Are Human Beings Naturally Violent or Naturally Peaceful?: A Lesson Plan by Paul K. Chappell


Are Human Beings Naturally Violent or Naturally Peaceful?

Issue Description:

If human beings are naturally violent, then we will continue to have wars. If human beings are naturally peaceful, then world peace has a chance. Let's explore the possibilities.

Essential Questions:

  • What is a counter-intuitive idea? How is the idea that human beings are naturally peaceful a counter-intuitive idea?

  • In world history what is every army’s greatest problem?

  • Is our flight response more powerful than our fight response?

  • How do armies learn to make soldiers fight and not retreat?

  • How strong is our instinct to protect our loved ones?

  • How do governments convince people to go to war?

  • What does war do to the human brain?

  • If we were naturally violent, what would be the state of our mental health in an unending war?

Expected Learnings:

This activity will encourage students to consider whether human beings are naturally violent or naturally peaceful and to review the evidence offered by military history. This will begin to instill critical thinking in terms of discussions from the media and politicians regarding war and peace.

Description of Activity:

Human Beings: Naturally Violent vs. Naturally Peaceful

The following activities could be done in a group or individually and then shared at the group level.

  1. To view the first twenty minutes of Paul K. Chappell’s talk: “Why Peace Is Possible and How We Can Achieve It.”      

  1. Discuss recent Hollywood films. Do they show human beings as naturally violent or naturally peaceful?

  2. Have students examine the advertising for the military services. What human qualities do these ads admire?

  3. Have students review recent Medal of Honor recipients. Why did they receive these medals?

  4. Invite a local Veterans for Peace group to make a presentation to your class or school.

Resources to Support Activity:

  1. Take a look at Paul K. Chappell’s first book, Will War Ever End?

  2. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army (ret.). On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.

  3. Study this quote from Herman Goering, a Nazi leader and military commander in World War II:

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship…Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked (emphasis added) and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger (emphasis added). It works the same way in any country.”

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