“The Language of War and Peace,” Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, ed. Lester Kurtz (San Diego: Academic Press, 1999): Volume 2, 303-312.





William C. Gay

University of North Carolina at Charlotte


I.   Language, Perception, and Behavior

II.  Language, Violence, and Nonviolence

III.      The Language of War

IV. The Language of Peace



linguistic alienation:  the situation in which individuals cannot understand a discourse in their own language because of the use of highly technical vocabularies.

linguistic violence:  the situation in which individuals are hurt or harmed by words.

negative peace:  the temporary absence of active war or the lull between wars.

positive peace:  the negation of war and the presence of justice.

warist discourse:  language which takes for granted that wars are inevitable, justifiable, and winnable.


Language plays an important role in relation to war and peace.  Language, which is rarely neutral, shapes perception and behavior.  Language can be used to demean differences and inflict violence or to affirm diversity and achieve recognition.  The language of war usually functions to mask the reality of the violence that is occurring.  Official discourse about war makes extensive use of euphemisms and misrepresentation.  By imposing itself as legitimate, it coopts efforts by critics of war.  The language of peace, like the condition of peace, can be negative or positive.  A language of negative peace perpetuates injustice by only establishing a verbal declaration of an end to war and hostilities.  A language of positive peace fosters open and inclusive communication that affirms diversity.


I.  Language, Perception, and Behavior

Various uses of language precede and support the pursuit of war and the quest for peace.  Military preparations for war and political negotiations for peace involve fairly obvious institutional structures.  Discourse about war and peace also involves institutional structures, since language itself is a social institution.  Whether we know the official language of the nation in which we live or a dialect relegated to low social esteem, whether we know only one or many languages, in whatever language we speak and write, we are faced with its lexicon and grammatical structure which have embedded within them a wide range of terms that express not only arbitrary systems of classification but also actual relations of power.  If knowledge is power, language too is power; those who control the language of war and peace exercise an enormous influence on how we perceive war and peace and what behaviors we accept in relation to war and peace.


A.  The Institutional Character of War and Discourse about War

Individuals who serve as warriors and soldiers have social roles that are structured by the military institutions of societies.  The overt violent acts committed by these individuals when they act as a social group following official orders are sanctioned by the state as legitimate, even though the acts committed by these individuals are similar to types of physical violence which are prohibited by the state and for which individuals who commit them are subject to punishment.  In order to mark the institutional character of military behavior, most societies use distinctive words to designate the violent acts of warriors and soldiers.  The act that is designated as "murder" when performed by an individual may be redesignated "justified use of force" when carried out by law enforcement or military personnel.  This power of redesignation, which allows for legitimation or condemnation of various actions, manifests how political uses of language precede and support the pursuit of war; the same is true for the political uses of language in the quest for peace.

From primitive war among archaic societies to the world wars of the twentieth century, political and military leaders have introduced and reinforced linguistic usages that give legitimacy to the social roles and military actions of warriors and soldiers.  Since the rise of the modern nation state, almost all societies have coupled the aim of maintaining national sovereignty with the capacity to wage war.  Not surprisingly, then, discourse about war is much more deeply ensconced in the languages of the world than is discourse about peace.  "Warist discourse" refers to the resulting language which takes for granted that wars are inevitable, justifiable, and winnable.  One of the most elaborate justifications for war arose during the medieval period and continues to this day, namely, the theory of just war that was given classical articulation by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.


B.  How the Institution of Language Shapes Perception and Behavior

To better understand the effects of the ways we talk and write about war and peace, one needs to recognize that language, as Ferdinand de Saussure established, is one of the most conservative social institutions.  As such, language shapes both perception and behavior, influencing our thought and action in three important ways.

First, at any given time the words in the lexicon of a language limit one another.  Every lexicon is finite, and every lexicon changes over time.  Linguists have shown that the meaning of individual words is a function of the differences among them during each phase in the history of the lexicon.  Terms designating ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation are especially revealing in this regard.  Consider the difference in the meaning within the United States of using the term "Negro" in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s to designate the race of one component of the population.  Use of the term "Negro" took on a different meaning in the 1970s by which time the addition of "black" was firmly established in the lexicon, and it took on an even more telling connotation once "African American" came into general usage in the 1990s.  Languages vary in the number of terms available to communicate about a specific topic, and the available terms vary in how positively and negatively charged they are.  While the English language currently includes "fag," "homosexual," and "gay" as terms which designate the sexual orientation of some men, these terms are on a continuum of rather negative, to more neutral, to fairly positive.  For this reason, when analyzing discourse about war and peace, the words selected and the words not selected from the lexicon are rather important.  Think, for example, of the difference between referring to armed troops as "freedom fighters" and as "guerrilla terrorists."

Second, because the vocabulary of a language provides charged terms, it serves as a means of interpretation.  Individuals think about their world in the terms provided by their language.  As a result of socialization individuals have a predisposition to select those terms which coincide with the existing values in their societies.  For example, throughout the Cold War, many Americans regarded their government as the "champion of freedom" and the Soviet government as "an evil empire."  Since the lexicon of a language also makes available further terminological options, individuals are also able to intentionally select words that are relatively more or less offensive.  Hence, while the lexicon of a people has built into it a perspective on the world, it facilitates not only the official perspective but also alternative ones.  These alternatives can include the potential for the positive renaming of a disenfranchised social group and the negative redescription of governmental accounts of military campaigns.  Although many people refer to individuals who use a wheelchair as "handicapped," these individuals may prefer to refer to themselves and to have others refer to them also as "physically challenged."  While the government may refer to a military campaign as a "just war," citizens can counter that it is "just another war."

Third, behavior is shaped by the linguistic perspective of an individual's thought.  In other words, language gives a structure to consciousness which guides action.  Since changed behavior is so closely connected with the way language shapes consciousness, the "right of bestowing names," as Friedrich Nietzsche saw, is a fundamental expression of political power.  In the twentieth century, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has elaborated theoretically and empirically on the extent of the symbolic power that language can provide.  Some social groups accrue enormous linguistic capital which they generally use to advance their interests to the detriment of the social masses.  Almost all of us are familiar with physicians and lawyers who rely on their technical vocabularies and seek to have their patients and clients simply defer to their authority.  Similarly, many governmental and military officials use forms of strategic discourse that most citizens do not understand and to which they acquiesce, thereby enabling those with a monopoly of the instruments of force to go unchallenged in their explanations for their actions.


II.  Language, Violence, and Nonviolence

Debate continues about whether all terms in a language are ideologically charged or whether some terms avoid bias.  Even if some uses of language are neutral, many are charged.  Whenever more than one term is available, a difference in connotation is generally present even when the denotation is the same.  Is the individual working in a field a "wetback," an "illegal immigrant," or a "migratory laborer"?  In principle, individuals can select any among the available terms.  However, linguistic freedom and linguistic creativity can be used to impose restrictions on social groups and distort their perceptions, just as much as it can be used to empower social groups and enrich their understanding.  In practice, word choices are largely shaped by customary social usage.  Beyond establishing an official language, most nations reinforce politically preferred choices through institutions of socialization such as schools and the media.  What makes some nations "rogue states" and some leaders "dangerous villains"?  At this point, the prospect for linguistic violence arises and takes on a clearly institutional character.  "Linguistic violence" is the situation in which individuals are hurt or harmed by words.


A.  Linguistic Violence

Negatively, language can be used to demean differences among social groups and to inflict violence against them.  Frequently, we think more about the ways one individual insults another than about how the lexicon itself reflects institutional structuring of social roles.  As noted earlier, a distinction is made between personal overt violence, such as murder, and institutional overt violence, such as war.  Likewise, as Newton Garver has noted, a distinction can be made between personal covert violence, such as a verbal insult, and institutional covert violence, such as the socially sanctioned use of demeaning terms to refer to specific social groups.  Personal covert violence occurs when we try to dismiss opponents by calling them "morons."  Institutional covert violence is practiced when members of the middle  or upper class dismiss the poor by calling them "lazy."  Not only do governments refer to their adversaries as a "peril," but also within the society demean the politically less powerful.  (Those less powerful in society are not always less numerous, as is typically the case with women.)

Within moral philosophy Joel Feinberg has distinguished hurt and harm, and this distinction has been applied to language by Stephanie Ross and others.  Sometimes, when we are conscious of the negative effects of terms, words hurt us.  Such hurt is equally real in individual verbal insults and institutionally sanctioned demeaning terminology.  It usually hurts a child when someone yells "You're ugly!"  And it often hurts women when they are called "chicks," "babes," or "foxes."  Language that hurts us is termed "offensive."  On other occasions, when we are not conscious of the negative effects, words can still harm us.  Such harm also occurs on both individual and institutional levels.  We may not see the harm when someone calls adult females "girls" unless we hear them refer to adult males of the same age as "men."  Inhabitants of Africa may accept their nations as "underdeveloped" and "less civilized" until they learn about the imposition of colonial rule and Eurocentric values.   Language that harms us is termed "oppressive."  This distinction between offensive and oppressive language is found on all levels of the continuum of linguistic violence that includes subtle, abusive, and grievous forms.

Subtle forms range from children's jokes to official languages.  Even in the innocent manifestations of a child's attempt to make fun of adult authority figures, children's jokes involve issues of power.  At other times, the linguistic violence of children's jokes is hardly subtle and contributes to prejudicial attitudes that subsequently can be directed against an "enemy."  Various questions and answers can be altered in order to make fun of almost any racial, ethnic, religious, or national group.  For example, a child may ask, "How do you break a _____'s neck?"  The answer, regardless of the group cited, is, "Shut the toilet seat."  Such humor contributes to acceptance later of physical violence against these types of persons.  Within a particular country, the linguistic violence of an official language is generally more subtle to those who have mastered it than to those who have not.  Internationally, official languages are another unfortunate legacy of colonialism, namely, alien languages, along with an alien governments, were imposed onto indigenous peoples.  The pains of colonization and the subsequent strife associated with independence are reflected in such classic works as Tunisian Albert Memmi's The Colonizer and the Colonized and Algerian Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth and in numerous lesser known literary works such as Nigerian Kole Omotoso's Just Before Dawn.

Abusive forms are especially conspicuous in racist, sexist, heterosexist, and classist discourse.  Abusive forms rely on offensive terms and frequently aim to hurt the individuals to whom they are directed.  Both the practitioners and victims are more likely to be aware of the degrading intent of these forms of communication.  Generally, when a straight man calls a lesbian a "dyke" both individuals know that the man aimed to hurt the woman's feelings.  Moreover, many of these abusive terms recur within warist discourse in demeaning references to the enemy or even members of one's own military who are judged negatively.  Vietnamese have been referred to as "gooks."  Soldiers exhibiting fear are often called "sissies" or "girls."  Of course, just as many speakers of an official language do not see how it is oppressive, many individuals who employ and some who hear and read racist, sexist, and heterosexist language are unaware of its oppressive nature.  With the distinction between oppressive and offensive, one can demonstrate how a form of discourse may be oppressive, even though not all individuals experience it as offensive.

Grievous forms are found in many expressions of warist discourse, including nuclear discourse, totalitarian language, and genocidal language.  In nuclear discourse "collateral damage" refers to the thousands or even millions of civilians who would be the victims of nuclear strikes against military targets.  Nazis used "special treatment" instead of "execution," while in Bosnia "ethnic cleansing" referred to genocidal practices.  Grievous forms often have the intent to silence or even eliminate an entire social group.  Unfortunately, warist discourse represents one of the most globally intractable practices of linguistic violence.  Warist discourse in its multifarious and nefarious manifestations  leads to the killing of large numbers of people by organized groups, such as the state, subnational political organizations, and religious, racial, and ethnic groups.


B.  Linguistic Nonviolence

Alternatively, whether we are conscious of their effects, terms can comfort and advantage us.  Positively, language can comfort us when used to affirm diversity and achieve recognition.  During the civil rights struggle, the phrase 'Black is beautiful" expressed a growing sense of pride and self-affirmation by African Americans.  Some feminists, responding to the infrequent citation of the accomplishments of women in our history textbooks seek to write "herstory."  Positive terms can advantage a social group even if its members do not always recognize that such terms function in this manner.  As should be obvious, "linguistic nonviolence" is the antonym to "linguistic violence" as "peace" is the antonym to "war."

Many times the first step in reducing linguistic violence is to simply refrain from the use of offensive and oppressive terms.  However, linguistic nonviolence requires the availability of terms that affirm diversity.  Moreover, these terms need to be ones that are understood by most citizens.  A nuclear war could kill millions or even billions of people.  However, critics of nuclear war can make their message rather obscure when they refer to "omnicide" (the killing of all sentient life).  "Linguistic alienation," as Ferruccio Rossi-Landi has shown, refers to the situation in which individuals cannot understand a discourse in their own language because of the use of highly technical terms.

Those seeking to change official designations run up against the danger that they will establish themselves as a specially trained elite who can lead the people.  Vanguard parties can create linguistic alienation between themselves and the movements they are seeking to direct.  For this reason, the practice of linguistic nonviolence requires the development of a broadly understood language of inclusion.


III.  The Language of War

The language of war, which frequently has truth as its first casualty, is an example of linguistic violence that functions to mask the reality of the violence that is occurring.  Whenever truth is masked or distorted, communication is being used for manipulation.  Such linguistic manipulation is episodic in many areas of social life, but it is constitutive of warist discourse.  In The Art of War, written in China over 2,000 years ago and perhaps the oldest text on war, Sun Tzu says "All warfare is based on deception."  In the twentieth century, the title of Phillip Knightley's book on war correspondents, The First Casualty, is based on U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson's 1917 statement, "The first casualty when war comes is truth."


A.  The Use of Euphemisms for War

Linguistic manipulation, like physical coercion, does violence.  Nevertheless, most people who are subjected to physical coercion are conscious of the violence being done to them.  In the case of linguistic manipulation, the harm done can escape those subjected to it unless they can find a independent basis for exposing the distortions to which they have been subjected.  Often, persons who learn that they have been the victims of linguistic manipulation feel a sense of violation.  They feel that someone has deceived them into adopting false beliefs.  On the basis of these false beliefs, these victims typically have communicated and acted in ways that they subsequently regret.

Some of linguistic manipulation in warist discourse is unintentional and involves self deception on the part of the governmental and military officials.  As occurs in many fields where individuals have to order or perform very unpleasant tasks, the use of euphemisms is prevalent.  Official discourse about war makes extensive use of euphemisms.  A linguistic alternative to the horrors of war is created in order to think, speak, and write about these events in an abstract or indirect way, since it would otherwise be difficult to visualize graphically or justify logically what is actually taking place.  Likewise, when the public hears and reads these euphemisms, they do not realize what is really occurring.

Warist discourse, in an important dimension of its linguistic manipulation, actually presents itself as a language of peace.  "Pax Romana" ("Peace of Rome") stood for the military suppression of armed conflict throughout the Roman empire.  The medieval "Truce of God" (1041) limited warfare to specific times.  The term "Peacekeeper" refers to the MX missile, a nuclear weapon designed to contribute to a first-strike capability.  The phrase "peace through strength" really promotes a military build up.  While the totalitarian government in 1984 uses the slogan "Peace is War," modern nations prefer to omit reference to war whenever possible.  Then, when war occurs, the claim is sometimes made that it is "the war to end all wars."  So far, each such claim has turned out to be false.

Not surprisingly, the rhetoric about war is divided between not only the former East-West Cold War but also the continuing North-South conflict.  While the North defended its "right" to "protect" its colonies, the colonized responded with arguments for the legitimacy of "wars of liberation."  Whether wars of liberation bring about an end to war, and there is scant evidence that they do, they are still wars and involve small-scale to large-scale violence.  Nevertheless, some supporters of wars of liberation prefer to forge an alternative language which refuses to designate their movements as violent since they are in response to practices of oppression.  In his classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian Paulo Freire contends violence has never been initiated by the oppressed and designates as "a gesture of love" the admittedly violent response of rebellion by the oppressed against the initial violence of oppressors.

Such reversals in language are not confined to the distinction between colonial oppression and wars of liberation; it also occurs within both types.  Even within the latter, as Norwegian feminist Birgit Brock-Utne has shown, the language used to recruit women into wars of liberation is different from the reality of the roles assigned to these women, as is illustrated in studies on such conflicts in Lebanon, Cuba, Zimbabwe, and the Philippines.

Scholars who have analyzed discourse about war, such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Haig Bosmajian, contend that language is corrupted in ways that make the cruelty, inhumanity, and horror of war seem justifiable.  Language becomes a tool employed by political and military officials to make people accept what ordinarily they would repudiate if the true character were known.  The language of war hinders civilians from recognizing that human beings are being mutilated, tortured, forcibly removed from their villages and hamlets, wounded, and killed.

An aggressive attack by a squadron of airplanes which ordinarily would be called an "air raid" is euphemistically referred to as a "routine limited duration protective reaction."  Defoliation of an entire forest is spoken of as a "resource control program."  "Pacification" is used to label actions which involve entering a village, machine-gunning domesticated animals, setting huts on fire, rounding up all the men and shooting those who resist, prodding and otherwise harming the elderly, women, and children.  The human face of war is thus replaced by benign abstractions.

At other times, the level of abstraction is so high that citizens do not even understand what officials are saying.  In these cases, they suffer a type of linguistic alienation.  What do officials mean when they refer to "the counterforce first-strike capability of a MIRVed ICBM facilitated by its low  CEP"?  Just as many people simply accept the advice of medical and legal professionals when they do not understand the technical jargon employed, even so many citizens are unable to challenge the military policies of leaders who rely on the technical vocabulary of modern warfare with its high incidence of acronyms and euphemisms.


B.  The Use of Propaganda in War

Linguistic misrepresentation is not always unintentional.  Propaganda and brain washing seek to manipulate the minds and behaviors of the citizenry.  In times of war, each of the nations involved presents its adversary as an evil enemy and itself as the embodiment of good.  All parties employ linguistic misrepresentations of themselves and their adversaries.  Nevertheless, an ally in one war may be the enemy in the next, while the enemy in one war may become an economic partner in the post-war global market.  For this reason, in The Republic, Plato cautioned over 2,000 years ago that we should be careful about calling another people an "enemy," since wars do not last forever and eventually they may again become our friends.  Failure to recognize that the designation of a nation as one's "enemy" is transitory leads to the need for a kind of Orwellian "doublethink" that allows one to "forget" that current allies were former enemies and vice versa.

Orwell has observed that political speech and writing often intentionally defend the indefensible.  In order to defend British rule in India, Soviet purges, and the United States's atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, officials resorted to bizarre arguments which contradicted the purported aims and values of their governments.  These intentional uses of euphemisms, question-begging terminology, vagueness and outright falsity demonstrate that when Orwell presented Newspeak in his novel 1984  he was not referring to a merely fictive possibility.

In some cases, linguistic misrepresentation stretches all the way to the "figurative lie."  This term, coined by Berel Lang, refers to descriptions of war that actually contradict the realities of war, as occurs in the extremes of genocidal and nuclear discourse.  The Nazis used syntax, grammar, and literary figures of speech as instruments for political ends, namely, genocide.  This instrumental approach to language detaches language from history and moral judgment, converting it to a mere technique in the assertion of political power.  Endlösung (Final Solution) both disguises and reveals (at least to the people in the know) the plan of murder.  The term reveals that there is a problem that must be solved and in a conclusive manner.  Endlösung conceals that the action denoted will be the annihilation of all Jews and other "culture destroyers," including gays and gypsies, rather than actions like their deportation or resettlement.

While it is possible to speak of a concrete event as the "final solution" to a problem, it is contradictory and duplicitous to designate the concrete action of murdering millions of individuals abstractly as a "final solution."  The language of genocide simultaneously promulgates and hides the intentional willing of evil.  Thus, the language of genocide functions as  an instrument of domination and as a mechanism of deceit:  the language of genocide facilitates large-scale killing yet denies the social reality of its intent and consequence.

Nuclear discourse, by personifying weapons while dehumanizing people, provides another illustration of the figurative lie.  The names given to the first nuclear bombs, "Little Boy" and "Fat Man," convey that these vehicles of destruction are living persons and males.  In fact, before the first atomic device was tested at Trinity, its inventors said they hoped the "baby" would be a boy.  By implication, as Carol Cohn has observed, if the bomb had been a dud it would have been termed a "girl."  Later, the expression "losing her virginity" was used to refer to India's entry into the nuclear club, while "being deflowered" is used to refer to any country that enters this elite club.  Such warist discourse banters in public a figurative lie which simultaneously substitutes birth for dead and degrades women.


C.  Imposition of Warist Discourse as Legitimate

Finally, governmental and military officials are able to impose their form of discourse as the legitimate one and, thereby, coopt efforts by critics of war.  Nations typically cultivate among citizens a belief in their legitimacy.  In times of "national emergency," open opposition to the "official version" of events is often forbidden and may be severely punished.  Citizens who question the "official version" are labeled "traitors" and "fellow travelers" with the enemy of the state.

At the extreme, officials use warist discourse as an authoritarian instrument.  When Quincy Wright referred to the totalitarianization of war in the twentieth century, he was thinking more about how most sectors of civil society, along with military units, are recruited into supporting military efforts.  The twentieth century made equally clear how governments and subnational groups have turned to "totalitarian language" as well in their efforts to "win" the hearts and minds of the masses in support of their political agendas.  In these endeavors, they have relied extensively on the instruments of mass communication, as well as research in psychology, to increase significantly the degree of control that can be exercised over the mind by verbal means.  Nevertheless, as John Wesley Young has shown, the language of totalitarianism practiced in the twentieth century has had only limited success in achieving the goal of thought control.  This failure of the attempt at linguistic control by totalitarian regimes provides significant evidence that the quest for linguistic emancipation, including a language of peace that gives expression to the deepest desires of humanity, is not quixotic.

Endeavors to establish a legitimate discourse about war, to propound an acceptable theory of war, have been ongoing in global civilizations.  From Sun Tzu's The Art of War in ancient China to Carl von Clausewitz's On War in nineteenth-century Europe, the policy debate has not been on whether war is moral or whether it should be waged, but how to wage war effectively.  Since the advent of nuclear weapons strategists have pulled back from the concept of "total war" in favor of the concept of "limited war," but they have not yet called for an "end to war."

The Hague Conferences, the Geneva Conventions, the League of Nations, and now the United Nations put forth principles which seek, though often ineffectively, to limit war and to put moral constraints on the conduct of war.  However, official attempts at the abolition of war, such as the Kellog-Briand Pact, have allowed for some exceptions, such as in response to "wars of aggression" or to intervene in "certain regions of the world, the welfare and integrity of which constitute a special and vital interest for our peace and safety."


IV.  The Language of Peace

The language of peace is an important component in the pursuit of peace and justice.  The language of peace can be an example of linguistic nonviolence and can contribute to forging an understood language of inclusion.  However, just because the language of war is not being used, a genuine language of peace is not necessarily present.  The language of peace, like the condition of peace, can be negative or positive.  "Negative peace" refers to the temporary absence of actual war or the lull between wars, while "positive peace" refers to the negation of war and the presence of justice.


A.  The Language of Negative Peace

The language of negative peace can actually perpetuate injustice.  A government and its media may cease referring to a particular nation as "the enemy" or "the devil," but public and private attitudes may continue to foster the same, though now unspoken, prejudice.  When prejudices remain unspoken, at least in public forums, their detection and eradication are made even more difficult.  Of course, just as legal or social sanctions against hate speech may be needed to stop linguistic attacks in the public arena, even so, in order to stop current armed conflict, there may be a need not only for an official peace treaty but also a cessation in hostile name calling directed against an adversary of the state.  However, even if a language of negative peace is necessary, it is not sufficient.  Arms may have been laid down, but they can readily be taken up again when the next military stage in a struggle begins.  Likewise, those who bite their tongues to comply with the demands of political correctness are often ready to lash out vitriolic epithets when these constraints are removed.  Thus, in the language of negative peace, the absence of verbal assaults about "the enemy" merely marks a lull in reliance on warist discourse.

Immanuel Kant had a similar distinction in mind when he contrasted a "treaty of peace" from a "league of peace."  Kant was concerned with the conditions that make peace possible.  He did not want genuine peace to be confused with a mere "suspension of hostilities."  The latter is the pseudo-peace of a "treaty of peace" (pactum pacis) which merely ends a particular war and not the state of war.  Genuine peace, for Kant, must be founded and is impossible if war can be waged without the consent of citizens.  Kant presumed that, for this end, republican states are preferred.  He termed a genuine peace, one which negates war, a "league of peace" (foedus pacificum).  Even if genuine peace is unlikely, Kant stresses the importance of its possibility; otherwise, if we knew we absolutely could not achieve it, any duty to try to advance genuine peace would be eliminated.

From the perspective of Gandhi, much discourse about peace, as well as the rhetoric supporting wars of liberation, places a primacy on ends over means.  When the end is primary, nonviolence may be practiced only so long as it is effective.  For Gandhi and the satyagrahi (someone committed to the pursuit of truth and the practice of nonviolence), the primary commitment is to the means.  The commitment to nonviolence requires that the achievement of political goals is secondary.  These goals must be foregone or at least postponed when they cannot be achieved nonviolently.  The nature of the language of negative peace becomes especially clear when, within social movements facing frustration in the pursuit of their political goals, a division occurs between those ready to abandon nonviolence and those resolute in their commitment to it.  The resolute commitment to nonviolence was clear in the teachings and practices of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers and in the recent courageous behavior of other practitioners of nonviolent civil disobedience, including Vaclav Havel in Eastern Europe, Mubarak Awad in the Middle East, Nelson Mandella in South Africa and thousands of ordinary citizens in the Baltic republics, China, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the West Bank, and the Ukraine.


B.  The Language of Positive Peace

The language of positive peace facilitates and reflects the move from a lull in the occurrence of violence to its negation.  The establishment of a language of positive peace requires a transformation of cultures oriented to war.  The discourse of positive peace, to be successful, must include a genuine affirmation of diversity both domestically and internationally.  The effort to establish the language of positive peace requires the creation of a critical vernacular, a language of empowerment that is inclusive of and understood by the vast array of citizens.

The effort to eliminate linguistic alienation and linguistic violence is part of a larger struggle to reduce what Norwegian Johan Galtung calls "cultural violence."  The critique of the language of war and the promotion of the language of positive peace are simultaneously contributions to the quest for societies in which human emancipation, dignity, and respect are not restricted on the basis of irrelevant factors like gender, race, or sexual orientation.  Why is it that we do not often read in the newspaper about a "Caucasian gunman" or a "white rapist"?  Why do we, however, sometimes hear about a "lady doctor" or a "female pilot"?  And why is the union of same sex partners often termed a "gay marriage" or a "lesbian commitment ceremony"?  We can begin to see the harm being done when we reflect on the fact that, in relation to use of adjectives, we often omit reference to a person being "white," while we frequently include reference to a person being "female" or "gay."  Regardless of race, a rapist is a rapist; regardless of gender, a physician is a physician; regardless of sexual orientation, a marriage is a marriage.  Similarly, we still hear a military campaign referred to as a "just war," but regardless of any rationales, a war is a war.

Various activities promote the pursuit of respect, cooperation, and understanding needed for positive peace.  These activities go beyond the mere removal from discourse of adjectives which convey biases based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.  Beyond meetings among political leaders of various nations, these activities include cultural and educational exchanges, trade agreements, and travel exchanges.  We can come to regard races, sexes, and cultures as making up the harmonies and melodies that together create the song of humanity.  Just as creative and appreciated cooks use a wide variety of herbs and spices to keep their dishes from being bland, so too can we move from an image of a culture with diverse components as a melting pot to one of a stew which is well seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices.  Or, to employ another nonviolent metaphor, the garden of humanity will best flourish when composed of multiple plots with the varieties of life co-mingling and co-inhabiting.

Despite the primacy of the history of warfare in textbook histories of civilizations, the desire for peace and even elaborate discourses on plans for peace have been made persistently and eloquently throughout human history.  In his study of primitive war, Harry Turney-High found that from a psychological perspective peace is the normal situation even among warlike peoples.  In his study of the idea of peace in classical antiquity, Gerardo Zampaglione found that from the Pre-Socratic philosophers through Roman and Hellenistic writers to medieval Christian theologians, the quest for peace has been at the center of many artistic and literary movements.  Of course, this influence had very little "policy sway" in the decision making of those who exercise political power.

Some interesting recent developments in peace activism, including contributions to the language of positive peace, have occurred in Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere.  Since 1963 the "engaged Buddhism" of Thich Quang Duc has spawned socially and politically engaged versions of Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan.  Central figures and movements include Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and Sulak Sivaraksa in Thailand, A. T. Ariyaratne and the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka, and Daisaku Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai movement in Japan.  These movements also include two Nobel Peace laureates, Tenzin Gyatso in 1989 (the fourteenth Dali Lama) and Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991 (the Burmese opposition leader).  As Christopher Queen and Sallie King have noted, these movements have reinterpreted or augmented traditional Buddhist discourse in order to emphasize their common practice of nonviolence and quest for global peace.

Likewise, though not as nonviolent in principle or in practice, liberation theology has had a major impact in Latin America, spawning socially and politically engaged movements among Roman Catholics.  Beginning in 1973 with Gustavo Gutierrea, a Peruvian Roman Catholic priest, the leading exponents of this movement include Leonardo Boff in Brazil and Juan Luis Segundo in Uruguay.  More recently, Emmanuel Martey has applied some of these principles to African theology.  Further examples can be found in the ways other religious and philosophical traditions in many parts of the world have also reinterpreted or augmented their traditional forms of discourse in order to emphasize pursuing in this world goals of peace and justice.

Several attempts have even been made to spread the use of nonviolent discourse throughout the culture.  The Quaker's "Alternatives to Violence" project teaches linguistic tactics that facilitate the nonviolent resolution of conflict.  Following initial endeavors at teaching these skills to prisoners, this project has been extended to other areas.  Related practices are found in peer mediation and approaches to therapy that instruct participants in nonviolent conflict strategies.  Within educational institutions, increased attention is being given to Gandhi in order to convey nonviolent tactics as an alternative to reliance on the language and techniques of the military and to multiculturalism as a means of promoting an appreciation of diversity that diminishes the language and practice of bigotry and ethnocentrism.  At an international level, UNESCO's "Culture of Peace" project seeks to compile information on peaceful cultures.  Even though most of these cultures are preindustrial, their practices illustrate conditions which promote peaceful conflict resolution.  This project, which initially assisted war-torn countries in the effort to rebuild (or build) a civic culture, can now be applied even more broadly.

The diversity of movements for positive peace that have forged new styles of nonviolent communication and socio-political engagement is so great, in fact, that some system of classification is needed.  Zampaglione divides the movements he surveys in the ancient world into four forms of pacifism:  mystical (Leo Tolstoy, Romain Rolland), philosophical (St. Augustine, Abbé de Saint-Pierre, Kant, Bertrand Russell, and John Dewey), sociological (Auguste Comte, Henri Saint-Simon, and Charles Fourier), political (Bohemian King George of Podebrad, Maximilien de Béthume duc de Sully).  Duane Cady distinguishes deontological pacifism that is based on a commitment to principles, such as the rejection of violence, from consequentialist pacifism that is based on an assessment of the results of actions, such as the destruction of war.  Deontological pacifism ranges from the absolute form, in which individuals refuse to resort to any use of violence, to cases in which nonlethal force and even lethal force violence may be used by individuals who accept personal responsibility for their actions.  Consequentialist pacifism ranges from cases in which our knowledge is simply too limited to judge whether resort to arms is justified to cases based on our knowledge that the technology of war makes the results too grim and on the simple pragmatic conclusion that wars generally do more harm than good.

On some occasions, those seeking a language of positive peace fall silent at least briefly, especially after the occurrence of war.  Kant suggests that after any war a day of atonement is appropriate in which the "victors" ask for forgiveness for the "great sin" of the human race, namely, the failure to establish a genuine and lasting peace.  Immediately following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Albert Camus advised that this event called for much reflection and "a good deal of silence."  At other times, advocates of positive peace are compelled to break the silence in order to respond to injustice.  While adhering to principles of nonviolence, as Gene Sharp has noted, various levels of protest, noncooperation, and even intervention can be pursued.  In these ways, the language of positive peace has a variety of correlative nonviolent actions by means of which to continue politics by the same means--by more intensive means of diplomacy, rather than turning to war, which von Clausewitz defined as the pursuit of "politics by other means."

The language of positive peace is democratic rather than authoritarian, dialogical rather than monological, receptive rather than aggressive, meditative rather than calculative.  The language of positive peace is not passive in the sense of avoiding engagement; it is pacific in the sense of seeking to actively build lasting peace and justice.  The language of positive peace, a genuinely pacific discourse, provides a way of perceiving and communicating that frees us to the diversity and open-endedness of life rather than the sameness and finality of death.  The language of positive peace can provide the communicative means to overcome linguistic violence and linguistic alienation.  Pacific discourse, in providing an alternative to the language of war and even to the language of negative peace, is a voice of hope and empowerment.




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