world peace, Donald K. Swearer explores the work of 4 socially engaged Asian Buddhists, namely Thich Nhat Hanh, Sulak Sivaraksa, A.T. Ariyaratne, and Cheng Yen, in their efforts to promote environmental protection, poverty alleviation, economic development, and inclusive medical care for all.

6. Which wolf would be fed by not only encouraging but also actively participating in protecting the environment, alleviating poverty, promoting economic development and making inclusive medical care for all a reality?

In order to better understand how we may consider these six different past perspectives on outer peace and religion, allow me to tell you a second story, that of the “Six Blind People and the Thing in the Jungle”! Six blind people enter a jungle and come upon something unknown, the first, feeling it to be muscular and wriggling, says it is a snake; the second, feeling it to be hard and sharp, says it is a spear; the third, with her arms wrapped around it, calls it a tree; the fourth, sensing something moving in front of her and feeling a breeze on her face, says it is a fan; the fifth, arms wide and pushing with all of his might, says it is a wall; and the sixth, tying knots in it, says it is a rope. What they had come upon was an elephant! The elephant’s trunk was mistaken to be a snake, the tusk a spear, the leg a tree, the ear a fan, the side a wall, and the tail a rope.

The point of this story is to communicate the importance of stepping in the other’s shoes, seeing things from their perspective, listening and respecting one another’s views and in so doing coming to a more complete understanding of the whole!

This view is reflected in David Little’s conclusion to his overview of the six religious perspectives cited above: “It is hard to see how initiatives in the field of peace and development undertaken by religious and spiritual leaders can be fully effective or sustained without continuing interaction and cooperation with the work of international agencies such as the U.N.” According to the Spiritual and Religious leaders assembled,

Humanity stands at a critical juncture in history, one that calls for strong moral and spiritual leadership to help set a new direction for society. We, as religious and spiritual leaders, recognise our special responsibility for the well-being of the human family and peace on earth. [We] pledge our commitment to work together to promote the inner and outer conditions that foster peace and the nonviolent management and resolution of conflict. We appeal to the followers of all religious traditions and to the human community as a whole to cooperate in building peaceful societies, to seek mutual understanding through dialogue where there are differences, to refrain from violence, to practice compassion, and to uphold the dignity of all life.

7. Which wolf would be fed by the continued interaction and cooperation among religious and spiritual leaders with international agencies such as the U.N.?

Inner Peace and Religion
Having considered the relationship of “outer peace”, that of the socio-political sphere and religion, let us turn our attention, if only briefly, to the relationship between “inner peace”, peace within the individual, and religion.

Said simply, inner peace is cultivated through such practices as prayer and meditation. The idea being to turn inwards, thereby calming mind and body, and cultivating peace within, for, as Mark Twain said: “I’ve lived through a lot of horrible things in my life and some of them actually happened!” What Twain is saying is that we cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary suffering, compound our suffering, with our minds; as Abraham Maslow said: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, you see all problems as nails!”

Through practices such as meditation, we gain a greater objectivity in regards to our mind stuff, our monkey mind, and so become better able to manage our mind stuff thereby engendering a greater inner peace.

The importance of inner peace in promoting peace is intrinsically linked to the idea that although we may appear to be separate beings, in fact we are actually One!

This is the idea behind former prime-minister of India, Sarvanpalli Radhakrishnan’s statement to “love your neighbour as yourself; because you are your neighbour, it is illusion that has you believing that you are separate!”

This conception is well-explained by the Buddhist notion of Emptiness which stipulates that Life is empty of self-existence, svabhava… In other words, ‘no man is an island’ and ‘nothing exists in a vacuum’. The Buddhist definition of Emptiness states clearly that we are not separate but are rather inter-dependently co-arising.

A notion potentially echoed in Existential Philosophy when Jean-Paul Sartre offers: “The other is hell.” If we were to remove the category of otherness, if we dropped the notion of us vs. them in favour of only us would we then, not also do away with the notion of hell? Maybe?

Scientifically speaking, Albert Einstein offers his view that: “There is no place in this new kind of physics both for the field and matter, for the field is the only reality.”

I remember being at a weekend workshop given by Thich Nhat Hanh in which he told us the story of “The Missed Nail” – holding a nail with the left hand, and hammering with the right, the right hand misses the nail and hammers the left thumb instead – does the left thumb damn the right hand for its mistake? No. What happens? Immediately, the right hand drops the hammer and hugs the left thumb.

For this reason, our inherent inter-connectivity, developing inner peace is seen as an essential component in developing peace in our world, on this our humble globe.

Before concluding, it is important to mention a third type of peace, one that embraces both the inner and outer dimensions, and that is Peace with the Earth – to see the Earth as Sacred – an idea elucidated by indigenous traditions, as well as Gaia and Goddess religions.

It is also the idea elucidated by the renowned Canadian Scientist and Environmentalist David Suzuki who urges each of us to pressure our representatives to make declarations recognizing a healthy environment as a fundamental human right, then to use these declarations in pressuring provincial governments to pass an environmental bill of rights, and finally to amend the Charter of Rights to recognise the fundamental human right to a healthy environment. If interested, do check out!

Speaking of David Suzuki, I remember attending a talk given by Mr. Suzuki at McGill a number of years back where he offered this insight: “The air in my lungs is the same air that is in your lungs and it is the same air that is in the lungs of all breathing creatures on this planet!” Through each and every breath, we are intimately connected to one another.

8. Which wolf, then, is fed by extending our empathy to embrace the entire world and all peoples?

Having considered the past relationships between religion and “inner peace”, “outer peace” and “Peace with the Earth”, we are left to consider Mahatma Gandhi’s challenge to “be the change we wish to see in the world,” or, as understood through the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “Peace in oneself, Peace in the world.”

A friend of mine told me a story many years back, he said that there are two kinds of people in the world, now I believe that there are as many kinds of people as there are people, but for the sake of the story, the first type of person is walking down the road of life and almost falls into a deep hole, he pulls back, thinks “Lucky Me!” and walks on. The second type of person is walking down the road of life, almost falls in the hole, thinks “Lucky Me!” AND recognizes that others may not be as fortunate as he, and so he plugs the hole and puts a sign saying: “Danger: There is a hole here!”

9. Which wolf is being fed by the second type of person? Which type of person do you want to be?
What then, might be our future?

Living in Montreal, where we have near free education, free medical services, water and food a plenty, an incredible mix of all the cultures of the world, and an unparalleled freedom of expression, offers us an incredible opportunity. As I tell my students, look around, your greatest resource is one another!

If we are genuinely committed to bringing about a lasting peace in our world, and accept Mahatma Gandhi’s challenge to be the change we wish to see in the world, then the future relationship between peace and religion may well be in our hands; and so I leave you with the words of Margaret Mead and a few final questions:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And so,
If not now, then when?
If not here, then where?
If not us, then whom?

Selected Works Cited
Little, David. “’Religion, World Order and Peace’ – The Years Later.” Cross Currents 60. 3 (September 2010): 297-306.

Ivan Freud
Dawson College. Religion

For an inspiring movement to unite the world’s religions and each of us on a project to create a more peaceful world, have a look at the Charter for Compassion, initiated in 2008 by religious historian Karen Armstrong. Become a member, read some poignant stories on the power of compassion, and be the change you wish to see.

Click here.

Teaching about Truth and Reconciliation

There are so many wonderful materials to encourage our students to reflect on the real human potential for rebuilding relationships broken by violence while not understating the enormous difficulties involved. Here we focus on resources that encourage us to think about forgiveness and reconciliation through the personal lives of those on both sides of violence.

The One Million Viewers Campaign: Beyond Right and Wrong

In February 2014, filmmaker Lekha Singh launched the One Million Viewers campaign — an online campaign to promote the viewership of award-winning film, Beyond Right and Wrong. The film presents the stories of people who have experienced loss and the stories of people who have caused that loss. From the Rwandan Genocide to the Troubles in Northern Ireland to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, people from different sides of the violence tell their stories—their anger or remorse, their pain, their paths to recovery. The trauma of violence, the value of truth, the complexities of forgiveness and the potential of reconciliation are all examined in this powerful film.

The film can be viewed free on-line at and, with every viewing, 50 cents is automatically given to a charity of your choice. This would make a great classroom project, and you can ask your students to leave comments on this website by clicking here.

The Empathy Library

This site is a digital treasure house of inspiring books and films. Join the library and help build the collection. From their current top ten list, you will find the following wonderful videos that encourage us to step out of ourselves and see the world through the eyes of others – a necessary step for reconciliation. The first is a wonderful animated film based on a talk by philosopher and author Roman Krznaric, who calls for a new culture of outrospection to replace the culture of introspection that dominated in the 20th century. The second is a short appeal by Save the Children that powerfully places a British child into the life of a child caught up in the chaos of war.

“My Father is a Terrorist”

In this powerful Ted’s Talk, Zak Ebrahim talks of growing up in a family environment which promoted hatred and extremism and the life experiences which led him to take a different path. His experiences of being bullied gave him a sense of what it was to be a victim of violence, while his world view shifted as he began to encounter the people he had been taught to hate.


The film, Coexist, asks the following question: when hate persists, how will you coexist? The film tells the stories of several survivors of the Rwandan genocide who are trying to move on with their lives while having to live side by side with the perpetrators who have returned to their villages. The filmmakers have created many teaching resources as part of their Upstander Project, which aims to foster larger thinking about the problem of “othering” and the  need to build inclusive school cultures.

Talking about the Ideas

Claire Elliott from the Dawson Library has come up with some ideas to launch a classroom discussion on the concepts of truth and reconciliation.



noun: truth

  1.  the quality or state of being true.

“he had to accept the truth of her accusation”

  • that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.
  • a fact or belief that is accepted as true.

Consider this statement:

“What is truth? Truth doesn’t really exist. Who is going to judge whether my experience of an incident is more valid than yours? No one can be trusted to be the judge of that.” (Tracey Emin)

Have you ever been in a conflict like the one suggested above? What was the “truth” of the situation? What were the “facts”? Would your ‘opponent’ accept, or dispute, your version of events? If so, how do you account for this difference in perception? Can you think of a situation where the facts were not consistent with the truth?





noun: reconciliation; plural noun: reconciliations

  1. the restoration of friendly relations.
  2. the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.

Think of a conflict you have experienced… Were you able to “reconcile” your views or feelings? If so, were you satisfied with the outcome? Was it “friendly” or only “compatible”? We’d love to hear your thoughts or stories of “reconciliation”: Is it possible? Why is it important? How do we do it? Where do we start?




Making Peace through Apology

Apologies can be a simple human act, but one that has the potential to transform relationships in our individual lives but also between political communities. Good apologies meet some of our most basic psychological needs; they can erase humiliations, ease our guilt, remove our desires for revenge and rebuild trust. The very fact that many of us find it difficult to apologize is an indication of its potential power. In this short article, psychiatrist Aaron Lazare explains why apologies can play a major role in promoting a more peaceful world.


Aaron Lazare is a leading authority on the psychology of shame and humiliation. For many years, he was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and from 1991-2007 served as chancellor and dean of the school. His most recent book is On Apology (2004), a book filled with wonderful examples of apologies — between individuals and on behalf of nations — that serve to reveal the power of this simple human interaction.


Click here to read the entire article 

You can also find online another article “Go Ahead, Say You’re Sorry” by Aaron Lazare that is ideal for student discussion. You can find it posted on Psychology Today’s site.


Some assignment ideas:

  • The topic of apologies raises some interesting discussion questions:

What makes a good apology?

What psychological needs are met when you receive a satisfying apology? Have students think of an apology that they have received.

Why is it difficult to apologize meaningfully to someone we have injured?


  • Students could also assess the value of an apology that appeared in the news recently, considering the motives behind it and its effectiveness. You can find some examples of recent apologies in On Apology or on the website.


  • Psychologist Floyd Webster Rudmin from the University of Tromsø in Norway has called for non-state actors to engage in an apologies project for actions that their country or ethnic group have committed against another identifiable group; for educators, he suggests that we ask our students to research such an event and then conceive of a way to express apology for the harm done. As he writes:

 The list of transgressions is immense and without end, and probably no nation or people is without a reason to apologize….An apology seems like a win-win situation. Those who apologize come to understand the reality of their national history that is often sanitized from history books. An apology is verbal and thus does not require huge resources. Individual activists and small groups can successfully apologize. If an apology is strongly opposed, then the opponents must enter into a debate about history, and must reveal motives, both past motives and current motives. An apology is a human bond, since it entails sympathy with someone else, who before the apology was treated as non-existent, with non-existent suffering.




Confronting War’s Complexities in the Classroom

 Zainab Salbi’s reminder that there are two sides to war; a devastating film from the NFB on the aftermath of war; the psychological trauma facing many returning soldiers; an ideal classroom text to introduce war’s complexities; and the increasing global outrage against armed drones.


Some Compelling Films and Videos that Reveal War’s Costs



Women,Wartime and the Dream of Peace


Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women to Women International, gives a poignant talk, where she reminds us that, in order to create lasting peace after war, we need to consider war and peace from all sides, and that includes the story of women who keep life going on.


We are missing a completely other side of wars. We are missing my mother’s story, who made sure with every siren, with every raid, with every cut off-of electricity, she played puppet shows for my brothers and I, so we would not be scared of the sounds of explosions. We are missing the story of Fareeda, a music teacher, a piano teacher, in Sarajevo, who made sure that she kept the music school open every single day in the four years of besiege in Sarajevo and walked to that school, despite the snipers shooting at that school and at her, and kept the piano, the violin, the cello playing the whole duration of the war, with students wearing their gloves and hats and coats. That was her fight. That was her resistance.


Aftermath: The Remnants of War

Filmed on location in France, Russia, Vietnam and Bosnia, director Daniel Sekulich’s award-winning NFB documentary reveals the stark truth that wars really never end.  Among its examples of war’s forgotten legacies is the stunning revelation that, if de-mining efforts in France continue at the current pace, it will take 700 years to rid France of the unexploded ordinances from WWI and WWII that litter the country.


Aftermath: The Remnants of War by Daniel Sekulich, National Film Board of Canada

Crash Landing/Opération Retour

This 2005 Quebec film, directed by Luc Côté, contributed to an increased willingness on the part of Canada’s government and military to acknowledge the psychological problems that confront so many returning soldiers.  Through interviews with Canadian soldiers that are disturbing, thoughtful, and at times angry, numerous veterans discuss the difficulty of revealing PTSD in a military culture that has traditionally defined it as weakness and the sense of betrayal from the institution that they had loyally served. For an interview with the director and details on the film, click here.






An Ideal Text for a Classroom Discussion:

 “Love and Resistance in Wartime: An Interview with Chris Hedges


In this short text, YES! Magazine’s Sarah van Gelder interviews Chris Hedges, a former New York Times journalist who reported from the world’s war zones for decades. In this compelling discussion, perfect for the classroom, Hedges touches on the addictive power of war, the inevitability of atrocities, PTSD and the power of small acts of resistance.

When you are in a combat situation like that, you realize how easy it is to commit murder, how easy it is to commit atrocity, because you are so deathly afraid — and with good reason. But the consequences are devastating, because of what you have done is to shed innocent blood…. So you bring back not only the trauma of violence, but that deep darkness that you must carry withing you for the rest of your life — that you have been responsible for the death of innocents.


So it isn’t just the issue of trauma; it is, as well, an issue of morality. This is a horrible burden to inflict, especially on a young life. It’s why war should always be waged as a last resort, because the costs are so horrendous, not only to families who lose loved ones and will spend the rest of their lives grieving, but for those who return and for the rest of their lives bear these emotional and psychological burdens.


For the complete text, click here.


Drone Warfare and Nonviolent Resistance:

Putting a Trial on in the Classroom

Before they fired, they hovered – their onerous, ominous buzzing casting shadows over village schools and homes, over weddings and funerals. The villagers never knew when they would fire, whether it would be at dawn, before the household woke for morning prayers, or when the men had left for the mosque, or in the middle of the day when bread baked on ovens and children played in courtyards (Benjamin 2013: 102)

A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: from June 2004 to mid-September 2012 between 2562-3325 people in Pakistan have been killed, including 474-881 civilians, with 176 being children (Living Under Drones: vi)

If you do something long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries….. (Colonel Daniel Reisner, former head of the Israeli Defense Forces Legal Department; quoted in Benjamin: 127)

One of the today’s most desired weapons are armed drones, which are capable of flying for hours, sending back hundreds of hours of video footage and, without warning, killing a suspected “terrorist” – all with no risks for a pilot.  Assessing the number of innocent victims in the US drone wars over Pakistan and Yemen is difficult and further complicated by the fact that it is apparently US policy to consider all unidentified male victims of military age to be, by definition, combatants.  The target person’s identity is often not even known by those who give the order as the conclusion that their behavior, assessed at a distance, looks suspicious is enough to justify an attack (“Too Much Power for a President” New York Times 31 May 2012).

While only a small number of countries currently have the capacity to engage in targeted assassinations, the weapons are spreading — such is the logic of arms proliferation. However, past arms control successes, most recently the successful global landmines treaty,  have proved that an organized popular movement can succeed in changing the behavior of even major powers.

For many legal authorities, targeted killings by armed drones violate the most fundamental laws of war that accept lethal violence in self-defense only if the threat is instant, overwhelming, and if there is no other alternative. 

Global outrage is intensifying. One of the most famous actions in the United States was undertaken by 14 nonviolent activists, later named the Creech 14, who in April 2009 entered the Creech Air Force base in Nevada, where many of America’s drones are remotely operated. They were arrested for trespassing, but it was their subsequent trial which drew the most attention. The judge considered the issues to be too important to make an immediate ruling, which is typically the case in arrests of nonviolent activists. He eventually returned four months later with a ruling of guilty, but, due to time already served, released the group with the words, “Go in peace.” 

The trial record which examines the morality of drone warfare and the legitimacy of nonviolent resistance has been turned into a script that could be a useful tool for an interactive classroom project.

To read a copy of the script, click here

For more information, see Stanford Law School’s 2012 report  Living Under Drones project and Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin’s recent book, Drone Warfare: killing By Remote Control (London: Verso, 2013). In Canada, a campaign to prevent the purchase of armed drones is being led by the Rideau Institute’s project.






Tackling Othering In and Out of the Classroom

Many pedagogical resources exist to help us respond to othering: offers us tools to recognize our own assumptions about difference; A Class Divided reveals the lessons of Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes experiment; living libraries help us see the individuals within the groups we devalue; and a couple of informative videos from our 2011 conference identify some of the silences within our schools.


Examining Our Hidden Biases

As psychology has revealed, most of us have unconscious biases against people we consider outsiders; while this does not mean that we are destined to act on our biases or even accept them when they creep into our consciousness, we need to pay attention to them. This is the goal of, a site which offers many teaching resources that seek to make us more aware of the biases in our own thinking.

Blue Eyes and Brown Eyes

Jane Elliott’s experiment on her grade 3 class in 1968 remains a powerful reminder of how easily us and them can be manipulated by society. The widely-watched PBS film, A Class Divided, documents the experiment and brings together the children – now adults – to reflect on the impact of their experience.

Breaking Down Prejudice with a Living Library

This innovative initiative was the brainchild of a Danish youth group, Stop the Violence, which was established by 5 young people after one of their friends was brutally beaten in a nightclub. The group swelled to 30,000 members across Demnark and in 2000 held the first human library. Since then, human (or living) libraries have been held throughout the world: visitors or “readers” are given the opportunity to take out “books” and speak informally to people who are “different”. The human library encourages people to confront their stereotypes about others in a positive and humourous way. Visit the human library website and see all the “books” that have been borrowed.

The Silences in Schools

The majority of bullying taunts are gender-based, related to body size, the perception that one’s gender identity is “inappropriate” or that one may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered; the most common slurs one hears in the corridors of our schools –“bitch”, “slut”, “hoe” “faggot”, “queer”, and “pussy” – are also the ones that are most likely to be ignored by educators. Educator and anti-bullying expert Liz Meyer points out in her work the ways in which bullying taunts frequently become a way to impose dominant views about normality and reflect common but harmful stereotypes that need to be explicitly addressed. Watch the passionate call she made at Dawson’s 2011 conference below; you can also read several of her articles, including “‘But I’m Not Gay’: What Straight Teachers Need to Know about Queer Theory”, on her web site.

Marilyn Noble, an educator who has long worked to alert teachers about issues of othering, also reminds us that diversity appears in many forms that typically go unnoticed in our classrooms. Think of such issues as socioeconomic background, rural vs. urban upbringing, political views, mother tongue, family structure, mental health issues, learning disabilities and trauma, among others. In the following video, she examines techniques that help us create a truly inclusive classroom.

You can find many other videos from our 2011 Conference on this web site by clicking here.

(Unfortunately these videos are temporarily unavailable)

Addressing War Games in the Classroom: Some Useful Classroom Resources

David Leonard’s call for a pedagogy of peace; a useful conversation starter; a teacher’s guide to help students think critically “about video games that play at war”; and some useful videos. 


“Unsettling the Military Entertainment Complex: Video Games and a Pedagogy of Peace” 

In this provocative essay, David Leonard suggests that most teachers are reluctant to talk about video games and that “in general, there is a marked failure to recognize video games as sophisticated vehicles inhabiting and disseminating ideologies of hegemony” (2004: 2). He goes on to offer this disturbing picture of what happens when he uses class time to allow some students to play war-themed games, while making other students critically analyze what happens to their peers:

As students scream at their enemies and shout racially tinged epithets that serve to perpetuate ugly stereotypes – and as all things military are adored, glorified and revered – the classroom becomes a fishbowl where one can see how racial, gender and national identities are created and reinforced against a backdrop of Manichean violence and Social Darwinism(4).

To read Leonard’s full article in the on-line journal, Studies in Media and Information Literacy Education, click here.


Militarism and Video Games: An Interview with Nina Huntemann, professor of communication and director of the film, Game Over: Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games.

Games of all sorts – video games, board games, and games kids play in the backyard – have historically been about conflict and warfare. Whether you’re playing Chess, which is a simulated battlefield, or a game like Go, an ancient Chinese game that is also a simulated battlefield, or you’re playing a board game like Risk or Axis, you’re essentially at war and playing out military conflict….What is perhaps different about video games that deal with military conflict is they’re more realistic. Instead of imagining the battlefield in your mind or having an abstract battlefield like the Chess war, is that in video games the battlefield is drawn out for you in almost photographic, picture-perfect volume.

I do want to say one thing about these (video) games – they’re fun. In that, your adrenaline during all this is really pumped up, and you have to be sneaky and think through things, and strategy is involved, so there are a lot of visceral connections to these games….They’re popular because they’re fun to play, but also the themes draw us in, since they are themes that are in the headlines. We’re drawn in a way to something that is realistic.

 It’s not just about fantasy and escape, but another part of what we enjoy about entertainment and popular culture is how it reflects the world we live it. When we hear the word “terrorism” for example… we immediately respond with an immediate, Yes, we must neutralize it. Yes, they must be destroyed, etc. There is no moral or ethical questioning of the specifics of the historical context of the terrorist threat…. (All) of the questions that might come between hearing about a threat and then deciding to act have been flattened or eliminated….What I find really frightening is that in our playtime – in our leisure time, we’re engaging in fictional conflicts that are based on terrorist threat and never asking any questions…. It’s almost as if all the game needs to say is, There’s a terrorist threat, now go! If you take that and connect it to our culture, that is disconcerting…

The full interview has been made available by the Media Education Foundation and can be reproduced on a non-profit basis for educational purposes. Huntemann is an important critic of war games, recognizing their entertainment value, but also their risks. This short interview covers the key issues and represents an ideal text to use to introduce the topic in the classroom.

To read the entire interview or download it for your students, click here.

You will also find a very helpful teacher’s guide on war-themed video games from the Media Education Foundation by clicking here. 


There are also a number of good films from the Media Education Foundation that can be used to critically examine video games and their messages: 










From Violent Games to Socially Responsible Ones

Some psychological research on the effects of violent video games; a video interview with David Grossman on how understanding the behavior of soldiers in combat reveals the risks of media violence; some important links on socially responsible gaming.


 The Effects of Violent Video Games

Violence is a complex phenomenon with multiple causes; to create a more peaceful society, we need to address all of them, and, pay particular attention to how they interact together. Some of us may indeed be at greater risk of engaging in violence, whether due to biological factors or to early experiences of parental neglect, but societal factors play a dominant role. At its essence, violent behavior is learned and popular culture’s embrace of violence — its messages that violence is normal, effective, and even fun — represent a powerful form of socialization.

Media violence has been studied for over 50 years, and among researchers there is a consensus that it plays a significant role in promoting violence in society,  Indeed, some researchers now refer to media violence as a cause of violent behavior, while stressing that it is a factor that is neither necessary nor sufficient.  However, this does not minimize the significance of media violence, and indeed it has been argued that statistically-speaking the relationship between media violence exposure and increased aggressiveness is larger than the relationship between lung cancer at work and passive smoking, condom use and protection against sexually-transmitted HIV, and calcium intake and bone mass, and only  slightly smaller than the relationship between smoking and cancer (Bushman and Anderson, “Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation.” American Psychologist (June/July 2001): 477-489).

 As our understanding of the human brain advances, we are also gaining a better understanding about how media violence and violent video games influence us. We are learning, for example, that much of our thinking occurs at an unconscious level, and that the more frequently we are exposed to a particular world view that values the use of violence, the more certain neural connections are reinforced at the expense of others. Aggressive behavioural scripts thus become cognitively more available and increasingly linked to positive emotions, and are then easily activated unconsciously to interpret new situations and shape our responses. Concurrently, the accessibility of nonviolent scripts and the normal negative emotional reactions humans have to conflict, aggression and violence are reduced. (See, for example, Anderson, “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 4.3 (December 2003): 81-110).

To read some important articles from the leading researchers on media violence, click here


Watch an interview with Lt. Col. David Grossman as he discusses his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, On Killing.   The book examines how military training is designed to break down our innate inhibition against taking human life, while raising the disturbing implications this has for our popular consumption of violent media. To watch the video, check out our

Roots of Violence/Media Violence page.

Towards Socially Responsible Gaming

An important response to the popularity of violent video games is to develop alternative gaming experiences. Rather than develop games which perpetuate in the virtual world the worst of what we can do to each other, why not use games to transform our thinking, promote empathy for others and show us that cooperation and new ideas can lead to the creation of more just and caring societies?

To see some of the best of these, check out the following links:

  • Games for Change is a nonprofit organization that seeks to facilitate the creation and distribution of social impact games. You will find a number of games which are ideal for young adults, including Darfur is Dying and Climate Change.
  • World without Oil is an on-line collaborative game where one must learn to live for 32 weeks in a world without oil; the site includes 10 lesson plans to help teachers integrate the game into their teaching.
  • Evoke is a social network game to help empower people worldwide to find solutions to today’s pressing problems.
  • Superstruct was played by more than 8000 people from September to November 2008, who had to come up with ways to save the planet; you can have a look at the archive which offers a fascinating look at the potential of gaming to inspire solutions.
  • Spent invites players to make hard decisions around poverty and unemployment and uses facebook to encourage players to reach out to their community to find solutions.