A Rapidly Globalizing World Needs Strengthened Global Governance

By Lawrence S. Wittner

The world is currently engulfed in crises—most prominently, a disease pandemic, a climate catastrophe, and the prevalence of war—while individual nations are encountering enormous difficulties in coping with them.

These difficulties result from the global nature of the problems.  An individual nation is unable to institute adequate measures to safeguard public health because diseases spread easily across national boundaries.  Similarly, an individual nation cannot stave off the deterioration of the climate because the climate is a worldwide phenomenon.  Furthermore, an individual nation cannot prevent warfare (including the drift to a disastrous nuclear war) because nations live in a state approaching international anarchy, with each relying on its own military strength to safeguard what it views as its national interests.

Of course, the need for concerted global action to address global crises has long been recognized.  At the end of World War II, when the most destructive conflict in world history demonstrated the limits of the nation-state system, world leaders created the United Nations to take on new tasks, particularly the task of fostering international security.  And, to some extent, the UN has been successful in dealing with international problems.  But over the decades since the founding of the UN, it has become obvious that the world organization is too weak and underfunded to meet all the challenges of a rapidly globalizing world.

Given the increasingly dysfunctional nature of individual nations on the world stage, isn’t it time to consider strengthening global governance? 

As most people feel attached to local regions and individual nations, the ideal form of enhanced government for the planet would probably be federal.  In the United States, this would mean building on the current federal system of local, state, and national government with a layer of governance at the global level.  This additional layer already exists, to a modest degree, in the form of the United Nations and international law.  It merely requires strengthening to make it more effective.

The idea of creating a global authority to tackle world affairs is not a new one.  It was promoted for centuries by prominent writers and thinkers, including Dante Alighieri, Immanuel Kant, H. G. Wells, and Albert Einstein.  After the vast carnage of World War II and the atomic bombing of Japan convinced many people that creating a global federation of nations was imperative, it inspired a mass movement around the world.  By mid-1949, United World Federalists, the American branch of the world federalist movement, had nearly 50,000 members and 720 chapters.

In the fall of 1949, as part of this remarkable efflorescence, 111 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 21 members of the U.S. Senate co-sponsored a congressional resolution declaring that the United Nations should be developed “into a world federation open to all nations.”  These co-sponsors included John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield, Christian Herter, Jacob Javits, Paul Douglas, and other individuals who became influential figures in American public life.

Over subsequent decades, though, the world federalist movement ebbed, while nations—especially “the great powers”—largely followed their parochial interests, a process that frequently set them at odds with one another.  Meanwhile, the United Nations stumbled along as a principled voice for international cooperation and international law, but a weak instrument for enforcing them—a situation we can see only too well today.

Even so, there remain organizations, like the World Federalist Movement, that promote global governance, as well as startlingly large numbers of people who seem ready for it.  A Pew Research Center poll across 14 nations during the summer of 2020 found that 81 percent of respondents believed that “countries around the world should act as part of a global community that works together to solve problems.”  Only 17 percent disagreed.  In the midst of the multiple crises that beset today’s world, the gathering obsolescence of the nation in addressing global issues suggests the need to take another look at strengthening global governance and at what it might accomplish.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (https://www.lawrenceswittner.com/ ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article was originally posted to ZBlogs.

Peace Museums and Peacebuilding in Changing Culture, Part II

By Vladimir I. Ionesov

Visualization of Peace and War in Museum Practices: New Imperatives for Creativity

In contemporary cultural practices of exhibiting peace, the traditional understanding of memory visualization as a mirror fixation and representation of the past in images of war, violence and their victims is still widespread. However, today the transition to a new expansive – culturological – interpretation of heritage screening as a creative experience and a symbolic practice is increasingly evident. There is a need to address the cultural experience of memory visualization, which significantly push the boundaries of the historical legacy of war and peace in modern culture. Thereby, the task is to consider the experience of the past as a field of creativity and as new visual communication practices.

A considerable part of museums for peace owe their origins to events that are far from actually peacebuilding activities. At the heart of their expositions prevails the history of violence, the chronicle of combat victories and defeats, the evidence of war crimes and demonstration of victims of armed conflicts. The images and plots of the main museum show-cases are designed to show the depth of human disunity and endless social cataclysms in the history of society. Of course, despite the striking differences in the sectoral specifics and the thematic focus of various kinds of activities, all of them, in one way or another, are ultimately focused on the cultivation of the values of nonviolence, mercy, concord and peace.

However, the ideas of peace and humanism are expressed here more in contrast to the destructive consequences of wars and violence. In the discourse of this visual contradistinction peace itself is very little in it. Peace is shown here as the projection of the military paradigm, and is understood as the continuation or absence of war and deterrence of violence. The importance of this memorial peacekeeping practice or of the modern culture of opposition to war is beyond any doubt. It is important to the extent that the United Nations Peacekeeping Forcesare important for the cessation and containment of war, which in the interpretation of the Charter of this international organization is a specialized military contingent with the aim of preventing or eliminating the threat to peace and security through joint enforcement actions (military demonstration, military blockade, etc.).

Thus, museum peacebuilding practices often act as certain peacekeeping forces to relieve military tension and to tame violence. In this way, peace here is positioned rather in the form of a triumphant end of the war, a victorious event or a meaningful truce.

One of the most dangerous challenges to modern culture is the globalizing syndrome of value disorientation.  Modernity is increasingly being positioned as an era of substitution, mixing and destruction of values. Moreover, in this process of total mixing – the promotion of peace is often accompanied by the expansion of the culture of war. “Today’s great mixture, writes J. Baudriard, is a mixture of evil and misfortune! The unification of evil with misfortune and, consequently, good with happiness… The ideology of happiness, which, in fact, is absolutely unhappy!” (1).

In fact, the images and plots of war significantly prevail in modern culture over peacekeeping pictures. Thus, the number of Internet queries with the word war exceeds almost 2.5 times the number of queries with the word peace. There are far more museums of war and victims of violence than museums dedicated to the culture of peace. In addition, even peace museums traditionally screen mainly scenes of war and violence in their exhibits.

With regard to the museumification of the culture of peace, it is necessary to distinguish two important divergent attitudes. 1) Collecting of examples of peacemaking allows the peace museum to retain positive experience of the past (heritage), whereas 2) the deployment of heritage in the direction of modernity (to the public/ audience) makes it possible to generate new values, to solve the pressing problems of contemporary culture. The dual focus of the museum activity – in the memorial past and the actual present, makes the peace museum not only a platform for versatile cooperation, but also an extremely important and effective tool for social transformations (2).

After all, when everything changes, that which does not change grows in value. When everything is split and fragmented, grows in value that which connects i.e. the aspiration to get closer and cooperate. In the museum design of peacemaking activities, it is necessary to show two sets of values which perform the functions of retention (values ​​of constant value/ significance) and promotion of culture (values of innovative nature/ character).

The values ​​of constant value include: memorial artifacts, collections, archives, traditions of representation of exhibits, knowledge and experience, universal human values, ceremonial-symbolic actions, social stereotypes of behavior, customary functional-target settings and so forth. The values ​​of innovative nature (character) include creativity of action, form-building visual-communicative experimentation, subject-attributive openness and mobility, new dialogue with artifacts, broad social involvement, principles of participation and co-participation, new information and technological methods of object screening, art-design solutions, language and event design, etc.

In the current situation of splitting cultural values, it seems important to compensate for the loss of cultural property by “increasing the value of what did not have it before” (3). This process of value regeneration allows to talk about two vectors of cultural valuation of peacemaking artifacts. 1) Peace museum (artifacts of heritage) has been incorporated, attached to everyday life (“from the value to ordinary experience”) and 2) samples of everyday culture are attached to the peace museum, thus acquiring the status of a cultural value.

Looking at modern peace museums, one cannot but agree with J. Baudrillard that “our culture is a culture of despondency and suffering”, and at that “happiness and unhappiness, depression and ecstasy are connected …exclusively with objects” (4). As the French philosopher shows, the border-line that has divided good and evil and that has divided objects is the same.

Meanwhile, the cessation of war and the retention of peace is only one side of the current peacekeeping practice. However, there is another, probably more significant one, defined as the culture of peace itself, written and interpreted in the UN documents as a strategy for change. The culture of peace is, above all, an experience of creative transformation of social reality on the principles of free humanistic creativity. Peace is creative and diverse, and thanks to its creative resources, a new cultural landscape of the society is being constituted, the boundaries of human freedom and communication are expanding, social responsiveness and civic engagement is growing seeking a solution for the most urgent challenges of the present (5).

If the museum memorial practices of peacebuilding liberate culture from war, the museum strategies of the culture of peace provide freedom for peacebuilding, thereby transforming peace into an active catalyst for social change. Liberation from war and freedom for peace are two opposing though interrelated, processes. In the first case, we are talking essentially about archiving of violence, its commemorative taming or symbolic neutralization with the aim of preventing the repetition of war. In the second case, the process of generating and constructing a new culture of peace is launched on the way to the maximally possible humanistic transformations.

In the practice of museum design of a culture of peacemaking, it is necessary to take into account possible provocative syndromes of visual adaptation of artifacts. By themselves, these artifacts give little food for thought even if labels and comments are attached to them. To see in the museum brutal scenes of violence does not mean at all to be imbued with the idea of the need for positive actions. Contemplation of human suffering requires understanding and refraction of the visual experience into actual socially significant practice. As it is precisely noted S. Sontag: “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers” (6).


  1. Baudrillard, Jean (2006) Paroli. Ot Fragmenta k Tselomu Passwords. From the Fragment to the Whole (In Russian). Yekaterinburg: Faktoriya. – P. 101
  2. Ionesov, Vladimir I. (2018) “Can Peacemaking be a Peace Maker?” in Peace Review. A Journal of Social Justice. 30:4, 527-536
  3. Groys, Boris (2015) O Novom. Opyt Ekonomiki Kultury / About the New. The Experience of Cultural Economics (In Russian). – Мoscow: Ad Marginem Press (Garage Pro). – P. 134
  4. Baudrillard, Jean (2006) Paroli. Ot Fragmenta k Tselomu Passwords. From the Fragment to the Whole (In Russian). Yekaterinburg: Faktoriya. – P. 130-134
  5. Apsel, Joyce, eds. (2012) Museums for Peace: Transforming Cultures. Hague (The Netherlands): INMP. – 270 p.
  6. Sontag, Susan. 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. – New York: The Wylie Agency. The Estate of Susan Sontag. – P.91

Vladimir I. Ionesov is professor, chair of department of theory and history of culture at Samara State Institute of Culture and Director, International School for Advanced Research in Cultural Studies. He is founder and chairperson of Samara International Society for Cultural Studies. He has 30 years of experience in culture of peacebuilding in the international programs of the Samarkand International Museum of Peace and Solidarity (Uzbekistan) and of the Samara International Society for Cultural Studies (Russia). Author of over 350 scientific works, including five monographs and over 30 edited books. Some of his articles were published in Current Anthropology, Peace Review, Scientific Culture and Ristumeikan Journal of Kyoto Museum for World Peace on the topics of ritual and symbolic practices in changing culture. His current interests: anthropology of war and peace, culture in transition, social innovations in cultural process, visualization of memory, creative museum practices. 

Peace Museums and Peacebuilding in Changing Culture, Part I

By Vladimir I. Ionesov

Reevaluating the Peace and War in Museum Practices

One Samarkand parable says that War and Peace once met on the country road. War immediately began to praise itself and to persuade Peace that it is the most important thing for people, because it is just war that people dedicate memorials, erect monuments, build arches to, name in its honor museums, arrange holidays, establish awards… Peace, after having calmly listened to War, quietly uttered: “Yes, that’s right, but do not forget that people do all this just to eventually meet me”.

Indeed, humanity owes a great debt to Peace. And although the meeting with Peace is a cherished dream of people, we notice its value at times only when we begin to lose it. And that’s why peace is always a test. And although not every person is destined to go through it with dignity, Peace gives everyone a chance for the rescue.

The path of war is wide and crowded, the way of peace is narrow and very individual. War is faceless and devastating peace is personified and life-giving. War is loud and intrusive. If you don’t notice it, it will remind you. Peace is laconic and imperturbable, it is always nearby, but it’s hard to catch its eye. However, it looks at you until you see it and it is Culture that makes it visible. It is thanks to culture that Peace finds its face, its vital force and social significance.

This reminds me of another assumed common story when, during World War II, the United Kingdom’s budget was brought to Winston Churchill for his consideration. Having flipped through the document, he asked:

“And where are the costs of culture?”

“But the war is going on! What culture?”

“If there is no culture, then what are we fighting for?” asked an incredulous Churchill.

I intentionally allowed myself to make a digression from the given topic in order to mark the main ideas in the understanding of war, peace and culture that are related to the museum practices, which will be discussed further.

Museum practices demonstrate that in modern museum design there is a post-conceptual understanding of peacemaking or a paradigmatic shift towards culturalization (i.e. filling with culture) of the concept of peace. The post-conceptual intellectual turn has freed the artifacts of peacemaking from their habitual specific existence (Peter Osborne) and disavowed their sacral symbolic confinement, extending the subject-aesthetic and socio-communicative properties of things to the entire system of the life activity of culture. If earlier the museum exhibit was perceived only as a static sacral elite artifact of the exhibition presentation, then today it is increasingly positioned as a communicator, a recorder of important messages and a participant of the actual conversation, co-creation and transformation. Exhibits of the museum in this case are storytellers, initiators and designers that motivate viewers prompting the audience to refract their stories into their own experience of social creativity.

The challenge is posed to re-qualify the concepts of war and peace in the context of cultural knowledge. Modern researchers, in general, emphasize the need to progress to new communicative strategies in designing the peacemaking process, to the actual relevant technologies of visual modeling and creative experience of representation of peace as a cultural value and museum exposition. These issues are considered in the works of Ikuro Anzai, Joyce Apsel, Clive Barrett, Peter van den Dungen, Henry Jenkins, Ana Peraica, Lisa Schirch, Nina Simon, Susan Sontag, Kazuyo Yamane. The authors point out the significance of expanding the art-object and eventful screening of the peace, in which things and people will act as participants of a big conversation about the pressing needs of the present.

First of all, the peace museum should be viewed as a cultural reality, in the space of which the artifacts of peacemaking are gathered into a certain memorial-specified visual composition. This composition is being built into a certain text, a collection of stories, events, portraits, and it serves as a way of public demonstration and relaying of socially significant messages. Peace museum is a specific social institution for the cultivation of knowledge, experience and values ​​of peacemaking, as well as instructive examples of overcoming historical and modern wars and conflicts.

The most sensitive to the ongoing changes are those museums that are called upon to articulate and relay through their exhibits socially significant topics, including war and peace, violence and peacemaking, crisis and viability etc.

Publications and projects of the main strategist and coordinator of the museum activities in the field of peacemaking – the International Network of Museums for Peace/ INMP (see https://www.inmp.net/) appear to be very helpful in the study of the actual practices of museumification of peace (1). The activity of INMP today unites many museums and organizations from around the world cultivating ideas of peace and non-violence. The Network accumulates both theoretical and practice-oriented research concerning the problems of peace, regularly holds international forums and thematic discussions on the development of museum peacemaking movements. The main thing is that the International Network of Museums for Peace has managed to form its culture – its recognizable image, its philosophy of the world order, its traditions, social and artistic practices, educational projects, publications, symbolic attributes and even its language of professional creativity (2). The creation of its culture is in itself a great asset, because the organization has acquired the necessary effective tools for the implementation of its peacemaking mission and the promotion of socially significant initiatives.

The modern peace museum strives to be a communicative laboratory and institution for preservation and cultivation of successful visual practices in exhibiting the instructive experience of the past (3).

Meanwhile there are too many themes of war and violence in the peace museums and too little of beauty, goodness and peacemaking. In this projection, it is apparent that peace strongly resembles what it opposes, turning it into a museum of war, conflict and violence. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish: 1) museums for peace/containment of war and 2) museums for peacemaking/culture of peace. No matter how different are their histories, collections and functions, they have one current and urgent task: to let into museums as much peace as possible and through its culture construct within the museum an atmosphere of real peacemaking, creativity and communication.

Each peace museum is created in a specific society and functions in a specific cultural environment in accordance with the prevailing mental attitudes, stereotypes of perception and behavior. For this reason, the peace museum cannot be understood beyond the cultural and national contexts. Without taking these contexts into account, one cannot achieve the effective operation of a modern peace museum.

Thus, the modern museum is undergoing radical transformations in the ways and practices of visualization of artifacts. The transition to a new communicative space is being traced (seen/ targeted), in which museum exhibit artifacts will perform not only memorial and educational functions, but also be included in a more complex process of object-symbolic exchange and art design. In this process, the status of a thing changes and the imperative of creativity of action comes to the fore.


  1. Anzai, Ikuro. (2019) “Towards the Development of Cooperation between Peace Museums in Asia” in Ritsumeikan Journal of Kyoto Museum for World Peace 20:3-12,171; Apsel, Joyce (2016) Introducing Peace Museums. London and New York: Routledge. – 236 p.; Barrett, Clive and Apsel, Joyce, eds. (2012) Museums for Peace: Transforming Cultures. Hague (The Netherlands): INMP. – 270 p.; Engelkamp, Stephan, Roepstorff Kristina. & Spencer Alexander (2020) “Visualizing Peace – The State of the Art” in Peace and Change. A Journal of Peace Research 45:5-27.
  2. Sikander, eds. (2008) Museums for Peace: Past, Present and Future / The Organizing Committee of the Sixth International Conference of Museums for Peace. Kyoto (Japan):  INMP, Kyoto Museum for World Peace, Ritsumeikan University; Ionesov, Vladimir I. (2019) “Ideas on Peacebuilding in Asia: How to Create Peace in the Region (Reflecting the Experience of the Samarkand International Museum of Peace and Solidarity and Its Partners)” in Ristumeikan Journal of Kyoto Museum for World Peace / Kyoto University, Japan. 20:48-63; van den Dungen, Peter and Yamane, Kazuyo, eds. (2015) Special Issue: Peace Education Through Peace Museums. Journal of Peace Education (December): 213-284; van den Dungen, Peter (2016) “Abolishing Nuclear Weapons through Anti-Atomic Bomb Museums” in Peace Review, 28:3, 326-333.
  3. Ionesov, Vladimir I. (2018) “Can Peacemaking be a Peace Maker?” in Peace Review. A Journal of Social Justice. 30:4, 527-536

Vladimir I. Ionesov is professor, chair of department of theory and history of culture at Samara State Institute of Culture and Director, International School for Advanced Research in Cultural Studies. He is founder and chairperson of Samara International Society for Cultural Studies. He has 30 years of experience in culture of peacebuilding in the international programs of the Samarkand International Museum of Peace and Solidarity (Uzbekistan) and of the Samara International Society for Cultural Studies (Russia). Author of over 350 scientific works, including five monographs and over 30 edited books. Some of his articles were published in Current Anthropology, Peace Review, Scientific Culture and Ristumeikan Journal of Kyoto Museum for World Peace on the topics of ritual and symbolic practices in changing culture. His current interests: anthropology of war and peace, culture in transition, social innovations in cultural process, visualization of memory, creative museum practices. 

“We Are Many”: A Documentary Looks Back at the February 15, 2003 Antiwar Protests –and Looks Forward, Too

By Robert Shaffer

“We Are Many” is a 105-minute documentary about the massive global, coordinated protests on February 15, 2003 against the impending war in Iraq.  Perhaps 30 million people marched and rallied in almost 800 cities, on every continent, in what one activist called “the largest mobilization of people in the history of humanity, bar none.”  This documentary, directed and produced by veteran BBC film-maker Amir Amirani, first aired at a British film festival in 2014, but its premiere in the United States and much of the world came in a video livestream on September 21, 2020, during the annual celebration of the United Nations-supported “International Day of Peace.”

            The documentary, like the February 15 demonstrations themselves, is an impressive achievement, featuring contemporary footage from the protests along with later interviews with activists from Britain, the United States, Spain, Egypt, and elsewhere.  Amirani also includes revealing, on-the-record interviews with some British and American government officials, as well as with Hans Blix, who in 2003 headed the U.N.’s Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, and whose visits to Iraq at the time had found no evidence of current or prospective possession or production of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.  “We Are Many” deserves wide distribution both as a record of global activism in the streets and of the perceptive analysis by activists even before the war began – not just after the fact – as to its illegitimacy.

            “We Are Many,” despite its laudable international scope, is unmistakably a British project, with more attention to the 1-1/2 million-strong demonstration in London on February 15 than to the not-quite-as-large one in New York City, and with more intricate analysis of Blair’s machinations in the British parliament than to Bush’s manipulation of the U.S. Congress in the drive to war.  That perspective, while challenging to American viewers who may have difficulty discerning, say, the significance of Labour Party leaders like Tony Benn or Lord Falconer, also works in the film’s favor for Americans, as it reminds us of the significance of Blair’s partnership with Bush and as it decenters the antiwar movement from American shores.

            Even the film’s title, seemingly universal in its encapsulation of the massiveness of the protests, has a particularly British origin.  It comes from the last stanza of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s influential 1819 poem, “The Mask of Anarchy,” written in response to the Peterloo Massacre, the British government’s savage attack on an enormous, non-violent rally in Manchester for political rights and economic justice.  “Rise like lions after slumber / In unvanquishable number,” Shelley wrote, concluding passionately but perhaps over-optimistically: “Ye are many – they are few.”  And therein lies the problem posed by the February 15 protests and by the film: the protesters, while many, were not, in the end, “unvanquishable.”  As Amirani himself stated in an interview with The Guardian in 2015, at first glance the protests appeared to be a “heroic failure.”  Protest organizers Leslie Cagan, Phyllis Bennis, and others describe on camera their optimism in the days following February 15: surely the war would be stopped.  Bennis quotes New York Times reporter Patrick Tyler – who Amirani then interviews as well – that “global public opinion,” expressed in these marches, had become a “second superpower,” rivaling the United States government.  But this euphoria turned to introspection and even despair a month later when Bush and Blair, indeed, began the bombardment of Baghdad.  One antiwar leader asks, “Why did we fail?”  Others lament that the movement “didn’t finish the job.”  Amirani concludes, as we will see, that the protests did have a long-term salutary impact, after all, although in an unexpected manner.

            For younger viewers, and even for those who may have forgotten just how transparently false the Anglo-American case for war against Iraq was, the early scenes of the film – on the tragedy of 9/11, Bush’s January 2002 “Axis of Evil” speech, and the British government’s fact-free announcement that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction could reach that nation within 45 minutes – will be especially helpful.  Interview segments with British spy novelist John Le Carré, U.S. State Department former second-in-command Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, and Blix himself take Amirani’s investigation beyond the familiar ranks of the antiwar movement; these men referred to the war as based on “lies,” “a hoax,” and unproven accusations.  Le Carré, who marched in London on February 15, calls the war “the crime of the century,” and Wilkerson regrets that he did not resign in the wake of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 speech to the U.N. based on phony “intelligence.”  Wilkerson penitently states as well that Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld should be tried for war crimes, even if that meant that he – Wilkerson – had to face such charges, too.  Philippe Sands, British authority on international law, exposes Blair’s mendacity, presenting in a few minutes here some of what he expounded upon in his scathing 2005 book, Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules.

            Equally effective are interviews with antiwar activists who describe how and why they organized the February 2003 protests.  Many will be familiar to American viewers: Vietnam veterans Ron Kovic and David Cortright; the late Tom Hayden; Jesse Jackson; British film-maker Ken Loach; musician Brian Eno (who provided music as well as interviews for “We Are Many”); movement strategist Bill Fletcher; actor Danny Glover; Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin; left-wing Labour Party M.P Jeremy Corbyn; and many others.  British organizers describe how their Stop the War Coalition began meeting as early as September 21, 2001, bringing their call for global demonstrations to the European Social Forum in November 2002 and then to the World Social Forum two months later.  Longtime U.S. antiwar activist Leslie Cagan, later a leader of United for Peace and Justice, recounts how she and others in New York City picked up the call, timed to coincide with the U.N. Security Council debate on the issue. 

            Many viewers will likely respond even more favorably to the unexpected activists who present their stories in recurring interviews.  Tim Goodrich describes his pride in being in the U.S. Air Force to fight back against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, only to become suspicious of U.S. military plans when he saw, in 2002, troops and supplies moved in to threaten Iraq – a nation which had no connection to 9/11.  Goodrich courageously participated in the February 15 march while still on active-duty.  He went on to co-found Iraq Veterans Against the War; later film footage shows IVAW members throwing back their service medals, in a scene reminiscent of protests by antiwar Vietnam veterans in 1971 and 1972.  Colleen Kelly, whose brother died at the World Trade Center on 9/11, explains how she came to oppose war in Iraq as a leader of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.  Andy Young, one of the seventy or so scientists and mechanics who brought the February 15 protest to the snow and ice of Antarctica, discusses his pride in doing so despite losing his job as a consequence.  (Amirani, not surprisingly, does not miss the chance to include footage of penguins here.)  Also in the southern hemisphere, British researcher Will Saunders, with an Australian colleague, not only participated in the protest but responded the following month to the outbreak of war by painting “NO WAR” in huge letters at the top of the iconic Sydney Opera House, facing not only arrest but deportation as a result.  (Capsule biographies of those interviewed, as well as some other background materials, appear on the film’s useful website, www.wearemany.com.)

            And then there are the Egyptians, who provide, for Amirani, the segue from “heroic failure” to success of sorts.  Veteran activists in Cairo express their embarrassment that there was only a tiny protest in their city on February 15, and that the Arab world was largely silent that day.  Taking inspiration from the global demonstrations, however, tens of thousands faced down the military police in Tahrir Square in mid-March, on the first day of war.  This demonstration, they assert, served to germinate the Egyptian revolution that would bring down Hosni Mubarak’s U.S.-backed, authoritarian government in 2011. 

            Amirani measures also as a mark of February 15’s success the defeats in Britain and the U.S. of plans in 2013 to intervene militarily in Syria in retaliation against the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons.  One British official states that Members of Parliament voted against going to war with Syria because they – and their constituents – were “scarred by the Iraq invasion.”  Blix adds that the disastrous consequences of the Iraq War would lead many nations to be more wary about going to war in the future.  During a livestreamed discussion following the film’s September 21, 2020 broadcast, Phyllis Bennis stated that an “Iraq War syndrome” – an updating of the “Vietnam syndrome” for our new historical circumstances – prevented Bush and Trump from going to war against Iran.  The slightly updated 2020 version of “We Are Many” interweaves in its closing credits footage from even more recent American mass demonstrations: the 2017 women’s marches, the 2018 “March for Our Lives” for gun control, the climate action rallies of 2019, and 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.  The concluding lines of the documentary return to its heroic mood, with longtime radical M.P. Tony Benn declaring that “anger and optimism coming together” – as they did on February 15 – “are a very powerful force.” 

            Even at 105 minutes there are omissions in “We Are Many.”  While there is footage of protests from many cities, the interviews with organizers and participants are limited primarily to those in English-speaking nations, along with Egypt, and a few snippets from Spain, France, and Poland.  A film chronicling what it bills as the largest globally-coordinated protest to date deserves a more global presentation and analysis, with voices, say, from Japan, South Korea, India, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and wider sections of Europe. 

            Moreover, the documentary’s argument that the February 15 protest was more than a “heroic failure” is not wholly convincing – that “anger and optimism coming together” was evidently not as “powerful” as it needed to be in 2003.  A million and a half people massing in London failed to affect the British parliamentary vote on the war, and even the failure of Bush and Blair to win over the Security Council – which, in essence, aligned with the protesters outside in the New York City streets – did not deter the rump “coalition” from launching its misguided but long-planned war.  Moreover, the British orientation of the film, and perhaps the British origin of the protests, overlooks the key American date in the move to war: the October 2002 Congressional vote authorizing military force against Iraq.  The Democratic Party split on that vote, as did the Blair-dominated Labour Party, allowing the war to move forward. 

            Those splits, by the way, may have contributed to significant later shifts in party direction, unmentioned in the film.  That is, Jeremy Corbyn, appearing numerous times here as a leader of Labour’s antiwar wing, became the party leader in 2015.  Barack Obama, who did not speak at a February 15 rally but came to the attention of antiwar activists through his earlier, October 2002 speech in Chicago against Congressional authorization of war, became not only the Democratic leader but President of the U.S.  Despite their flaws, whether in opposition (Corbyn) or power (Obama), their tenure as leaders might be considered a legacy of the activism of February 15.  (To be fair, Amirani had completed the film as a whole before Corbyn’s accession to leadership.)

            While the Egyptian activists interviewed in “We Are Many” make a convincing case that their March 2003 demonstrations helped set the stage for the 2011 revolution, the long-term results of that revolution – Egypt is once again under tight authoritarian and military control – do not bear out the optimism of Shelley’s poem. 

            While I agree with the film’s judgment that the rejection of war against Syria by Britain and the U.S.  in 2013 were positive achievements, and at least partly due to echoes of February 15, there is no way to disentangle the impact of those antiwar demonstrations ten years earlier from the revulsion against the prospect of another war in the Middle East based on the debacle – for Iraqis, Americans, British, and the Middle East region – of the Iraq War itself.  Was the “Iraq War syndrome” which Bennis enunciated a testament to the antiwar movement, or was it simply a reaction against a failed war, as Blix’s comment suggests?  One might add – as the film did not – that the evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013 was far stronger than the Anglo-American case for war against Iraq in 2003, where the alleged weapons of mass destruction did not exist, and antiwar forces – along with U.N. weapons inspectors – had already debunked the rationale for war.  One need not agree with Obama’s efforts to involve the U.S. in yet another Mideast war to acknowledge that he at least had a plausible case, as George W. Bush did not.

            The global nature of some of the recent marches and movements included in the closing credits of “We Are Many” surely owes something to that 2003 template.  However, their flowering may demonstrate more the continuing struggle against injustice than the causal influence of a particular precedent, even if some of the same people who organized and marched in 2003 played such roles again later.

            Regardless of its shortcomings, “We Are Many” is an inspirational film and an important historical document.  It is, perhaps, long for classroom use, but, because of the pandemic, it might become available for streaming, and thus can be assigned to students outside of class.  It presents a story that deserves to be remembered and better understood by those who participated in and lived through these events, and to be known by a new generation of students and activists.  Earlier documentaries on the Iraq War, such as “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004), “Why We Fight” (2005), and “No End in Sight” (2007), were largely devoted to exposing the flimsy case for war and its harsh consequences for Iraqis, the value of which was and is undeniable.  “We Are Many” accomplishes these goals, too, but in the clear framework of highlighting the work of activists who brought into being, at least for a time, a “global public opinion” in opposition to an unjust, even criminal, war.

Robert Shaffer is Emeritus Professor of History at Shippensburg University.

CFP for a Special Issue of Peace & Change, “Racial Justice and Peace History”

Robbie Lieberman, Editor

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, two icons of the racial justice movement known for their courageous nonviolent challenges to segregation and inequality, died in Atlanta on June 17, 2020. They were laid to rest amid a storm of rising COVID-19 case numbers and deaths disproportionately affecting communities of color; of widespread, persistent protests against police murders of Black people; of federal Homeland Security agents descending on Portland, Oregon, and other cities to confront peaceful protesters and whisk some away in unmarked vans; and of rising concerns about voter disenfranchisement for the November election.  The recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbury, and Breonna Taylor, among others, along with the record-breaking protests have led many organizations to issue statements about their commitment to racial justice and at least some to follow up on those statements with action.  Many participants and observers have noted the opportunity for change, saying that it feels different this time around.

This proposed special issue of Peace & Change represents one way the Peace History Society can contribute to our understanding of the present moment, encouraging and highlighting new scholarship on the relationship between peace and racial justice.  What are the animating visions that have driven movements for peace and justice and who participated in them?  What connections have activists made between these two causes, and what have they accomplished?  How have definitions of peace and racial justice changed over time, and who has had the power to define them? 

Peace historians and educators are accustomed to thinking about peace as the presence of justice, but these connections beg for further interrogation.  How have theoretical connections between peace and justice played out in practice?  What have been the challenges and successes in bringing causes of peace and justice together?  This issue will go beyond the well-known stories of how African Americans contributed to bringing nonviolent methods into social movements and address more complex connections between peace and racial justice in theory and practice.  We are interested in transnational, interdisciplinary, and innovative approaches to themes such as the following:

Peace and racial justice in music, literature, graphic and performing arts

Movements that prioritized both peace and racial justice

The meaning(s) of violence and nonviolence

The history of policing and prisons and proposals for alternatives

Structural/Systemic/Slow violence and Peace Studies

Peace education and racial justice

Antiwar/peace movements and racial justice

Race, class, and nonviolence

Gender, race, and peace activism

Law, racial justice, and peace

Environmental justice and peace issues

War, militarism, and communities of color

Patriotism and racial justice

Queer theory, peace, and justice

The language and culture of movements for peace and justice

Essays of up to 10,000 words are due January 15, 2021. Authors must address the guest editor, Robbie Lieberman, and clearly indicate in a cover letter that the submission is intended for the 2021 special issue. Information about Peace & Change and submission guidelines can be found at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/page/journal/14680130/homepage/forauthors.html

Boots on the Ground: Catholic Sisters and Peacebuilding on Five Continents

by Carol K. Coburn and Ken Parsons


From 2015 to 2019, the global Sisters of St. Joseph created, developed and taught a curriculum on “Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management.”  The U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph received a major grant to address the growing cultural diversity and conflict present both within their global congregations as well as the congregation’s educational, healthcare, and social service ministries which include almost 60 countries on five continents.[1]  The grant was to address twenty-first-century issues of ethnic tension and local, regional, and global conflict.  For example: In some countries in Africa, St. Joseph sisters found themselves in novitiates with sisters from warring tribes.  In the Middle East, sisters’ schools had faculty, students and parents from predominately Muslim families.  In India, young St. Joseph sisters came together in large living situations, working with diverse age, religious, and ethnic populations, speaking multiple languages.  To strengthen global sisters’ networks and religious identity and to better serve constituents, the sisters’ project aimed to create and utilize a curriculum that would provide knowledge, skills, and spiritual identity and integration through the understanding and practice of cultural diversity, nonviolent communication, and conflict resolution.  As project consultants and evaluators, Professors Ken Parsons and Carol Coburn from Avila University, a Sisters of St. Joseph institution, were asked to collaborate and consult on the curriculum and evaluate its success.  Ultimately, this four-year, multilingual project documented successful outcomes and strategies used on five continents.

The historical and cultural foundations of the Sisters of St. Joseph and Catholic sisters’ global outreach, provides context on why they chose to advance their ministry in 2015, by adapting to the new realities of the twenty-first century.  For St. Joseph sisters, this adaptation to the changing times has been an ongoing theme – continuing to serve the “dear neighbor without distinction” –  first documented in their seventeenth-century founding documents and later Constitutions.  Also, the reality is that over the last half-century, the numbers of new sisters have declined in North America, Europe, and Latin America and are growing in Africa and Asia (particularly India), changing the global landscape for the religious congregation.  Additionally, the St. Joseph sisters wish to become a more integral and united global community and needed to take measures to understand cultural difference and global realities faced by their 10,000 sisters many who are ministering in extreme areas of ethnic and religious conflict on a daily basis. Finally, the historical power dynamics of North American and European influence in women’s congregations are giving way to a new reality where leadership and influence are shifting to Africa and Asia.

Women, Religion and Peacebuilding

Catholic sisters are only part of the growing numbers of women worldwide involved in peacebuilding.  Until more recent times, women have been portrayed only as victims of war and social justice inequality.  For over a decade, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), has documented the important role that women and religion play in negotiating, securing, and maintain peace in global conflicts.  The USIP researchers and website include online teaching units, micro-courses, speakers, and publications touting the importance of gender and religion as mitigating factors for success.  History has shown that civil resistance is most successful when women are engaged in the peace process.  Additionally, including women at the conference table and activism in the streets lowers a country’s propensity for conflict when paired with higher levels of gender equality.  “Research shows that when women effectively influence a peace process, it’s more likely that an agreement will be reached, implemented and sustained. . . . Inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.” [2]

Other scholars who have researched gender and peace support the importance of a “gendered” peace initiative.  In her article, “What Sex Means for World Peace,” Valerie M. Hudson uses empirical data to demonstrate that the “best predictor of a state’s stability is how its women are treated.”  A more inclusive, equal environment for women promotes peacebuilding.[3]  Likewise, researcher Severine Austesserre documents the often ineffectiveness of only male elites or UN interveners at the peace table.  She states, “The problem is that currently we are always focusing our efforts on the top, on political leaders, on [male] elites, and we very rarely support peace at the grassroots.”  She tells the stories of the “ordinary yet extraordinary individuals and communities that have found effective ways to confront violence.”[4]

Because the Catholic sisters are religious women, many operating in their home culture and country, they have an insider’s view; and as workers in education, healthcare and social service are known and trusted by those in their communities.  This makes them important players in peacebuilding projects.

Historical Background and Context

To adequately understand this project, it is important to briefly put Catholic sisters’ work into a larger cultural and historical context.  The Sisters of St. Joseph congregation was founded around 1650 in Le Puy, France.  As an apostolic community who worked in private and public settings, they immediately began to work with the poor and sick, as well as providing education for girls.  Working with French society’s marginal populations, St. Joseph sisters provided care and succor maintaining hospitals and schools for those most in need.[5]

This pattern continued well into the mid-twentieth century but dramatically changed in the 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council met in Rome and mandated changes to modernize the global Church.  In the United States, the ministries of all Catholic sisters exploded into a vast myriad of programs and services focusing on the marginalized of society.  Sisters became activists in civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war movements, sanctuary movements for Central American immigrants, among many other signature social justice issues of the twentieth century.  Sisters have been avid supporters and lobbyists for free trade, water and land management issues for the poor, ecology, micro-financing, HIV/AIDs assistance, and anti-violence campaigns to protect women and children across the globe.  Attempting to take more active responsibility for the investment practices of national and global corporations, sisters also participated in protests and asserted power as stockholders and investors in multi-national corporations involving issues such as worker’s rights, healthcare reform, environmental sustainability, and human trafficking among many other pressing issues across the globe.[6]  By the twenty-first century over 30 orders of women religious, including the Sisters of St. Joseph, had accredited NGO’s recognized by the United Nations, helping to create and work toward the U.N. Millennium Development Goals which included gender equality and women’s empowerment, education, healthcare, poverty, environmental sustainability, and global partnerships and more recently the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.  This United Nations NGO designation represents 100,000 sisters from 200 congregations in 177 countries.[7]

In her chapter on Catholic women and peacebuilding in the twenty-first century, scholar Maryann Cusimano Love describes global  “advocacy networks” where Catholic nuns are plugged-in to social networks, the Internet, and are adept at using decentralized networks and participatory leadership, to gather and communicate information.  This provides sisters an opportunity to put out a call worldwide describing and assessing the current situation on the frontlines in hot spots such as Sudan or Congo among many others.  In reality, nuns’ global access was valued long before electronic technology made the world smaller.  In the 1980s, when long-time Boston politician and then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, was asked how he identified the burning issues from around the globe, he said, “Follow the nuns and you’ll never go wrong. . . . They have people on the ground and they know what is really going on in areas of conflict.”[8]

In light of this context, this twenty-first-century project continues this legacy of global presence and service.  It is significant because it expands knowledge, skills, and spirituality already present within St. Joseph ministries and religious life. Given the history of intercultural relations, multilingualism, and activism, this project deepens and extends the sisters’ myriad of knowledge and experience regarding conflict and its resolution, further developing skills for understanding nonviolent communication, cultural diversity, and difference within the St. Joseph global community.

Project Design Overview

Over a ten-day period in October in 2015, the global St. Joseph Design Team, consisting of nine sisters (from eight countries) and two university consultants, worked to create a teaching curriculum on “Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management.”  It was a “train the trainer” program and live, simultaneous interpretation was provided in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.  The Design Team members would create the goals, objectives, and essential elements of the program, design the curriculum, research content sources, study and debate pedagogical strategies, and ultimately two or three sisters (Design Team members) would team-teach the ten-day curriculum to approximately 125 sisters from five continents.  Two Avila University faculty would attend each session and evaluate the project’s effectiveness.  The training program would be taught five times over a two-year period between May 2016 and May 2018, ultimately bringing 122 St. Joseph sisters to Le Puy, France, for training in the curriculum. Here the sisters developed pedagogical skills necessary to return to their own countries and cultures to teach an additional 75 sisters and lay persons the concepts and strategies of this peacebuilding, educational program.  Ultimately, the program could potentially touch the lives of approximately 5000 people.

Curriculum and Methodology 

The Design Team based the curriculum and methodology of the program on three essential elements: 1) Nonviolent Communication and Conflict Resolution;  2) Critical Engagement with Difference; and 3) Role of Empathy for Understanding and Right Relations Within a Diverse Community.  Around these three themes the Design Team developed workshop content and methodologies asking a central question: “What do you want sisters-participants to leave with after their ten days in Le Puy”?   The Design Team created materials and content that provided knowledge and skills integrated with the congregation’s heritage and spirituality.  The focus of the grant was to teach 125 sisters-participants who were in early stages of religious life (postulants, novices, newly professed) and those sister-formators who mentored them.  Strategies and methods included, but were not limited to: readings, real-world case studies, experiential learning, discussions (face-to-face and online), role-playing, journaling/reflections, collaborative projects, listening circles, videos, performance activities, personal narratives, and study/thought questions.  The curricular template was not meant to be a one-size-fits-all document.  It had to be focused, yet agile, to work with diverse sisters and cultures within the St. Joseph congregation. During the ten-day training sessions in Le Puy, between May 2016 and May 2018, sisters from 27 countries participated, representing four distinct linguistic groups: Spanish, French, Portuguese and English.  Sister-teachers had to be flexible and innovative to teach curriculum in 5 separate sessions with the 25 sisters in each representing a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds.  By the seventh day of training, the participating sisters began to work individually and in small groups to begin creating their own workshops for their sisters and lay persons in their home settings.


As evaluators, we designed four assessment tools to measure program effectiveness for the St. Joseph sisters participating: Personal Background Questionnaire, Pre-Evaluation, Post-Evaluation, and Six-Month Follow-Up Questionnaire.  The Background Questionnaire provided important demographic (age, ethnicity, education, years in religious life, etc.), educational, and work/ministry data on each sister.  The Pre-Evaluation combined quantitative and qualitative questions assessing the participants understanding, attitudes, and ideas about conflict, cultural diversity, ethnic tensions, and non-violent communication strategies.  This was completed weeks to months before the course and before any reading materials were sent to the participants. The Post-Evaluation was conducted immediately on the final day of the ten-day workshop.  It included some of the same questions, quantitative and qualitative, as the Pre-Evaluation as a way to measure attitudinal and/or knowledge change (or lack thereof) after participating in the course.  It also allowed for comments on strengths, weaknesses, and attitudinal thoughts about the workshop as well as sisters’ personal reflections on the ten-day experience.  The Sixth-Month Follow-Up Questionnaire was completed six months after completing the course and attempted to gather data on who, when, and where they taught the curriculum in their own local settings.  It also included questions about their own attitudes and feelings about teaching the curriculum and how they measured their own success and well-being within their communities.


The qualitative and quantitative data from this project is voluminous so we have provided an overview based on our four evaluative tools and our own direct observations and analysis to profile many of the key components of the research.[9]  The background questionnaire provided important demographic information about the sisters who attended the workshop.  Demographically, the 122 sisters provided an interesting profile.  Seventy-one percent of participants were between the ages of 18 and 49.  This emphasized the projects desire to educate young, newly professed sisters and/or those who were in charge of their formation.  Ethnically, 34% identified as Asian Indian, 17% African.  Overall half of all participants came from Asia or Africa which were the two focus areas for the grant. Both continents represented the locations of the fastest growing numbers of new sisters in each of the five sessions. Seventy percent spoke two languages or more, again most of those coming from Asia or Africa, which included tribal, regional, and national languages.  Approximately 70% of the sisters had completed some university education and 27% had some graduate education almost exclusively in healthcare, education, and social service occupations.  Approximately 72% of sisters had been in religious life between 1-24 years, many in Asia and Africa entering as adolescents.

Pre and post evaluation data were extensive and varied with questions focused on attitudes and knowledge about cultural diversity and conflict issues. The quantitative (5-point Likert Scale) and qualitative data (sisters’ comments) are both important to the process and document overall positive outcomes.   Sisters reported that they were less fearful of conflict, felt more capable to resolve conflict, and less fearful of cultural diversity within their communities.  They reported they better understood strategies for nonviolent communication and valued their knowledge about cultural diversity to better live in community and work successfully within their ministry.  Interestingly, they also reported that they better understood whether conflict arises from cultural differences or those inherent in religious life.  This was a critical component of the grant because this is an important distinction for culturally-diverse women living closely in community in sometimes highly stressful situations around the world.  Some of the sisters’ written comments also reflect the purpose and significance of the workshop for these sisters.

The sisters’ post-evaluation comments give the quantitative data “life” and in some cases reflect personal situations.  One sister wrote that she hopes to use these strategies on conflict in her own community, “[H]ad I not learned this I may have added to the conflict.”  Another wrote, “ I feel that I am leaving [the workshop] with a lot of tools [or strategies] and I intend to use them.”  One spoke of understanding that “multicultural, intercultural is a strength” not a problem.  And a sister in an African novitiate simply wrote, “I have a community of six members and five are from different countries. . . . [This training will help me] work with current sisters in conflict.”

The six-month follow-up questionnaire provided information and insights about how the Le Puy-trained sisters felt after going back to their local settings and becoming Second Generation teachers sharing the curriculum with other sisters and lay peoples.[10]   The Second Generation of sisters quickly understood that this curriculum could go far beyond training only younger or newer sisters in the community.  For example: In November 2017, three St. Joseph sisters from three different congregations in Brazil came together in Northeast Brazil in Cicero Dantas, Bahia.  They taught over 50 men, women, and youth between the ages of 18 and 80 in a three-day workshop.  A sister remarked that most participants were members of local “settlements and camps of people who daily struggle to find a place to live and work.”[11]  The participants included teachers, students, housewives, village leaders, senior advisers, and religious sisters.

Not an original focus in the grant, training and working with lay people within their local ministries was an excellent decision (made by the sisters).  Those trained in Le Puy saw the need and the importance of utilizing and demonstrating the adaptability of the curriculum by teaching  local lay people and other groups.  The data from the Second Generation programs in their home countries document the sisters’ dedication to create these workshops and their unique approach to making the curriculum their own.  The aggregate data show that participants in Second Generation workshops varied from locale to locale.  Although the curriculum is still being taught in workshops, as of November 2019, participants included sisters (59%), lay people (23%), educators (9%), and students/adolescents (10%).  The workshops were taught in over 25 countries, South America provided 33% of all workshops, Asia 31%, and Africa 17% of the total number of workshops six months after each Le Puy workshop.  Adapting to the lives of the people, Second Generation sisters taught workshops tailored for their populations who in most cases had very little “free” time.  The length of the workshops varied from 2-3 days to 9-12 days.  Sixty-one percent of the workshops were 2-3 days in length, and 25% were 4-5 days in length.  Only 11% of the workshops lasted between 6-12 days.  As of November 2019, sisters have reported 120 workshops, involving over 3200 people.  This is an underestimation because sisters have taught and are continuing to teach the curriculum so we do not have data for 2020.

Implications and Analysis

The success of the Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management workshops were demonstrated in both quantitative and qualitative assessment measures providing a road map for future research and program development, particularly for religious congregations of women operating in a global milieu.  In a world overwhelmed by conflict, locally and globally, women religious are in a unique position to reach a variety of constituencies including members of their own congregations and the lay people to whom they minister.

Although not part of the original grant, the sisters created their own diverse groups of participants including combinations of religious women and lay people in many of their Second Generation programs in their home nations and communities.  Working with the needs in their local communities, sisters adapted the curriculum for all ages, genders, religious, lay, and local NGO groups hoping to learn new strategies for nonviolent communication and conflict resolution.

The success of the project goes beyond curricular outcomes and evaluations.  Other factors are important to holistically explain the sisters’ effectiveness as teachers and peacemakers.  Their personal, educational, and religious backgrounds provided a unique workforce and presence in global peacebuilding. These include six critical factors for success, particularly significant in sisters’ interactions with people in their local ministries.

  • Sisters effectively identified the needs in both design and teaching, avoiding a formula or an implication that one-size-fits-all
  • Sisters adapted their curriculum to the local culture, including those participants outside of religious life who are necessary and important to the peacebuilding process
  • Sisters’ networks are vast and they are trusted and respected members of the local communities – before beginning the workshops they had already established credibility with the local populations
  • Sisters’ knowledge and skill sets reinforced and helped ensure success
  • Sisters’ foreign language proficiency enhanced outreach to a variety of populations
  • Sisters’ advanced education enhanced their ability to think critically, understand learning styles, and blend the curriculum with experiential learning opportunities and activities

Although not an explicit part of this grant program, three additional and important concepts stand out when reflecting on the successful outcomes and implications for the future; this includes the importance of sisters’ understanding the concepts of interculturalism, intersectionality, and transnational activism. The Design team and sister-instructors realized – very early on – that they were witnessing and experiencing interculturalism within the workshops in Le Puy.  Interculturalism refers to “support for cross-cultural dialogue and challenging self-segregation tendencies within cultures. Interculturalism involves moving beyond mere passive acceptance of a multicultural fact of multiple cultures effectively existing in a society and instead promotes dialogue and interaction between cultures.”[12]   With 25 sister-participants in each of the five sessions in Le Puy, interculturalism was an essential component.  Even in sisters’ four linguistic groups, intercultural interactions permeated the workshop.  For example, the French linguistic group included sisters from Haiti, France, and multiple countries in West and Central Africa as well as Madagascar.  They shared the language but also shared a need for interaction and at times blend their cultural backgrounds within identity and diversity.

Additionally, sisters also understood the importance of intersectionality.[13]  Feminist scholars stress the importance of intersectionality as an important concept when analyzing women’s lives.  Race, geography, religion, ethnicity, age, class, and other factors do not exist in isolation – they interface and overlap in the lives of all women.  Women’s lives and identities embrace a myriad of cultural, gendered, and social imperatives providing a complex matrix.  In fact, amid the Le Puy trainings, sisters themselves often discussed the nuances of their own identities: religious, gender, ethnic, racial, and class intersectionality.  The global sisters in this study, as well as the population they minister to, cross many boundaries in their intersectional tension and identities.  Because most sisters live with the population they serve, and in many cases come from the population they serve, they have a unique perspective.

Finally, Donatella della Porta and Raffaele Marchetti, authors of the article, “Transnational Activism and the Global Justice Movement,” document the importance of a transnational approach to peacebuilding.   They write: “Transnational activism entails transnational actors. . . . [including those in] global civil society, international non-governmental organizations [NGOs], transnational social movement organizations [or] global justice movements . . .”[14]  In much of the world, this is the daily experience of many Catholic sisters.  Utilizing this definition, we would argue that Catholic sisters have been involved in transnational work for decades.  This approach and understanding are a necessary ingredient to reducing conflict, locally and globally, and ultimately peacebuilding.  Understanding the importance of gender and religion to global peace and justice, editors Susan Hayward and Katherine Marshall recently published, Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen, an anthology on peacebuilding by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish women.  Using the resources and support of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), these real-world, case studies came from the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Israel, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Honduras. This USIP research documents the effectiveness of working with women in global peacebuilding.  Because of their years of onsite observation and networking, the work and effectiveness of Catholic sisters were an important component of that conversation.[15]

Consequently, for these reasons this unique, four-year grant is important and why we believe the curriculum has global applications for further peacebuilding by Catholic sisters.  The grant and program are not perfect, it is not universal, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to peacebuilding.  However, it is at the very least, a useful template for peacebuilding, particularly for congregations of women religious, who have historically adapted to the world as they find it – trying to make it better.[16]

In the next phase of this project, Avila University will house the archives and all materials from the curriculum project.  We hope to create a website and online presence providing access for other global religious congregations to utilize and adapt the template for their congregational and ministerial needs.  These needs could be identified by a variety of religious congregations’ NGOs and UN networking to support individual congregations and collaborative programs on Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management – needed throughout the world.  Additionally, Avila University and a St. Joseph sister, trained in Le Puy, developed and piloted an English online version of the curriculum.  In light of the on-going Coronavirus world pandemic, online work will become more important and necessary in the immediate future.  Not always a good or possible option for less developed countries, the online workshop appears to be very successful for those who have the internet infrastructure with opportunities to learn, discuss, and reflect on the curricular materials.  Avila University hopes to provide online resources and workshops in five languages (Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, Italian) for religious congregations whose sisters have the technological infrastructure to benefit from online training in peacebuilding.  The Sr. Martha Smith Archives and Research Center at Avila University will preserve all grant materials and we hope to establish a Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management website that will serve as an internet portal where digitized grant materials can be accessed for use by other religious congregations to adapt and utilize across the globe.  With approximately 700,000 sisters living and working worldwide, that’s a lot of “boots on the ground” for peacebuilding.[17]


[1] The authors would like to thank the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for funding this four-year project and for their understanding of its importance. We would also like to thank Sister Patty Johnson CSJ for her vision, support, and encouragement along the way.

[2] Susan Hayward and Katharine Marshall eds., Women Religion and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen (United States Institute of Peace Press, 2015).  Also, the USIP website https://www.usip.org/ provides extensive research for research, teaching, and online activism.  The quote is from Norway’s ambassador to the U.S., Kare R. Aas taken from USIP’s article “Women and Peace: A Special Role in Violent Conflict,” by Fred Strasser (March 18, 2016), 1.  See also two excellent documentaries by Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker, Women, War & Peace (PBS 2011) and Women, War & Peace II (PBS,  2019).

[3] Valerie M. Hudson, “What Sex means for World Peace,” https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/04/24/what-sex-means-for-world-peace/  (April 24, 2012).  Also see the full study in her book, Sex and World Peace, co-authored with Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

[4] Severine Autesserre, “On the Frontlines of Peace: An Insider’s Guide to Changing the World,” Keynote Address at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame (November 9, 2019).   In 2021, her forthcoming book with the same title will be available through Oxford University Press.

[5] For an overview of the Sisters of St. Joseph from their roots in 17th century France until early twentieth-century America see Carol K. Coburn and Martha Smith, Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

[6] For the best up-to-date information on the transnational activities of women religious see the websites of religious congregations.  Most have a “social justice” link that gives past and present networks and activities.  Also, see www.globalsisterreport.org – weekly online report of sisters’ activities from across the globe.

[7] Kelly Litt, “Catholic Sisters at the UN: Bringing the moral voice to the debate,” in Global Sisters Report www.globalsistersreport.org  June 29, 2015.

[8] Maryann Cusimano Love, “Catholic Women Building Peace: Invisibility, Ideas and Institutions Expand Participation,” in Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding, 64.  The quote from Tip O’Neill was also taken from this source from Love’s  interview with St. Joseph Sister Janet Mock, December, 2011.

[9] All quantitative and qualitative data on the sisters and the grant is being archived at the Sr. Martha Smith Archives and Research Center, Avila University, Kansas City, Missouri.

[10] “Second Generation” is the term we assigned the 122 sisters who trained in Le Puy and returned to teach in their own countries.  The “First Generation” are the nine sisters on the Design team who were the instructors for the five workshop-training sessions in Le Puy.

[11] Excerpt from “Report to Evaluators” from Sr. Griselda Morales Martinez, Project Director the “Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management” grant, November 2017.

[12] Ibanez B. Penas and Carmen Lopez Saenz, Interculturalism: Between Identity and Diversity (Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2006), 15.

[13] There are a variety of resources and articles that discuss this concept including, Kimberly Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43:6 (July, 1991), 1241-99 and “What Does Intersectional Feminism Actually Mean?” International Women’s Development Agency  https://iwda.org.au/ (May 11, 2018) among others.

[14] Donatella della Porta and Raffaele Marchetti, “Transnational Activism and the Global Justice Movement,” www.academia.edu, 428. Also see Sidney Tarrow, The New Transnational Activism (New York: Cambridge Press, 2005). For more on the importance of women in the peacemaking process see the work of documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney, who produced a two-part series for PBS titled Women, War and Peace, Part I (2011) and Part II (2018) describing successful peacebuilding by women in the twenty-first century.

[15] Hayward and Marshall eds., Women, Religion and Peacebuilding.

[16] In an effort to broaden accessibility and information about the project the authors have given presentations in fall 2019 at the Peace and Justice Studies Conference at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Canada and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

[17] This 2017 data and many more statistics can be found at the online website for Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)  http://CARA.georgetown.edu.  (Washington, D.C.)


Carol K. Coburn is a Professor Emerita in Religious Studies and a consultant for the Buchanan Initiative for Peace and Nonviolence at Avila University.  She is the author of two books including Spirited Lives: How Nuns Shaped Catholic Culture and American Life, 1836-1920.  She has over 30 refereed articles and 40 national/international presentations, most focused on Catholic sisters, social justice, and peacebuilding.

Ken Parsons is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Avila University. He is also a consultant for the Buchanan Initiative for Peace and Nonviolence and the Director for the Center for Global Studies and Social Justice (2013-2019). He teaches and presents papers at conferences around the world on structural violence, notions of difference, and human rights

New Online History Resources: The Cold War and Post-Cold War Era

By Roger Peace

History is most useful when approached as a series of decisions rather than events.  Those choices can be analyzed in hindsight and assessed as to their wisdom or faults.  Moreover, choices made at certain times can have long-range and profound effects.

One such time was the 1945-1947 period, when the Truman administration adopted policies and attitudes that set the stage for a long Cold War.  Another was the 1989-1991 period, when the Cold War ended and the possibility of building a new world order was at hand.  In both cases, the “peace dividend” that many citizens sought – a transfer of funds from military to domestic programs such as education and health care – evaporated.  Instead of mutual aid and support, a vicarious “empire identity” was parlayed as the glue to unite Americans.

Two recent essays on the U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide website, “Cold War interventionism, 1945-1990,” and “The post-Cold War era, 1989-2001,” delve into how and why decisions were made in Washington at the outset of these periods.  In the case of the Cold War, for example, six possibilities are laid out from which President Harry Truman could have chosen, the first three being on the peaceful side (he chose the fourth and fifth):

  • A global New Deal as suggested by former Vice President Henry A. Wallace;
  • Cooperative internationalism and full support for the United Nations as advocated by Eleanor Roosevelt;
  • Peaceful coexistence, or détente, which emerged twenty-five years later;
  • Containment or encirclement of the Soviet Union and opposition to “communist” movements around the world;
  • Rollback or subversion of “communist” governments and movements; and
  • Nuclear attack, the most aggressive option for which plans were drawn up but never implemented.

Having charted the decision-making process, the Cold War essay moves on to assess results.  Viewed from a peace-oriented value perspective, these results are examined not primarily in terms of military success and national prestige but in terms of ethical considerations and international norms.  Was it a war of aggression?  Did the U.S. intervention contravene international law?  Were the Geneva Conventions respecting civilians observed?

Apart from the Korean War and the Vietnam War (examined in separate essays), most U.S. interventions during the long Cold War were covert.  The international relations scholar Lindsey O’Rourke, in Covert Regime Change: America’s Secret Cold War (2018), identifies 70 “regime change” interventions during the Cold War, of which 64 were conducted clandestinely through the CIA.  Of these 64, five involved assassination plots, 13 involved U.S.-backed military coups and insurrections (9 succeeded), 16 were directed at manipulating elections (12 resulted in the U.S.-backed candidate winning), and 14 instigated sabotage and destabilization operations in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.   Astoundingly, according to O’Rourke, “The United States supported authoritarian forces in forty-four out of sixty-four covert regime changes, including at least six operations that sought to replace liberal democratic governments with illiberal authoritarian regimes.”

The contradiction between stated U.S. principles and actual policies leads us to a third component of peace history – unpackaging official rationales and ideological presumptions.  In the case of the Cold War, this requires a lengthy section on the origins of socialist and communist philosophies and movements, and the manner in which anti-communism has been used to support right-wing authoritarian governments.  During the Cold War, the U.S. supported a host of dictatorial and repressive regimes, and covertly overthrew a number of democratic ones.

In the conclusion of this essay, I offer a succinct summary of lessons that may be drawn from this study:

If there is a paramount lesson to be learned from the Cold War, it is that the United States should shed its imperial identity and become a team player on the world stage, pursuing cooperation rather than military preponderance.  Let Pax Americana follow Pax Britannica into the dustbin of history.  American citizens need to be aware of the history and effects of U.S. foreign policies, cross-examine official rationales, and strengthen mechanisms of democratic accountability, thus enabling critical assessment of current U.S. policies and actions in the world.  Ethical standards of behavior should apply to the United States no less than to other nations.

The latest essay on the U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide website, “Post-Cold War era, 1989-2001,” takes a similar approach in (1) highlighting the choices at hand at a crucial time (and the missed opportunities for creating a more peaceful world), (2) assessing policy results, (3) critiquing official rationales, and (4) probing lessons that might be drawn – a general peace studies approach to international relations and wars.

As with all essays on this open resource website, the post-Cold War essay is written for students and the general public, offers coherent and well-organized narratives, and is accompanied by an ample number of photos and images – 119 to be exact (and 125 in the Cold War essay).  It synthesizes and builds on the work of expert scholars, offers analysis based upon available primary sources, and provides copious endnotes for independent examination of primary documents.  The authors, Brian D’Haeseleer, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Roger Peace, are scholars of U.S. military and foreign policy and experienced teachers.  Professors, instructors, and teachers are encouraged to assign the essay, all or in part, to their students.  All essays may be downloaded in PDF format, with or without images.

The Post-Cold War essay covers the U.S. invasion of Panama in December 1989, the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, “humanitarian interventions” in Somalia, Bosnia, and elsewhere, and the failed American crusade to remake Russia.  The story begins with a missed opportunity to build a more peaceful, just, and cooperative world order.

On December 8, 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev presented a challenge to the world community to create a new world order based on cooperation rather than domination.  “The formula for development at another’s expense is becoming outdated,” he told the United Nations General Assembly.  “It is evident, for example, that force and the threat of force can no longer be, and should not be instruments of foreign policy.”  To the surprise of many, the Soviet Union followed through and allowed the communist governments of Eastern Europe to fall as nonviolent revolutions swept through the region.

In December 1989, President George H. W. Bush met with Gorbachev on the island of Malta.  Bush seemed upbeat after the meeting, telling reporters, “The arms race, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle, all those should be things of the past.”  That was a good start for remaking the world order.  Rhetoric notwithstanding, however, the U.S. foreign policy establishment viewed Moscow’s retreat from great power domination as an opportunity to advance U.S. interests and establish the U.S. as the sole superpower in the world.  Less than three weeks after the Malta summit, U.S. forces invaded Panama in a classic “gunboat diplomacy” maneuver, denounced by the UN General Assembly as a “flagrant violation of international law.”

Mikhail Gorbachev’s vision of a more cooperative and peaceful world order gradually receded from view during the post-Cold War period.  In its place, U.S. leaders advanced the idea of an American-led world order secured by U.S. military predominance.  Those who hoped for a “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War were sorely disappointed as new threats from abroad were found to replace the vanishing “communist threat.”  As for Russia, the U.S.-applied capitalist “shock therapy” produced mostly shock and little therapy as social welfare systems were eviscerated and poverty rose precipitously.  All in all, as the historian Odd Arne Westad notes, “the 1990s was a lost opportunity for international cooperation, particularly to combat disease, poverty and inequality.”

What might the world be like today if different choices had been made in the post-Cold War era?  Might the transfer of money and talent to constructive activities been realized, enabling governments to competently address environmental threats, pressing economic needs, and epidemic diseases?  Though the opportunity was missed in the 1990s, the future is still open to this healing possibility.

The U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide is an open resource, non-commercial, educational website sponsored by the Historians for Peace and Democracy and the Peace History Society.  If interested in assisting this website project (production of essays or public outreach), please contact Roger Peace, website coordinator, rcpeace3@embarqmail.com.

Myth vs History: A Study of Vietnam War Stories and Journalism

By Jerry Lembcke

In 2007, I presented a paper on the myth of spat-on Vietnam veterans at a Queensland University conference in Brisbane, Australia. The paper drew on the history of homecomings experienced by U.S veterans of the war; it was well-received by the attending historians, most of whom were Australians.

In the Q&A that followed, however, assertions were made that the Australian case was different: Australian returnees, it was said, were met with great hostility and even acts of spitting by the antiwar movement. My surprise at hearing that claim was then surpassed by the acceptance of its merit by the roomful of scholars. With the unspoken certainty of something everyone-knows-is-true filling the room, the story of spat-on Australian veterans went unchallenged into the end of the session.

Later, over drinks and dinner, my probes into what research had been done by historians and students of political culture on the Australian homecoming experience hit a wall: It’s common-sense, isn’t it? The antiwar movement hated the war and the military establishment—why wouldn’t they spit on the “diggers” when they came home?

I returned to the States as certain that there was an untold story in the Australian memory of Vietnam veteran homecomings as I was when I began writing The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Alas, my pursuits of appointments and funding that would take me back to Australia to do that work were fruitless. Recently, I picked up Mark Dapin’s Australia’s Vietnam: Myth vs. History and it dispelled my lingering disappointment at the lost chance to interrogate some Australian coming-home-from-Vietnam stories. More importantly, Dapin does it in a way that advances the craft of myth-debunking while using his own growth from mythmaker to myth-breaker to show us what intellectual integrity looks like.

Dapin keeps himself on solid methodological ground throughout the book with repeated acknowledgments that he, the myth-debunker, cannot prove the negative, cannot prove what did not happen. But he can show what did happen: that hundreds of thousands of people turned out in 1966 and 1977 to welcome veterans home to Sydney, establishing as a myth the now-widespread claims that there were no “welcome home parades”; that government documents and official correspondence clearly record the obligation to serve in Vietnam when ordered, giving the lie to claims that Australia’s troops there were “an all-volunteer army”; that the first claims that returnees were called “baby killers” came in 1997, about thirty years after they came home.

Dapin takes the show-what-did-happen tactic to a higher level to attack the now-remembered demonstrations that greeted troops returning to Australian airports. So threatening were those demonstrations, it is claimed, that Qantas Airlines flights from Vietnam landed at night to thwart protester’s plans to assail the veterans. The truth, writes Dapin, is more prosaic: nighttime flights allowed Qantas to maintain the scheduled maintenance of the planes needed for daytime commercial flights.

Australia’s Vietnam is more than an empirical inquiry into the truth, say, of stories that Australian troops committed My Lai-type atrocities in Vietnam: did they happen or didn’t they? They didn’t, Dapin says, and the “memory” that they did began with a book published in the US. Dapin describes the book, Happy Hunting Ground by Martin Ross, as a former Marine “eager to impress his readers with the dangers and hardships he ostensibly faced while wandering around South Vietnam as a journalist. . . “(p. 110). Made-up atrocity stories function, as do other myths in Australian post-Vietnam folklore, to bolster the combat bona fides of Australian veterans by associating them with the imagery of American veterans ginned up by Hollywood.

Australia’s Vietnam is important for the rectification it brings to public memory of Vietnam War homecomings. Its relevance for Australian readers goes without saying and used in critical dialogue with the American war-story literature it should find its place on those lists as well.

But the book is equally important as a case study of journalists’ role in mythmaking. Dapin’s first chapter, “The Myths I Helped to Make,” is one of the best in the book. Told by members of a veterans biker club that 90% of them have PTSD, that others were spat on, sleep with pick-handles under the bed, live in isolated camps in the bush, or carried a bag of Vietnamese heads in Vietnam—he believed many of them and wrote some them into print. The journalistic malfeasance that Dapin owns-up to now is more than made up for by offering himself for study in why journalists believe what they do. Phenomenologists have covered a lot of that ground that Australia’s Vietnam would be stronger for having referenced but schools of journalism can make the necessary accommodations for that.

Afterword. At the Brisbane conference mentioned above, I also recounted my R&R experience in Sydney in July 1969. Coming down the steps to street-side from my Kings Cross hotel, I was greeted by a young woman. “Are you a GI?” she asked. Tanned (in the Australian winter) with no hair, I confessed immediately. “Would you like to go to a coffee house?” she asked. Agreeable to that, I walked a short distance with her to a coffee shop (and perhaps bookstore) stuffed with antiwar literature and paraphernalia. There, I was offered sanctuary if I wished to desert, and eventual passage to Sweden for more long-term refuge. I left with a stack of printed material that I passed around the 41st Artillery Group upon return to Vietnam and a heavy-metal peace symbol that still hangs on my dining-room wall. The Brisbane conferees had “no idea” that Australian peace activists had reached-out to GIs and even admitted to hunches that protesters would have been hostile to GIs. It was, after all, 2007 and years before they would see Dapin’s myth-busting work.


Jerry Lembcke is the author of eight books including The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of VietnamCNN’s Tailwind: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth, and Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. His opinion pieces have appeared in The New York TimesBoston GlobeSan Francisco Chronicle, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He has been a guest on several NPR programs including On the Media. The 2006 film Sir! No Sir! featured his book The Spitting Image. This article was originally published to History News Network.

Lembcke was drafted in 1968 and served as a Chaplain’s Assistant with the 41st Artillery Group in Vietnam. He is presently Associate Professor Emeritus at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

Reflections on International Peace: An Essay Series in Three Parts

by Sandra Simić

Part III – Common Heritage

 “Since wars begin in the minds of men (and women), it is in the minds of men (and women) that the defenses of peace must be constructed”, the UNESCO Constitution says.

Four centuries ago, in the heart of various beliefs – Hindu, Persian, Muslim, Christian – the emperor Akbar the Great gathered in his palace in Delhi philosophers, scholars, and mystics, in order to find together the core in which religions unite. (2) We may be inspired by such a noble initiative.

The vision of building instead of destroying the future together, by all members of the human family, must not be limited to rational science. Focusing on material globalization only is like building a house on sand. Spiritual globalization is needed as well, through a search for the common origin and a sense of shared humanity.

Opinions on whether religion is a cause of international conflicts vary. Some thinkers believe that religion is one of the interrelated factors causing conflict, while others believe that it is never the cause of the conflict. (3) Religion might also be hijacked for political purposes, presenting it erroneously as the primary reason for war, instead of economic or other interests.

Spiritual leaders are continually calling for peace. The Second Vatican Council renewed the Roman Catholic Church, a part of the process being the support for the international order, UN and human rights. (4) This support is most evident from the Pacem in Terris, a famous encyclical of His Holiness Pope John XXIII, which emphasizes in the point 61 that “any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force”. Further, it is noted in point 88 that some nations may have attained a superior degree of development, but this does not “entitle them to exert unjust political domination over other nations. It means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress.”

When leaders focus on the relevant issues and create a positive context, things are starting to change. Sincerely positive global spirit uniting all cultures and religions together may be witnessed at the General Audience with His Holiness Pope Francis, who interestingly, took the name of the saint of peace.

In spite of dogmatic differences, we should seek to find the source which is the same for everyone and build togetherness from there. For example, The Golden Rule is worldwide accepted by all religions. (6) Reading its narrative through various religious traditions is illuminating, as the same idea is repeated over and over in different literary styles. Basically, it says that you should not do to others what you do not wish others do to yourself.

Focusing on shared values and common heritage might be further developed by establishing an organization which would serve the following purposes: connecting people and cultures physically and virtually, serve as a place where people could get accurate information about all religions, provide grants for artists promoting these values through books, movies, music, and visual arts, provide grants and resources for scientific research aimed at finding shared values and other noble ideas leading to this aim. A digital church might also be created, meaning a digital place where people from all over the globe can meet, discuss and share directly and in real time. Creating an appropriate setting for the expression of such ideas would make all the difference. Publishing and producing is a commercially driven business, meaning that it adapts itself to the market and follows trends. The prevailing themes are negative. This is why it is necessary to create a space where freedom of expression is not restricted to market trends, but it also opens possibilities for artists with an optimistic and positive vision of the future. Building relationships on shared values, while keeping cultural and religious differences as they enrich us. We are all on the same path of discovering life in its sophistication and beauty and every path is valuable.

Creating peace is possible. The positive context, organization and focus on shared values are necessary. It is also important being continually aware of the fine line between those who divide and those who connect people, especially when electing leaders. The old Latin phrase Acta, non verba (Actions, not words) teaches us that we should focus more on concrete results such as making peace deals which last or deciding not to send armed forces to war, instead of endorsing the elegant pacifistic rhetoric only.

It is unacceptable in the 21st century to judge someone on the basis of what she or he gained by birth, on the basis of something beyond their influence. It is particularly unacceptable to divide on the basis of religion. The path of every person towards spirituality merits respect. In Genesis 15:5, God promised Abraham/Ibrahim that He would give him as many children as there are stars in the sky. Looking at the sky, I believe Abraham/Ibrahim wanted to see that harmony and glow between his children. God made His promise. His descendants are Jewish, Christians and Muslims. It is upon us to build that harmony and not be misled by artificial worldly divisions.

By focusing on values we all share, instead of emphasizing differences, we shall build a more sophisticated and future-oriented culture.


  1. UNESCO Constitution.
  2. Mourad, Kenizé, „Tragom mrtve princeze“ (Croatian translation of the original title: „De la part de la princesse morte“), Znanje, 1989, p. 185. (vol.2.).
  3. Smock, David R. (eds.), “Interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding”, United States Institute of Peace Press, 2002, p. 127.
  4. O’Connell, Mary Ellen, “Belief in the Authority of International Law for Peace”, in: Justenhoven, Heinz-Gerhard, O’Connell, Mary Ellen (eds.), Peace through law: Reflections on Pacem in Terris from Philosophy, Law, Theology, and Political Science, 1. Edition 2016, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, p. 60.
  5. Pacem in terris, encyclical of Pope John XXIII on establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity, and liberty, April 11, 1963.
  6. Bowker, John, “World Religions”, Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2003 (revised edition published in 2003, first published in London in 1997), p. 208.

Sandra Simić, mag.iur., LLM, is a lawyer specialized in Public International Law and European Law (University of London, Queen Mary&University College London), with extensive professional experience in private (Attorney at Law) and public sector. This essay represents her personal opinion. She may be reached at: sandra_law@europe.com; SandraSimic©.