black figures on orange, two ancient Greek fighters with Trojan horse in background

While “peace” can refer to an inner peace as well as civil peace, war is usually about armed conflict involving physical violence between groups, states, or nations.  In a war, each party competes for power over the other or for freedom from oppressive power.  What are some of the reflections of great thinkers about war?

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Our enemies are innovative and resourceful…. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

— George W. Bush

No, I know all the war rhetoric, but it’s all aimed at achieving peace.

— George W. Bush

I’ve been to war. I’ve raised twins. If I had a choice, I’d rather go to war.

— George W. Bush

The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.

— George Washington

There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy.

— George Washington

I do not mean to exclude altogether the idea of patriotism. I know it exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But I will venture to assert, that a great and lasting war can never be supported on this principle alone. It must be aided by a prospect of interest, or some reward.

— George Washington

War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.

— Georges Clemenceau

Never advise anyone to go to war or to get married. Write down the advice of him who loves you, though you like it not at present. He that has no children brings them up well.

— Germaine Greer

A nice war is a war where everybody who is heroic is a hero, and everybody more or less is a hero in a nice war. Now this war is not at all a nice war.

— Gertrude Stein

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who plan for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

— Grantland Rice, “The Two Sides of War”

Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice.

— Harrison Ford

I hate war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatreds it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in the place of democracies, and for the starvation that stalks after it. I hate war, and never again will I sanction or support another.

— Harry Emerson Fosdick

As peacemakers we must resist resolutely all the powers of war and destruction and proclaim that peace is the divine gift offered to all who affirm life.

— Henri J. M. Nouwen

Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

— Hermann Goering

Religion and science both profess peace (and the sincerity of the professors is not being doubted), but each always turns out to have a dominant part in any war that is going or contemplated.

— Howard Nemerov

During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.

— Howard Thurman

I suggest that if you know history, then you might not be so easily fooled by the government when it tells you you must go to war for this or that reason — that history is a protective armor against being misled.

— Howard Zinn

When people don’t understand that the government doesn’t have their interests in mind, they’re more susceptible to go to war.

— Howard Zinn

One certain effect of war is to diminish freedom of expression.

— Howard Zinn

I am willing to accept that there might be rare circumstances where applications of force might be effective,

— Howard Zinn

We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children

— Howard Zinn

Historically, the most terrible things — war, genocide, and slavery — have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.

— Howard Zinn

People like Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Jack London and Upton Sinclair were wonderful writers who joined the movement against war and injustice, against capitalism and corporate power. That was a very exciting period in American history.

— Howard Zinn

It is not only the living who are killed in war.

— Isaac Asimov

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

— Isaac Asimov

The executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war.

— James Madison

We kind o’ thought Christ went agin war an’ pillage.

— James Russell Lowell

Psychologists intimate that action is determined by the selection of the subject upon which the attention is habitually fixed. The newspapers, the theatrical posters, the street conversations for weeks had to do with war and bloodshed. The little children on the street played at war, day after day, killing Spaniards. The humane instinct, which keeps in abeyance the tendency to cruelty, the growing belief that the life of each human being — however hopeless or degraded, is still sacred — gives way, and the barbaric instinct asserts itself.

— Jane Addams

It is doubtless only during a time of war that the men and women of Chicago could tolerate whipping for children in our city prison, and it is only during such a time that the introduction in the legislature of a bill for the re-establishment of the whipping post could be possible. National events determine our ideals, as much as our ideals determine national events.

— Jane Addams

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.

— Jeanette Rankin

We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.

— Jimmy Carter

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

— John Adams

It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.

— John F. Kennedy

Unconditional war can no longer lead to unconditional victory. It can no longer serve to settle disputes. It can no longer be of concern to great powers alone. For a nuclear disaster, spread by winds and waters and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike. Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.

— John F. Kennedy

The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.

— John F. Kennedy

I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.

— John Kerry

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature, and has no chance of being free unless made or kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

— John Stuart Mill

May we look upon our treasure, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try to discover whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.

— John Woolman, 1774

I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private individuals.

— Joseph Heller

Villager : An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
Tevye : Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.

— Joseph Stein, screenwriter for Fiddler on the Roof

For capitalism, war and peace are business and nothing but business.

— Karl Liebknecht

I am passionately interested in understanding how my country works. And if you want to know about this thing called the United States of America you have to know about the Civil War.

— Ken Burns

War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it must try to stifle the voice of conscience within themselves.

— Leo Tolstoy

Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.

— Maria Montessori

For every Crusade and Revolution and Civil War, there have always been those who argued, with great clarity, that violence not only was immoral but that it was even a less effective means of achieving laudable goals.

— Mark Kurlansky

War is a malignant disease, an idiocy, a prison, and the pain it causes is beyond telling or meaning; but war was our condition and our history, the place we had to live in.

— Martha Gelhorn

Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you say, ‘Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark,’ but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children.’ There is something wrong with that press.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

— Mohandas K. Gandhi
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