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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You actually cannot sell the idea of freedom, democracy, diversity, as if it were a brand attribute and not reality — not at the same time as you’re bombing people, you can’t.

— Naomi Klein

Nationalism among nations is like racism among races. Racism and nationalism are forms of tribalism. Tribalism always, always leads to war. Why? Because every nation thinks they’re superior to other nations, and their own self-interest is more important than the self-interest of other nations.

— Oliver Markus Malloy, American Fascism: A German Writer’s Urgent Warning To America

As far as I am concerned, war itself is immoral.

— Omar N. Bradley

People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.

— Otto von Bismarck

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! [March 23, 1775]

— Patrick Henry

Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions, and fly into the woods; and then you must consequently famish by wronging your friends. What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed, and willing to supply your wants, if you will come in a friendly manner, and not with swords and guns, as to invade an enemy.

— Powhatan, Address to John Smith, ca. 1609, Biography and History of the Indians of North America, by Samuel G. Drake, 1841.

Either war is obsolete or men are.

— R. Buckminster Fuller

There are no warlike people, just warlike leaders.

— Ralph Bunche

The real and lasting victories are those of peace and not of war.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before a war military science seems a real science, like astronomy; but after a war it seems more like astrology.

— Rebecca West

We pass and leave you lying. No need for rhetoric, for funeral music, for melancholy bugle-calls. No need for tears now, no need for regret. We took our risk with you; you died and we live. We take your noble gift, salute for the last time those lines of pitiable crosses, those solitary mounds, those unknown graves, and turn to live our lives out as we may. Which of us were fortunate — who can tell? For you there is silence and cold twilight drooping in awful desolation over those motionless lands. For us sunlight and the sound of women’s voices, song and hope and laughter, despair, gaiety, love — life. Lost terrible silent comrades, we, who might have died, salute you.

— Richard Aldington

When people talk about war I vow with all beings to raise my voice in the chorus and speak of original peace.

— Robert Aitken

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.

— Robert E. Lee

Dream always of a peaceful, warless, disarmed world.

— Robert Muller

War is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.

— Robert S. McNamara

History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.

— Ronald Reagan

All oppression creates a state of war.

— Simone de Beauvoir

A self-respecting nation is ready for anything, including war, except for a renunciation of its option to make war.

— Simone Weil

War loves to seek its victims in the young.

— Sophocles

I fear evolution has inbuilt greed and aggression to the human genome. There is no sign of conflict lessening, and the development of militarised technology and weapons of mass destruction could make that disastrous.

— Stephen Hawking

Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.True peace with oneself and with the world around us can only be achieved through the development of mental peace. The other phenomena mentioned above are similarly interrelated. Thus, for example, we see that a clean environment, wealth or democracy mean little in the face of war, especially nuclear war, and that material development is not sufficient to ensure human happiness.

Material progress is of course important for human advancement. In Tibet, we paid much to little attention to technological and economic development, and today we realize that this was a mistake. At the same time, material development without spiritual development can also cause serious problems. In some countries too much attention is paid to external things and very little importance is given to inner development. I believe both are important and must be developed side by side so as to achieve a good balance between them. Tibetans are always described by foreign visitors as being a happy, jovial people. This is part of our national character, formed by cultural and religious values that stress the importance of mental peace through the generation of love and kindness to all other living sentient beings, both human and animal. Inner peace is the key: if you have inner peace, the external problems do not affect your deep sense of peace and tranquillity. In that state of mind you can deal with situations with calmness and reason, while keeping your inner happiness. This is very important. Without this inner peace, no matter how comfortable your life is materially, you may still be worried, disturbed or unhappy because of circumstances.

— Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

— Theodore Roosevelt

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.

— Thomas Jefferson

Peace, which costs nothing, is attended with with infinitely more advantage than any victory with all its expense.

— Thomas Paine

If there must be trouble let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.

— Thomas Paine

I don’t believe in war as a solution to any kind of conflict, nor do I believe in heroism on the battlefield because I have never seen any.

— Thor Heyerdahl

Those who have experienced the most, have suffered so much that they have ceased to hate. Hate is more for those with a slightly guilty conscience, and who by chewing on old hate in times of peace wish to demonstrate how great they were during the war.

— Thor Heyerdahl

You can’t say civilization don’t advance — for in every war, they kill you in a new way.

— Will Rogers

I have a scheme for stopping war. It’s this: no nation is allowed to enter a war till they have paid for the last one.

— Will Rogers

The cry has been that when war is declared, all opposition should be hushed. A sentiment more unworthy of a free country could hardly be propagated.

— William Ellery Channing

We tend to think the problem is human beings have this natural tendency to kill, and yet in the middle of a hot war, WWII, a ‘good war,’ as it were, the US army was astonished to learn that at least three out of every four riflemen who were trained to kill and commanded to kill, could not bring themselves to pull the trigger when they could see the person they were ordered to kill. And that inner resistance to violence is a well kept secret.

— William Ury

Jaw jaw is better than war war.

— Winston Churchill

The government may change faces from time to time, but it’s not like we fight wars for democracy – we fight wars for capitalism and for oil.

— Woody Harrelson
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