War and Peace: Lessons from the 20th Century: The Hoirup Inaugural Lecture

By Wallensteen, Peter | Scandinavian Review, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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War and Peace: Lessons from the 20th Century: The Hoirup Inaugural Lecture


Wallensteen, Peter, Scandinavian Review


The Mogens and Karin Hoirup Lectures are intended to focus on topics related to conflict resolution, moral courage, tolerance, human rights, and world peace. Sponsored by the Kulin Family Fund, the annual lecture series is named in honor of Mrs. Kulin's parents, Mogens and Karin Hoirup, who ran a Danish boarding school in the town of Grindsted. During the Second World War, Mr. Hoirup was a leader in the country's resistance to the German occupation, for which he was imprisoned in concentration camps for more than a year. After the war, he continued to work for international collaboration among nations as a way of achieving world peace. The Hoirup Inaugural Lecture was given at Scandinavia House by the prominent Swedish peace researcher Peter Wallensteen on May 4 to commemorate the date on which the Nazi occupation of Denmark came to an end in 1945.

The 20th Century is behind us. It was the most violent century in the history of mankind. It was also the one to see the most rapid scientific and technical advances. It included two World Wars and the Holocaust. It saw Genocide. It produced and used Nuclear and Chemical Weapons. It bore witness to Democratization, Welfare Societies, increased Gender Equality, Human Rights, and Nonviolent Resistance. The latter is what we are celebrating today. The ability of Denmark to survive as a nation, without losing its identity during five harsh years of foreign occupation, was largely due to the practice of nonviolent resistance. It lay the groundwork for an integrated society and for prosperous economic development in the post-war period.

This is where the Hoirup family comes in, and why there is good reason to recall their wartime efforts, along with those of countless others. Nonviolent resistance may not have ended the German occupation, but it was a first attempt in European circumstances to face a brutal occupation with unarmed strategies. It served to crystallize Danish resistance and was an important element in maintaining morale and cohesion in the country.

The 20th century has been a century torn by strife. The contradictions between peace and war could not have been sharper. Despite the many wars, it was a century when more was done than ever before to move the world away from war. Peace movements, international organizations, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and arms control efforts, were but a few such measures. There were also treaties on conduct between states and peace agreements to solve underlying problems. Still, the results do not turn out as they should, and the number of wars refuses to approach the zero mark. Today we record some 20 to 30 major armed conflicts a year. To these we can add minor armed conflicts, terrorist group activities, riots and unrest in all parts of the world. This might be less than was observed five years ago, which provides some consolation, though it also makes clear that the question of war is not about to leave us.

What have we learned from this past century that can be brought to bear on present-day realities and those of the near future? There are some lessons on the views and uses of war, and others on the promotion of peace.

Changing Views of War

First of all, nobody likes war any longer. This might sound odd today, but one hundred years ago it was a common theme, even among notable writers and cultural personalities, to believe that war was something honorable and purifying. This attitude contributed to creating an atmosphere that made war more acceptable, even though it is probably more human and more universally common to abhor war and violence. When intellectuals extolled such virtues as bravery, they conveyed sentiments that contributed to reducing the reluctance to make war. In other words, there is an intellectual responsibility to appreciate correctly what war is all about, but it was not apparent in their work. The First World War was started in the spirit of "war as an adventure," which could be ended whenever the participants wanted.

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