Social workers, why not resolve to prioritize peace in 2023?

Nobody really wins in war. Indeed, who dares disagree with the assertion of journalist and former war correspondent Chris Hedges’ latest book, “The Greatest Evil is War”? Death, destruction and trauma, squandered wealth and wasted talents, deeply sown seeds of future antagonisms and cycles of violence, suicidal distraction from the urgent tasks of promoting genuine human and planetary well-being. Nothing good comes or can come of war.

As we draw near to celebrating the nativity of Christianity’s namesake “Prince of Peace” and the annual crafting of ambitious New Year resolutions, I’m pondering today two principal questions:

(1) Why does my nation insist on promoting war instead of peace? It is undeniable that the United States is the greatest purveyor of war in the world. Our political leaders year after year spend more on the military than any other nation, and the U.S. sells to others more weapons of mass destruction than any other nation. A bi-partisan consensus seems intent on turning the Russian-Ukraine war into a protracted if not perpetual bloodbath, even at the risk of escalating to a nuclear confrontation. Our president has said that the nation can look forward to a future of great power challenge and conflict. In true Orwellian fashion, U.S. political elites appear to insist that “war is peace.”

(2) Why does my profession say (and do) so little about matters of war and peace and the major role of the U.S. in instigating the former to the extreme detriment of the latter? Check the NASW website; you won’t find much there. Peace is clearly not a priority; “peace,” allied with “social and economic justice,” is relegated to a single specialty section, alongside ten other sections, within the larger organization. (It strikes me that this is a bit like saying that “air to breathe” is a good thing for people to enjoy, along with a well-paying job and a decent amount of leisure time.) Why this deafening near-silence on matters of war and the deliberate dissipation of precious national resources? Why the quasi-ghettoization of concern for peace?

These two questions prompt a third: Can we turn this abysmal dereliction of ethical duty, this glaring perversion of moral consciousness, around? Can we wake up to the horrors of war and begin organizing to deny the weapons manufacturers their obscene profits? Can we denounce the toady politicians who support ever-higher “defense” budgets while their poor and working class constituents struggle to meet basic needs? Can we demand that the nation redirect its wealth to the solution of worsening social problems and to advancing the well-being of humanity as a whole? Can we again stand steadfastly against war, as courageous social worker forbears like Jane Addams did in the past?

Can we social workers prioritize peace in 2023? If we cannot, why not? And if we cannot, who are we, then? What do we stand for?

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