Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Building a Culture of Peace to Replace the Culture of War

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Building a Culture of Peace to Replace the Culture of War

Article excerpt

This article argues that we must re-engineer national systems of education, replacing education for a culture of war with education for a culture of peace, as a fundamental aspect of laying the foundations for creating alternatives to war. The article examines what this implies for early childhood, schools and higher education, the obstacles to be faced and the progress made, with a particular focus on the work of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed' (UNESCO 1999). The first sentence of the Constitution of UNESCO reminds us that war and violence are learned behaviours. As a song in the musical South Pacific puts it: 'You have to be taught, you have to be carefully taught to hate all the people your relatives hate. You have to be carefully taught'. To create a culture of peace, all citizens need to be carefully taught throughout their lives to respect the dignity of others, to resolve conflicts peacefully, and to live together in peace and harmony. This article draws on the analyses of the contribution made by UNESCO and its university partners to promote international understanding and solidarity through education for peace, human rights and democracy and the sharing of research and experience (UNESCO 1997; Power 2015).

From Revising Textbooks to Education for a Culture of Peace

Each national system of education reflects the type of political system and society that its government seeks to maintain or to create. The allied leaders who founded the UN system at the end of World War II were well aware of the extent to which totalitarian regimes had misused schools, colleges and universities to build a 'culture of war', while grudgingly admitting that their education systems and media had played an important role in support of their own position and war effort (UNESCO 1997).

UNESCO's first steps in seeking to create a culture of peace focused on the revision of the history, geography and civics textbooks being used in schools and universities. The pressure to eliminate stereotyping, racism and bias in textbooks, educational policies and practices has ebbed and flowed, peaking in the immediate post-World War II years, again as the former colonies of European powers gained their independence and again in the countries of Eastern Europe and the former USSR as they moved towards democracy. The revision of textbooks and school curricula has proved to be a politically sensitive, even explosive, issue. Genocide, mass slaughter, torture, rape and other crimes committed by dictators, the military or secret police are often conveniently ignored or camouflaged in the educational programmes and materials produced or authorised for use in schools by the government of the offending country (UNESCO 1997).

Under the determined leadership of Federico Mayor (UNESCO Director-General 1988-1999), the creation of 'a culture of peace' to replace the dominant 'culture of war' became a key priority for UNESCO throughout the 1990s. The multi-disciplinary, inter-sectoral project Towards a Culture of Peace' provided a framework for action in countries torn apart by armed conflict. In countries like El Salvador, Congo, Burundi, Sudan and Rwanda, Forums for Education and Culture of Peace set about the task of reforming and reconstructing the education systems of countries ravaged by war. Priority groups included refugees and displaced persons, demilitarised soldiers (including child soldiers), girls and women, the disabled and traumatised children. UNESCO supported government and non-government programmes providing training for peace managers, the military, police and teachers in conflict management and working with traumatised children, as well as the establishment of UNESCO Chairs on Peace Education (Power 2015). One more controversial part of UNESCO's struggle to deconstruct the culture of war has been its effort to promote the idea of 'disarming history', that is, to reduce the emphasis given to the glorification of the nation state, its military heroes and achievements, and to give greater emphasis in education programmes to national and international 'heroes' of peace, human rights, culture and the environment. …

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