The Hypocrisy of War Versus Education

Issue 8, Volume 113

By Elma Khan 

In my elementary school, students were required to recite the school pledge every morning. The pledge included the line “I promise to solve my problems peacefully, without violence or bad language.” All students have probably been taught from an early age to peacefully solve their problems, because words are more efficient when confronting work or relationship issues. However, much of the global policy of war contradicts these basic ideals. The concept of war is completely opposed to common education and must be replaced with a more logical and civilized way of solving national or global issues: traditional verbal communication and well-reasoned arguments.

The basis of every war is conflict. The American Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy was fought over the abolition of slavery. Germany’s economic depression and Hitler’s invasions of European nations led to World War II. Right now, the Russo-Ukrainian war is happening because Russian president Vladimir Putin wants to forcefully annex Ukraine. So far, there have been approximately 100,000 Russian soldier and 100,000 Ukrainian soldier casualties. Approximately 6,595 Ukrainian civilians have been murdered, as of November 22.

The concept of war stretches back to Mesopotamian times, when Sumerians battled the Elamites, pillaged their capital, Susa, and gained their territory. But circumstances have changed. Back then, humans did not have developed prefrontal cortexes, the part of the brain responsible for complex thought processes such as critical thinking and metacognition. Now, however, the prefrontal cortex is significantly developed in humans, and it is easier to resist the human temptation for physical, brute force. But despite biological advancement and countless violent conflicts that have ended in disaster, humans continue to use war to gain what they want.

While relations between nations have become more complex, the reasons for war have stayed relatively the same throughout history. Along with territorial expansion, the opposing sides of every deadly conflict want to maintain their pride, and they want to benefit themselves, no matter the cost. To illustrate, if Putin were to back down in the Russo-Ukrainian War, Russia would most likely be perceived as weak by the rest of the world. Such an action might even create more political and social unrest within the Russian population. Though Putin wants to annex Ukraine, the key reason he is continuing with the war is to maintain his ego, despite facing harsh criticism from most world powers. Therefore, he places his self-image over thousands of innocent lives.

Of course, humans cannot immediately erase their inclination toward war. It would take a lot of time and humility to change such an ancient phenomenon. Most nations at least try to resolve international disputes through alliances and negotiations, such as the German-Soviet Nonagression Pact established in 1939 or the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty created in 1963. When these don’t prevail, war is seen as the last resort. However, war isn’t much more than a temporary solution to problems, putting off what’s most needed: words and logical reasoning. Education teaches students to use speeches and essays to express their viewpoints, and newspaper editorials publish sound explanations to prove their opinions. Words can be just as powerful as weapons if used right. For instance, the Cuban Missile Crisis was famously averted as President John F. Kennedy demanded on national television and through behind-the-scenes negotiations that the Soviet Union cease their building of nuclear missiles. He gained public support, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, considering the consequences of a potential nuclear war that could result from a conflict, agreed. Though it certainly won’t be easy to stop warfare, steps should be taken to ensure that we don’t have to resort to the current system of “whichever side slaughters more people wins.”

An alternate solution is having semi-annual meetings in which representatives assess problems immediately—similar to the United Nations, but specializing in preventing violent conflicts. In the case of Putin, the world powers should have stood up against his earliest threats, when Luhansk and Donetsk allied with Russia. The public can also do their part to support anti-war movements. Students can sign petitions for a cease-fire, and Stuyvesant students can collaborate with other high schools to create city-wide walkouts to protest large-scale violence. Furthermore, anti-war movements can be spread throughout social media, where even average users can convince others to resist the delusions of war propaganda. Over time, pacifism can be achieved through frequent communication between nations and the resolution of disputes at their roots before they escalate beyond repair. We must take a leaf out of the rules of elementary school and use words and wit to deal with our issues.