How War Can Be Abolished: A Lesson Plan by David Swanson


The Abolition of War

Issue Description:

In a December, 2015, U.S. presidential debate, a moderator asked a candidate whether he could serve as Commander in Chief and defined that as being willing to kill innocent children by the thousands. In 1996 the U.S. Secretary of State said that having killed 500,000 innocent children was "worth it." Is there another way to think about war and peace? What greater evil or higher cause could justify such horrors? What do students think, and what do they imagine others think?

Essential Questions:

  • Does war make people safer or endanger them?
  • Who benefits from war?
  • What is collateral damage? Can it be justified?
  • What are the alternatives to war?
  • Given your thoughts on the above, can war ever be justified?

Expected Learnings:

This activity will encourage students to question war, examine their personal doubts about war, take time to think about what security means to them, and to begin to envision alternatives to war.

Description of Activity:

Security vs. War

Merriam Webster's dictionary defines the word security as freedom from danger; freedom from fear or anxiety.  They define war as a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations; a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism. 

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

1. Ask students to think about the word "security." Have them come up with a list of associations. What are some things that make them feel secure? What are feelings they associate with security? How does feeling secure in one's daily life lead to feeling secure in their community, in the world? What makes you feel secure in your daily life? In your community? In the world? Is the government's  and media's definition of security different from theirs?  What does security mean in their everyday lives? How does the media seem to define the word? The government? Is security always a physical issue? Or can it be a psychological issue? A philosophical issue?

2. Ask students to think about "war." Again have them come up with a list of associations. How does the idea of war make them feel? What does war mean to them? Have them name a specfic war that the US is (or has been) a part of, e.g., the war in Iraq. Ask them what this war was about. Do wars ever achieve their goals? Some say that we need war to get to peace? Does that ever work? Did this war make us more secure?

3. Have students compare their associations about "security" with their thoughts and feeling about "war"? Do these thoughts and feelings complement each other? Or do they contradict each other? 

4. Review the Essential Questions in light of this discussion. (This could be a homework assignment.) Look through the AWTT portraits and identify 3 or 4 people how have worked to end war. Understand why they thought how they did and what these people did about it. 

5. Finally, have students share ideas about alternatives to war. Take the examples of the wars they have named and thought about. What could have been done differently? If an alternative to war had been found, how would their lives be different? How would the lives of the people where the war was fought be different? How would children's lives where the war was fought be different? Have students ever felt like their rights were abused? How do they handle it? What are ways to deal with people (or institutions or governments) that are taking away our rights without going to war with them?

Resources to Support Activity:

  • Discover that these questions and related ideas are not unusual. Lots of people spend a lot of time thinking about alternatives to war and why and how war can be prevented. Start here. And, of course, take a look at David Swanson's books on war, such as War Is a Lie.
  • Find a Peace & Justice Center near you and invite someone in to talk about what is being done to advocate for peace and against war in your area.
  • If you want to go deeper with some of these questions with a resource designed for classrooms, consider learning more about John Hunter's World Peace Game

To learn more, check these links: