Paul Chappell Talk @ Stanford – Part I

Captain Paul K. Chappell believes that war is not inevitable and peace is possible. Having graduated from West Point in 2002 and served in Baghdad during 2006 and 2007, he knows the in’s and out’s of war. With this experience he decided to start thinking about the future of war and peace. He looked at the natural instincts for war or peace and came to the conclusion that not only is war unnatural, it is also unnecessary. We here at the Peace Innovation Lab were lucky enough to sit down with him for lunch and have a discussion, as well as listen to his talk on campus last night. He spoke about a variety of ideas that he connected together to promote the idea that peace is possible.

Violence and War

Many people assume that violence is natural. They think that it is the natural way of boys to get into physical scuffles. However, the biggest challenge for every army in world history has been to keep their soldiers from running away when the battle begins. Violence is a scary thing, and when faced with it, human flight instincts are much stronger than their fight instinct. Humans do not instinctually want to kill other people. Statistically this can be seen in the fact that at Gettysburg 90% of recovered rifles were loaded; in WWII 15% of soldiers who could fire on the enemy actually fired on the enemy. Violence drives people insane; 98% of soldiers experience some psychological trauma, many having posttraumatic stress disorder.

The only way to politically organize violence is to promote other emotions and ideas. This is done through creating a family amongst the soldiers as well as propaganda about the driving factor of the war. This is done because, while violence is not natural and most people will flee from death, our instinct to preserve our loved ones is far greater than our instinct for self-preservation. To exploit this, the military trains soldiers to think of fellow soldiers as family.  This gets the military behind fighting because they want to protect their loved ones and family. For instance, by the Vietnam War, 90% of soldiers who could fire on the enemy actually fired on the enemy. To get the general public to support violence, the army creates propaganda about the way. This propaganda generally falls into two categories, protecting the innocent – their country, families, and children – and helping another country in an altruistic manner.

Killing is not a natural instinct. Even once imbued with enough propaganda to have motivation to fight, soldiers are still traumatized at the prospect of killing another human. There is a reason the Nazis resorted to gas chambers and gangsters shoot people in the back of the head – people The only way fix this is to use further propaganda to dehumanize the enemy by creating distance between the soldier and his or her enemy. There are three main types of distance, psychological, physical and moral. This distance can be accomplished by portraying people as subhuman, portraying the cause of the army as morally above the enemy – that the cause is “good” while the enemy is “bad” – and using forms of segregation in order to oppress people. If someone is still seen as a human being, it is very hard to oppress that person, but once they are considered distant and subhuman, they are more easily treated as such. It is distance that allows for this mistreatment and violence.

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