Coping with Stress

William M. Timpson, Lloyd Thomas and Del Benson, Fort Collins Rotary Club

Lindsey Pointer, 2017 Rotary Global Grant Scholarship Recipient

In these newsletters of the Rotary District Peacebuilders, we want to invite readers for contributions and ideas, suggestions and possibilities for our efforts to promote the foundational skills for promoting peace, i.e., nonviolent conflict resolution, improved communication and cooperation, successful negotiation and mediation as well as the critical and creative thinking that can help communities move through obstacles and difficulties.


William M. Timpson, Ph.D. is a professor at Colorado State University in its School of Education and a member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club. What follows is adapted from his 2009 book, 147 Tips for Teaching Peace and Reconciliation, co-authored with an international group of peace scholars that included Ed Brantmeier, Nat Kees, Tom Cavanagh, Claire McGlynn and
Elavie Ndura (Madison, WI: Atwood).

During war and its aftermath, there is always a need for helping people deal with the associated stresses as well as with a need for healing, both physically and emotionally. One essential step is to look honestly at all the repercussions of violence, no matter how troubling or sensitive the issue. While calls to “Support Our Troops” were repeated regularly at rallies and in editorials, it is not clear what the implications are for this kind of appeal when “our troops” are involved in violations of the Geneva Convention or violence back home, for example. Every culture must help their service men and women deal with the stresses of their experiences and navigate the challenges they face, especially when they return home with mental and emotional needs.

Feb pic In Burundi, East Africa, our Global Grant focuses on promoting sustainable peace, reconciliation and development. For one of the poorest nations on earth, emerging from colonization and civil war, there still remains a constant stress from the daily threats of theft, disorder, assault, and such, less the larger impacts of war and more the nagging community impact of conflict. Ex-combatants, in particular, represent a population that has often been traumatized yet lacks the education needed to acclimate back into civilian life.

 Know that sophisticated communication skills and high levels of emotional intelligence can help in processing information like what appeared in an article for The New York Times on January 13, 2008. According to Sontag and Alvarez there were 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment—along with a range of other problems including alcohol abuse and family troubles—contributed to these tragedies. Volatile emotions then mix with violence and self-destructive tendencies to produce an explosive, deadly concoction. Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killings. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

According to Sontag and Alvarez, about a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain. A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq. And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.

Add to this the alarming number of suicides among enlisted and returning veterans. According to the Times On-Line for October 3, 2008, “More American military veterans have been committing suicide than US soldiers have been dying in Iraq. . . At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide. Such statistics compare to the total of 3,863 American military deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 — an average of 2.4 a day, according to the website The rate of suicides among veterans prompted claims that the US was suffering from a “mental health epidemic”—often linked to post-traumatic stress.”

Note how troubling it is to read the graphic details about the human stories that underlie these statistics. It is no surprise that the proponents of a particular war do not like to see this kind of information made public. Yet it is in the public arena that democracy must play out. We must develop the skills needed to honestly face the realities that put stress on everyone. We must also provide the support services that some need to cope with the stresses in their lives.


Lloyd Thomas, Ph.D. is a longstanding member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club, a licensed psychologist and a life coach with a long history of writing regular columns.

Identify your habitual coping mechanisms for handling stress.  Here is a list of negative (and often unconscious) coping mechanisms.  Following this list is a large selection of positive coping methods you may want to substitute for the negative ones.  Feel free to add to the list.

ARNOLD BENNETT: “Worry [stress] is evidence of an ill-controlled brain; it is merely a stupid waste of time in unpleasantness.  If men and women practiced mental calisthenics as they do physical calisthenics, they would purge their brains of this foolishness.”

ALCOHOL: Drinking to change your mood.  Considering alcohol use a “friend” with whom you can “let down” and relax. Drinking to feel “in” with others.

DENIAL: Pretending nothing is wrong. Lying. Ignoring any problem or the stressful problem.

DRUGS: Abusing coffee, aspirin, street drugs or prescription medications. Smoking pot. Taking tranquilizers.

EATING: Eating beyond the point of satisfaction.  Using food to address issues other than hunger, e.g. boredom, anxiety, comfort, etc. Binge eating.  Always going on a diet.

FAULT-FINDING: Having a judgmental attitude. Complaining. Criticizing self, others and the situation. Blaming. Prejudice and hatred.

ILLNESS: Developing headaches, nervous stomach, back problems, major illness. Seeking caring through having something physically wrong with you.  Becoming accident prone.

INDULGING: Staying up late. Sleeping in. Buying things on impulse. Buying things you don’t really need.  Wasting time.

PASSIVITY: Hoping things will get better. Wishing without taking action. Procrastinating.  Waiting around for a “lucky break.”

REVENGE: Getting even.  Being sarcastic. Talking mean or insulting. Bullying.  Violent acting out.

STUBBORNNESS: Being rigid and demanding your own way.  Refusing to be “wrong” or refusing to acknowledge when you make mistakes.

TANTRUMS: Yelling, moping, pouting, swearing. Driving recklessly. Raging when frustrated.

TOBACCO: Smoking to relieve tension or boredom. Smoking to be “in” with others. Smoking to feel “grown-up.”

WITHDRAWAL: Avoiding the situation(s). Skipping school or work. Keeping your feelings and thoughts to yourself. Engaging in the “silent treatment.” Escaping to your own room (isolation).

WORRYING: Fretting over things that aren’t happening. Anticipating the worst. Thinking about all the negative events that could happen, but probably won’t.

Instructions for your clients.  Can you identify your favorite negative coping mechanism(s)?  Any of the above may work temporarily for you.  But used over a long time, they can destroy your goals, your relationships, your hopes and dreams, your lifestyle…even your life.


Naturally, there are hundreds of coping methods that are positive in nature and do not exact the heavy toll as do negative copers. Here are a few positive coping mechanisms, listed under the categories of mental, physical, spiritual, interpersonal, family, and diversions. If you want to manage your stress better, pick one or two from each category and practice them until they become “automatic.”


IMAGINATION:  Looking for humor in your life. Anticipating the future. Daydreaming.  Using fantasy or visualization of fun, enjoyment and pleasure. In your mind, creating your desired future.

LIFE PLANNING: Setting clear goals for yourself. Planning for the future and designing strategies for achieving those goals and plans.

ORGANIZING: Taking charge of a project. Taking charge (responsibility) for your life. Making order and not letting things “pile up.”

PROBLEM-SOLVING: Solving problems by yourself. Seeking outside help when you need it.  Resolving things or situations which you habitually tolerate (“zapping your tolerations”). Tackling problems “head on.”

RE-DEFINING: Explore other possible points of view. Look for the positive in every situation.  Define the present moment as “perfect,” or the “way it should be.” Define a problem as a challenge or opportunity for a new experience or the development of a new skill.

MANAGE YOUR TIME: Practice prioritizing. “Work smarter, not harder.” Delegate your weaknesses to others. Discover and exercise your strengths. Consistently           seek more efficient and effective ways to accomplish what you want. Plan for time to relax, enjoy yourself, and engage in fun activities.


BIOFEEDBACK: Learn to listen to the feelings and sensations your body sends you. Come to really know your physical limitations and, if you must exceed them, do it very slowly and cautiously.

EXERCISE: Pursue physical fitness. Jog, swim, dance, walk. Take weight-training and regular cardiovascular exercise at a local health club.  Fit regular exercise into every day.

NOURISHMENT: Eat only when hungry. Stop eating when satisfied. Eat nourishing food for your health. Avoid junk food and all unnecessary drugs (including alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and THC).  Take a vitamin/mineral/dietary fiber supplement.

RELAXATION:  Practice tensing and relaxing each muscle group in your body (isometric exercises). Take a warm bath.  Learn the relaxation response and practice it regularly. Listen to soothing music. Design a part of your environment to reflect peacefulness, security and tranquility.  Go into that special place when         you want to relax.

SELF-CARE: Energize your work and play. Treat yourself as you would treat a loved child or pet.  Strive for self-improvement for the joy of it, and not necessarily to meet some standard or criteria set by others. Give to yourself some of your favorite things and experiences.

STRETCHING: Take short stretch breaks throughout your day. Learn stretching exercises.

BREATHE: Practice breathing exercises, deeply, abdominally and fully.  Learn breath control exercises (e.g. panting, holding, timing, etc.).


COMMITMENT: Involve yourself in a worthy cause. Volunteer some of your time. Invest yourself in a meaningful way. Serve or do someone else a favor. Persist in gaining self-knowledge, growth, goal-attainment and self-improvement.

FAITH: Find meaning and purpose for your life. Create a personal mission statement. Trust the process of life. Generate and nourish hope for your future. Believe in yourself.

PRAY: Count your blessings. Give thanks. Develop an “attitude of gratitude.” Pray for others. Share or confess those things about which you feel guilty. Ask for  forgiveness. Practice meditation. Learn mindfulness.

SURRENDER: Let go of your problems. Learn to accept the current situation “as is.” What exists at the moment…IS! Keep in mind that everything changes. Allow yourself to “float on the river of life.”

VALUING: Give attention to what you find most valuable. Set priorities. Be consistent. Focus on the present moment. Spend your time and energy in ways that meet your values and standards. Use and control your own impulses. Develop your own, accurate belief system.

WORSHIP: Share your values, beliefs and feelings with others. Put your faith into action. Celebrate life within a “community of caring.” Honor your “higher    power.” Recognize the forces operating in the world over which you have no control.


AFFIRMATION: Believe in yourself and trust others as well. Give yourself lots of encouragement and positive, self-affirming statements. Give lots of “positive strokes” to others as well. Attend to and notice the positive characteristics and qualities you have and the actions you take. Reward yourself.

ASSERTIVENESS: Display and state your needs and wants. Learn to ask directly for what you want. Say “no” with kindness. Be firm in communicating your feelings, thoughts and opinions.  

CONTACT: Make new friends. Be a friend to others. Touch each other mentally, emotionally, physically, affectionately and gently. Really listen to others and respond from your understanding of their expressed point of view.

SELF-EXPRESSION: Show your feelings. Move your body freely. Exercise and demonstrate your skills and talents. Share your deepest thoughts, feelings and wishes.  Be yourself.

CREATE BOUNDARIES:  Set your own standards and boundaries and let other people know what they are. Accept others’ boundaries. Drop some commitments when you have too many.  Under-promise and over-deliver.

NETWORKING: Share desires, projects and interests with others. Ask for support from family, friends and acquaintances. Invite others to become involved with            you and your activities.


BALANCING: Balance the time you spend alone/with your family/at work or school, with your interactions with family and friends. Accept your friends and family members for who they are now, and realize that nobody is perfect all the time. We all have our faults and weaknesses.

CONFLICT-RESOLUTION:  Learn conflict-resolving skills which lead to “win-win”    solutions.  Intend your conflicts to result in everyone getting what they want. Forgive easily and readily.

BUILD ESTEEM: Attend to the positive qualities of yourself and those of your family members.  Acknowledge out loud, the things you like or appreciate in your family members. Focus on personal and family strengths.

FLEXIBILITY: Be willing to take on new family roles and responsibilities. Become well-versed in many family activities and roles. Remain open to change.  Be spontaneous.

LINKING: Develop friendships with other families. Make use of the personal and organizational resources available in your community.

TOGETHERNESS: Take time to be together, play together, and share time with each other.  Build family traditions. Always express heartfelt affection for one another.  Limit TV-watching and video-game playing.


GETAWAYS:  Spend time alone.  Daydream.  See a movie. Listen to music. Designate a “special place” in which to be alone.  Go on a vacation.

HOBBIES: Write, paint, remodel, create something, garden, plan and develop “projects,” engage in sports, learn to play a musical instrument, sing.  Engage in activities unrelated to your usual ones.

LEARNING: Take a special class. Read. Join a club. Surf the Internet. Make learning new things a priority. Never stop acquiring new knowledge.

MUSIC: Play your own instrument. Sing. Dance. Join an orchestra or choral group. Listen to music. Take music lessons.

PLAY: Learn new, non-competitive games. Play them with friends or family members.  Go out with friends.  Develop a playful attitude.  Don’t take things so seriously.         Find humor in situations.  Laugh regularly.  Go for walks, runs, and dances.

WORK:  Engage in meaningful work.  Go after accomplishments. Tackle a project unrelated to your usual activity.  Keep your mind and body occupied with enjoyable activities. Volunteer.  Join a service club.  Assist a friend or neighbor in one of their projects.


Del Benson, Ph.D. is a Professor and wildlife specialist for Extension at Colorado State University. His work is with wildlife and recreation enterprises on private land, conservation education, hunter attitudes and behavior, public input to resource management decision making and campus environmental management.

To overcome stress of an attack, you can fire your internal organs as does the sea cucumber or sacrifice your own life to protect the colony as does Malaysian Soldier Ants using violent muscle contractions that releases poison from fluid-filled glands. Humans have been known to expel body fluids to ward off an attack and to commit suicide in defense of their positions, but those are not generally acceptable stress reduction mechanisms for most situations.

You could change color as will cuttlefish or make seasonal plumage changes as will ptarmigan to blend into their environments. Dressing in camouflage for sneaking up on wildlife during outdoor activities, wearing smart business attire for the board room, and avoiding the “tourist look” in foreign countries generally improves your chances of fitting in appropriately and lessening unnecessary stress.

Humans and wildlife can avoid stress temporarily using three primary behaviors: hiding, fleeing, and fighting which logically are best used in that order.  When used in the reverse order–fighting, fleeing, hiding–conflict is inevitable and outcomes are risky. One cannot fight, run, and hide forever, so learning how to face reality and to cope civilly is the key.

Coping mechanisms can be healthy if used to address real problems, opportunities or dilemmas or they can become the problem and destructive if used as addictive substitutes for realistic behaviors. For example, eating is necessary to survive, and an elk might have its head down and feign eating to not appear frightened by predators, even though the elk are alert and ready to run if necessary. However, if eating becomes a compulsion when stressed, then weight gain and addiction to food or beverage can lead to new stressors.  We can see this issue in personal lives and amongst family pets.

Procrastination is a commonly used and abused coping mechanism delaying some projects while allowing work on others; however, if every project is delayed and work is not accomplished on time because of procrastination, then productivity suffers, and stress increases.

Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund, included the Defense Mechanisms below and how humans use them to falsify reality.  Apply these to situations that you encounter in life, work, and in the news.  If you watched the Presidential Impeachment trials, then perhaps you can recognize many of these in those proceedings.


  • Denial: claiming/believing that what is true is actually false.
  • Displacement: redirecting emotions to a substitute target.
  • Intellectualization: taking an objective viewpoint.
  • Projection: attributing uncomfortable feelings to others.
  • Rationalization: creating false but credible justifications.
  • Reaction Formation: overacting in the opposite way to the fear.
  • Regression: going back to acting as a child.
  • Repression: pushing uncomfortable thoughts into the subconscious.
  • Sublimation: redirecting ‘wrong’ urges into socially acceptable actions.

Stress needs to be addressed rationally. It cannot be avoided forever. Face it directly with civil actions.


Lindsey Pointer, PhD in Restorative Justice at Victoria University of Wellington, is a past recipient of the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship. She works as a restorative justice facilitator, trainer and researcher.

Factual Synopsis: While suffering from extreme stress related to his school, work, and relationship, Micah drank to the point of severe intoxication in his dorm room. While intoxicated, he broke his window attempting to illegally access a balcony, was extremely aggressive towards a neighbor and volatile with Residential Advisors (RAs), and ultimately tried to jump out the window. Police were called and took him to the station for a mental health assessment.

Narrative: Micah told the co-facilitator and me that he takes pride in his ability to do it all. Before this incident, Micah was working 35 hours per week at two jobs on top of being a full-time student studying architecture. During the pre-conference meeting, Micah described that on a normal day, he would go to classes, get done at about 3pm, go to work, work until 11pm, eat dinner, and then start his homework, leaving him only a couple hours to sleep before he got up to do it all again. When it felt like he was losing control of something, like when his grades started to slip, he would respond by piling more on. He was good at his jobs. His manager at the supermarket promoted him and gave him more hours, so when school wasn’t going well, he threw himself into more work. He was operating like this for a while, on very little sleep, ignoring the issues with his school work and piling more on to not deal with it when he found out his long distance girlfriend cheated on him. Micah described it as a sort of breaking point. Once his personal life was in shambles too, he just couldn’t take it.

To deal with the stress, Micah started drinking. He drank a few bottles of wine alone in his room. He attempted to reach out to a friend to talk, but she was busy with school work, so he continued to drink. Eventually, he tried to get out on the balcony by crawling through his window and in the process, accidentally put his head through the glass. At that point, he went down to tell the RA on duty (Beth) about the broken glass. Beth could immediately see that Micah was not doing well. He was angry with his next door neighbor and was screaming at him. What followed was over an hour of emotional volatility with Micah screaming, crying, and disclosing information about his girlfriend who had cheated. Paul and Beth were unable to get Micah to settle down or go to sleep so fearing for his safety and the safety of others eventually called the Hall Manager and the police.

The police initially decided that Micah wasn’t a threat and started to leave. One of the RAs (John) was then alone in the room alone with Micah when all the sudden he stood up, looked out the window and said, “John, I’m going to jump out this window and there is nothing you can do to stop me.” John called out for the police who came into the room and after a physical struggle, were eventually able to handcuff Micah and take him to the station for a mental health assessment.

Micah was given a room outside of the hall to stay in and temporarily banned from the hall while arrangements were made for the restorative justice meeting. He was also instructed to begin meeting regularly with the Student Support Coordinator (Jenny). Jenny helped Micah to get extensions for his assignments from his professors so that he was able to take some time to recover from the breakdown.

Throughout the pre-conference and conference, it was clear that Micah has some more serious mental health issues that contributed to his inability to adequately track the conversation and his manic behavior. Mental health concerns can add a difficult component to restorative justice because the process is not therapy and cannot provide the full services that the offender needs. What is important is to remember that behavior communicates needs. In this case, Micah’s breakdown signals a need for greater emotional and well-being support through regular meetings with a counselor. Therefore, when we talked about what needed to happen next to repair the harms and make things right, the first thing that was suggested was for Micah to get the counselling support required in order to not have a breakdown like this again. He ended up agreeing to a weekly meeting with a counselor in addition to the weekly meeting with the Jenny, the Student Support Coordinator, and expressed that both of these meetings would be very helpful.

Restorative justice cannot operate without access to other resources to help fulfill the needs that so often fuel crime. The gift of restorative justice is that the process is able to surface those needs so that they can be addressed and so that the response to the crime or rule violation does not cause further harm. In Micah’s case, if this incident had happened last year before the University began using Restorative Justice, Micah would have been immediately evicted from the Residential Hall with no further contact or support. He would have been cut off from his community of friends, would not have the encouragement or structure to pursue counselling, and would need to find a new place to live. With the overwhelm Micah was already facing, my guess is that these added stressors would have resulted in a downward spiral and further breakdowns.

We see this so often in the mainstream justice system. An offender commits a crime to fulfill a need (whether that is for food, or safety, or mental health support, or clothing for an interview, or respect) and often the crime is a last resort and signals that parts of the person’s life are in serious disarray. Instead of relieving the stressors that led to the crime by working to identify the needs behind the behavior, the criminal justice system often just adds to the stress with fines, curfews, loss of privileges or incarceration. Rather than finding a way to redress the harm, further harm is caused.

Instead, in Micah’s case, he was provided with a different place to live near his friends, but away from the room with the window that could access the balcony, he decided to leave both jobs and focus on his school work, he began attending weekly counselling and support meetings to get the help he needs, and he has committed to giving back positively to the residential hall.


See the RI website: If you would you like to respond to one of the pieces in this newsletter, check out our blog and join the conversation!  If you would like to contribute to a future newsletter, visit Future issues may explore the following: March—Nuclear Weapons, Use, Probabilities and History.


Lindsey Pointer is a PhD Candidate in Restorative Justice at Victoria University of Wellington and is a past recipient of the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship. She works as a restorative justice facilitator, trainer and researcher. 

The rationale used for incarceration is often that by putting someone behind bars, we will keep that person from committing further offences and therefore ensure the safety of the wider community. Sometimes this is done as a response to violent offenses, but many people are incarcerated for nonviolent offences, especially drug-related charges. Additionally, many young people are locked up for many years, even far into their adult lives, despite studies that have shown that most people age out of crime. This is similar in some respects to the idea of preemptive war. The community fears that committing one crime (even if it was not a violent crime or a crime committed by a teenager) may indicate that a person is likely to cause additional harm to others in the future, so we lock them up to avoid that chance.

However, this preemptive severe punishment comes with a cost.

Looking specifically at the case of incarcerated youth, most states spend more than $100,000 per year on a single young person’s confinement (Justice Policy Institute). On top of those direct costs of incarceration, there is a loss of future earnings for confined youth, which translates into a loss of future government tax revenue. Additionally, incarcerated youth are more likely to later rely on Medicaid and other social services. Once incarcerated young people also have a very high rate of recidivism, meaning that taxpayers will likely continue to pay for their confinement for a large portion of the rest of their lives.

So what are the offenses pushing us to confine these youth at great public cost? Over 60 percent of youth are confined for nonviolent offenses (Coalition of Juvenile Justice). The majority of youth being put behind bars are not being put there because they pose a violent treat to community safety. More often, these are nonviolent offenses, often tied to needs arising from poverty, substance abuse, or untreated mental illness. 60-70% of youth in confinement have a mental disorder and 25-50 percent have a significant substance abuse disorder often co-occurring with mental disorders (Coalition of Juvenile Justice). Choosing to incarcerate these young people impacts their ability to live at home, build a positive social support network, attend and succeed in school, and work productively in the community.

Instead, needlessly confining young people results in harm to youth, fails to protect public safety and wastes taxpayer money.

So if incarceration isn’t the answer, what does work to improve youth outcomes?

According to the Council of State Governments, the most effective programs are ones that identify and address the key needs that drive youth’s delinquent behaviors. This involves getting to know the individual and identifying the specific needs that he or she is attempting to meet through crime, including assessing mental health and substance use treatment needs. Additionally, the most effective programs match youth to services based on their strengths. An emphasis on assets and strengths promotes resiliency and encourages pro-social behavior. Along with this emphasis on strengths, is an integration of individual support networks into the process. Outcomes are improved when the family is engaged.

Programs and practices such as Restorative Justice are arising to fill this gap, responding to the needs of the individual and emphasizing strengths and support networks. These program are both more effective in terms of reducing recidivism, responding to victim needs, and increasing community safety, and also place far less of a burden of cost on the community.

We are faced with the choice to transition to a system that is more effective and less costly, a system that has already been tried and proved at large scales by countries such as New Zealand.


Lloyd Thomas, Ph.D. is a longstanding member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club, a licensed psychologist and a life coach with a long history of writing regular columns. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, many in the U.S. wanted to ascribe blame and get revenge.

A “preventive war” is different than a “preemptive war.”  Both however, are preceded by either fear, revenge or perceived “self-defense.”  A preventive war is launched in an effort to destroy a perceived potential threat by the targeted party, even when such an attack is “not imminent or known to be planned.”  It is usually justified by anger or a desire for revenge.  The most recent example of one is the war in Afghanistan.

A preemptive war is launched in anticipation of immediate aggression by another party, and is initiated even without a clear incentive for either party to attack the other.  It is simply based upon the fear-born and irrational belief that one party is about to engage, or has engaged in an aggressive action against the initiator of the war.  Such a belief usually “justifies” the preemptive action because the initiating party’s fear is diminished and therefore termed to be “defensive.”  The war in Iraq is an example of a preemptive war.

Both fear-based “defensive” aggression and anger-based vengeful (spiteful) aggression have proven to be quite effective at reducing the perpetrator’s fear or anger, but always increases the fear and anger in the victims of a “successful” war.

In his book, Justifying Preventive War, Alan Buchanan concluded: “I wish to end however, on a note of caution.  Nothing I have said suggests that any preventive war that has been waged in the past, including the…US invasion of Iraq, has been morally justified.”  Both preventive and preemptive wars are based upon a single dynamic belief: If I believe that you believe something that I find offensive or frightening, that gives me the right to aggress against you.  For thousands of years, such a belief has been the justification for waging war.



 We seem to be living in a time when governments, nations and individuals are always blaming others for their mistakes, beliefs and weaknesses.  It appears that blaming others has become a national habit.  When we cannot identify a single person to blame, we spread the blame around to others, to fate, to Mother Nature, to God, to other nations or to anybody who isn’t us.


The dynamic of blaming others is a consequence of our personal fear of our genuine inability to control or even influence events or others.  It probably begins when we were children and asked to control our own behavior (like bowel and bladder control) and couldn’t…leading to parental disapproval or punishment.  When we are afraid of being “out of control,” we usually are fearful most of the time.


There is a psychological downside to blaming.  It inadvertently gives the “blamee” unwarranted power over the blamer.  After all, if it is always somebody else’s fault, then the blamer has no power to modify that for which he is blaming somebody else.  Blaming is always assigned to events or actions that have occurred in the past.  And we are all helpless to change anything that is already history.  So, blaming always increases the blamer’s sense of powerlessness and helplessness.  A sense of helplessness is one element in psychological depression.  It is no wonder that blamers are often depressed.  They also blame anybody or anything for their depression.


An alternative to blaming is “accountability.”  When we are genuinely seeking accountability, we want to discover the specific cause(s) of events or actions.  We ask ourselves the question: “What accounts for this event?”  When we become genuinely curious about what causes events or actions, we are open to new learning.  When we actually discover and understand the causes of things like disease, violence, disasters, war, and tragedies, we position ourselves to take preventative measures.  If we would hold ourselves able to account for (account-able) such occurrences, we empower ourselves to do something about them now and in the future.  Genuine accountability does not result in feelings of guilt.  Rather, it frees us to become responsible.


Do you hold yourself accountable for the nature and quality of your life?  Are you able to account for those things for which you would like to blame others?  If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you will feel much more powerful and able to respond appropriately to anything that “happens” in your life.  You become response-able.


When you feel accountable for the quality of your life, and for everything that happens to you, you then become responsible for everything that impacts it.  When you take on the responsibility for your mistakes, and even the mistakes of others, you learn from them.  If you feel accountable and responsible for an explosion that occurred in someone else’s house, you will seek to discover the causes of the explosion (e.g. your neighbor was building rockets or creating methamphetamine), and you may learn what not to do to avoid explosions in your own house.  If you observe and learn the responses to the explosion of others (e.g. firemen), you empower yourself to address any explosion you experience now and in the future.  You become response-able for prevention and extinguishing future explosions.


Instead of blaming others or circumstance(s) for our life; instead of feeling helpless to do anything about it; instead of feeling guilty about the negative things that “just happen;” instead of blaming yourself or others (or fate); become accountable and responsible for everything that you experience in your life.  When you stop blaming and start being accountable and responsible, you become more powerful, more aware, more capable, more confident, more knowledgeable and hopefully, more wise.  Is there anyone who wouldn’t like to develop these qualities?  Stop blaming, and you increase your chances of creating a life of your dreams.

EXPLORE PACIFISM by William M. Timpson

William M. Timpson, Ph.D. has been on the faculty at Colorado State University in its School of Education for many years. What follows is adapted from Timpson’s 2009 book, 147 Tips for Teaching Peace and Reconciliation, co-authored with an international group of peace scholars that included Ed Brantmeier, Nat Kees, Tom Cavanagh, Claire McGlynn and Elavie Ndura (Madison, WI: Atwood).

After the attacks of September 11th in the U.S. and the drumbeat for revenge from the White House, in particular, sounded ever louder, there was an emotional push to do something, for throwing the full force of American military might against the “evil doers” wherever they hid. Eventually George W. Bush would build a case for the preemptive invasion of Iraq, a sovereign nation, as the best way to keep Americans and American interests safe.

During all this, I remained deeply troubled by all this and began to join with Quakers/Friends for their Sunday meetings. I also joined in the many protests that were organized locally.

As I tried to sort out what I would teach in my classes—just what does an educator say—I found myself drawn to these Quakers and other faith communities who were committed pacifists—they were crystal clear that violence of any sort was not an option. While I tried the services offered by Mennonites in town, I was really drawn to the essential silence of the Quakers/Friends meetings where I could find the space to meditate on the meaning of peace in the midst of outrage and the build up to war.

When I later worked on writing a book on all this, Teaching and Learning Peace (2002), I found myself repeatedly returning to the question of nonviolence in Europe during the 1930’s, the rise of Hitler and the brutality of the Nazi ascension to power. I asked myself: Could I be a pacifist in the face of that kind of threat? My dad had volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and 1938 and then later with Patton’s U.S. Third Army as his contribution to rid the world of fascism. The Nazi military along with their Italian and Japanese allies committed numerous preemptive attacks that took a heavy toll on civilian populations, in particular. The German military use of the “blitzkrieg” (lightning war) is a prime example.

Yet, while preemptive attacks got the Germans and their allies early victories, they also created their own defeat. The brutality of their aggression and ambitions, motivations and actions quickly turned the entire world against them. Certainly World War Two fit my notion of a ‘just war.’ In the summer of 2002 I even took myself on a trail of the Holocaust, exploring the Nazi occupations of Lithuania and Poland including the death camp at Auschwitz and the slaughter of Jews in Budapest. Picasso’s Guernica memorializes the tragedy of fascist carpet bombing in Spain.

Revisiting all the arguments for the U.S. involvement in World War Two, I listened to the responses I then got from my Quaker colleagues and these really pushed my thinking. I had to ask myself: What would have happened, if the allies had committed to whole range of nonviolent interventions long before the U.S. entry in the war after the attacks on Pearl Harbour. Could an economic embargo on Germany and its Fascist leaders made a difference?  Cutting off their international credit? Divesting? We conducted war crimes trials at the end of World War Two, should we do the same now and rethink the Iraq War? Should we try to determine where the mistakes were made and by whom so that we can respond differently in the future?

Years after World War Two we saw the results when the world united to isolate the South African government and its brutally racist policies of apartheid. No one advocated a military style invasion. Several international businesses pulled their operations out. College campuses in the U.S. rang with student voices calling for divestiture of funds from companies doing business with South Africa. Sporting teams from South Africa were barred from participating in international events. No armed invasion was needed; in fact, just the opposite happened. In the face of international pressures, South Africa moved toward the inclusion of the Black majority in democratic elections and the ending of apartheid.

I ask you to think this through on your own. Find a pacifist faith community where you live and attend one of their services or meetings. Read the arguments for nonviolence in the writings and speeches of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Join with others to examine the role of pacifism today and consider what they can teach us.


Robert N. Meroney, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering with a long career at Colorado State University.

In 1844 President James K. Polk was anxious to distract the public from the loss of Vancouver and the northern part of the Oregon Territory to the British, and there was a significant likelihood of war with Britain if the issue was allowed to continue.[1]  Polk preferred a vision of  American “Manifest Destiny” incorporating California, New Mexico and Texas into the United States which would give slavery an area into which it could expand. Lincoln wrote to his law partner William Herndon in 1848 about Polk’s decision to use preemptive war against Mexico.   Lincoln was very opposed to Polk’s expansionist program and made three points:[2]


  1. The president should not start a war because his reasons may end up being wrong.
  2. The president should not start a war because his initiative may start a bigger war.
  3. The Constitution gave congress not the president the power to declare war.  Lincoln noted this was specifically in reaction to the fact that “Kings had always been impoverishing their people in wars, pretending…that the good of the people was the object.  This our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that NO ONE MAN should hold the power of bringing this oppression on us.” (Emphases shown are Lincoln’s not mine).

Nonetheless, in 1846 Polk had ordered General Zachary Taylor to move troops into the disputed Nueces Strip near the Rio Grande to confront Mexican troops.  The Mexican troops claimed the Americans were on Mexican land and drove off the Americans.  Polk went to Congress demanding they declare war since “Mexican troops had…shed American blood upon the American soil.”

When asked who would pay for the war Polk argued Mexico would pay the costs by ceding California and the New Mexico territories.  Although the U.S. got major territorial expansion as a result of the Mexican American war, we have embittered relations with Mexico now for over a century.  Mexicans even today consider the war an illegal occupation.[3]

It wasn’t much of a “war” really, more like a mugging or a punch in the face.  As Ulysses S. Grant himself finally put it:

I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory”.[4]

Did you know that one of the major reasons for the cry for Texan independence that preceded this war was that Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829, and the Texans did not want to give up their slaves?[5]  When you know the back story, all the patriotic guff about the Texas Alamo and the brave American fighters isn’t so impressive.  For example, the so-called hero James Bowie who died in the Alamo was a black birder[6] (slave trader), land swindler and a thief.  Even worse, Bowie was baptized Roman Catholic so he could emigrate to Mexico, he renounced American citizenship and took out Mexican citizenship, married the daughter of the Mexican vice governor of the province, and swore an oath of allegiance to Mexico …so he was essentially a traitor to Mexico when he fought at the Alamo.[7]

So how is preemptive war rationalized?  One definition suggests:

A preemptive war is a war that is commenced in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived imminent offensive or invasion, or to gain a strategic advantage in an impending (allegedly unavoidable) war shortly before that attack materializes. It is a war that preemptively ‘breaks the peace’.[8]

Preemptive war or preventive war[9] has been embraced by many nations at different times.  Justification has been highly debated.  Most recently for the United States the so-called Bush doctrine was argued to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2002.  In summary, arguments for preemptive response by Bush’s administration were:

  • The nature and magnitude of the threat involved,
  • The likelihood that the threat will be realized unless preemptive action is taken,
  • The availability and exhaustion of alternatives to using force and,
  • Whether using preemptive force is consistent with the terms and purposes of the U.N. Charter and other applicable international agreements.

Article 2, Section 4 of the U.N. Charter prohibits all UN members from even exercising the “threat of use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of any state.”  In Article 51 the UN Charter draws the line between legitimate and illegitimate military force.  If no attack has occurred, then there is no justification for preemptive “self-defense.”  To be an action of self-defense the preemptive actor must believe the threat is real as opposed to perceived, and self-defensive force must be proportional to the harm threatened.  Even then nonviolent options are preferred such as negotiation, retreat, or calling on neutral authorities like the UN.8 (The United States ratified the UN Charter as of October 24, 1945.)

Sadly, when a nation possesses a first strike advantage and believes it will win a preemptive engagement, there is very little incentive to bargain for any peaceful settlement.  “If the probability of winning minus the probable costs of war is high enough, then no self-enforcing peaceful outcome exists.”[10]

CONCLUSION:  Although patience and time always seems to be a better solution to seemingly terrible danger than war, peace building is not possible if the first reaction is to use a big military hammer because you have it.  With a big hammer everything looks like a nail.

[1] The conflict over Vancouver eventually led to the “Pig War” a bloodless but tense confrontation between the United States and Britain that lasted from 1859 to 1872.

[2] Fehrenbacher, D.E., Ed., Abraham Lincoln:  A Documentary Portrait through his Speeches and Writings, The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., New York, 1964, pp. 59-60.

[3] For the Mexican viewpoint see:

[4] Quote by Ulysses S. Grant about Mexican American War in 1879

[5] Texas Revolution background of slavery and racial bias:

[6] A black birder was a slave trader who kidnaped free blacks and sold them to Plantation owners as being former slaves.

[7] James Bowie:

[8] Chronology of preemptive war to today:

[9] A preventive war as opposed to a preemptive war is one initiated to prevent a belligerent party from acquiring a capability of attacking.

[10] Fearon, James (1995). “Rationalist Explanations for War”. International Organization. 49: 379–414.


Lloyd Thomas, Ph.D. is a longstanding member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club, a licensed psychologist and a life coach with a long history of writing regular columns.

“Aggression” is not the same as “violence.”  “Violence” is the label we give to extreme forms of aggression.  Not all aggressive actions are violent in nature.  Not all people with “aggressive personalities” engage in violent acts.  Like Brandt F. Steele, M.D. stated in his 1970 essay, Violence In Our Society,** most behavioral scientists believe that human beings have “an instinctive drive toward aggression.”  Dr. Steele writes, “…the fact [is] that human beings are natively capable of being quite aggressive, and that the problem is very much one of the manner in which such impulses are channeled or directed.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that in the United States alone over “2 million emergency room visits each year are due to violent assaults, and about 16,000 people will be murdered each year.  Young men between the ages of 18 and 24 are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence. Over a third of American women and over a quarter of American men have experienced stalking or physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and nearly half of all American women have experienced psychological aggression from an intimate partner.”

In his book, The New Brain, R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D. writes, “Violence at political rallies, terrorism, and horrifying workplace shootings bewilder us, but they shouldn’t. Traditional approaches to understanding violence seem played out. What we need is an understanding of violence at the level of brain circuitry. Violence, like all human behavior, is controlled by the brain. From the everyday road rage, to domestic violence, to a suicide bombing, the biology of anger and aggression is the root cause of most violent behavior.”

Viewing violence narrowly from the perspective of psychological dysfunction shirks the larger truth that the biological roots of rage exist in all of us. The leading risk of death throughout the prime of life is not disease. It is violence. If you survive into old age you will most likely die from disease, but according to CDC statistics for deaths in the United States for the year 2014, “life ends at the hand of another human so frequently, that from early childhood through middle-age, homicide is the third to fifth most common cause of death in all age brackets between 1-44 years.”

In the July 2019 issue of the magazine, The Rotarian, Alex Kotiowitz writes, “In Chicago, [between] the years 1990 and 2010, 14,033 [people] were killed, [and] another roughly 60,000 wounded by gunfire.  That is more than all those U.S. soldiers killed and wounded in the combined wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  Those wars are ongoing today…2019.  He goes on to write, “…here’s the thing: Chicago is by no means the most dangerous city, not even close.  Its homicide rate doesn’t even put it in the top 10.”

Kotiowitz makes it clear: “Often considered a physical expression of aggression, violence may be predatory, impulsive, reactive, [vengeful] or defensive in nature.  Violence can develop from situational or environmental and may result from a mental condition or from personal or cultural beliefs.” (Italics mine).

In today’s modern world, most people rarely think that violence or war is good.  But they often believe it to be necessary for: defending or gaining territory; economic gain; spreading religious beliefs; strengthening “nationalism”; taking revenge; dismantling an “unjust” government; resolving disputes/conflicts; freeing oneself from fear (creating “security”).  They believe that these goals can be attained only by using weapons in violent aggression.

Human aggression seems to be “channeled or directed” by a single dynamic belief: “If I believe that you believe something different than I believe, that gives me the right to act violently against you.”  History is replete with examples where violence is used to justify one’s belief system.  John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln because he held a deep belief in the rightness of the Southern cause, in the Southern ideals and in the Confederacy.  Booth actually wrote in his diary, “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of punishment.”

The Christian Crusaders while carrying the banner of God and the Church, killed thousands of infidels.  Believing their actions to be righteous and rewarding, jihads kill non-Muslims by the thousands.  Parents violently abuse their children thinking they are “teaching them life lessons,” or “encouraging better behavior.”  Our “justice system” uses violent actions (killing) believing that “justice” will be served.

Violence invites retaliatory violence.  Killing the enemy creates more enemies.  Fearful domination creates passive resistance or active rebellion.  In like manner, being heard invites understanding.  Cooperation invites teamwork.  Addressing physical and psychological needs invites mutual, peaceful activity.  Look what happened with the Japanese and western Germany after world war two.  Peacekeepers need to attempt these risky behaviors prior to engaging in violence or going to war.

Steele writes, “It seems obvious that individuals as well as various cultural and social groups tend to use aggression and violence that they consider good or right to enforce their good and right standards.”  However, someone once said, “You can only fight ideas [beliefs] with other ideas.”  The threat of violence or violence itself has never been very effective in changing one’s mind (beliefs).  Multiple studies have shown that previous experience with violent punishment has not prevented the occurrence or recurrence of anti-social behavior.

Dr. Steele concludes: “I refer to the concept that our moral convictions, our superegos, not only give us permission to be violent, but give us great approval for violence expressed in certain directions.  These same patterns of violence we then transmit to our children in their earliest, most formative years.  We should pay much more attention to the ideals and categorical imperatives that we teach our infants and children.  …we must recognize that the most potent controls and directions of aggression and of violence are those that we learned at our parents’ knees.

If we are really to understand the mechanisms of violence and how to control it in our culture, we must pay attention much more than we have in the past to those morel forces within us that tell us to direct violence in certain ways, and that enable us all to do evil under the guise of doing good.  …I am almost ready to join with Henry David Thoreau, who said, ‘If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with a conscious design of doing me good, I would run for my life.'”

**The above quotations of Dr. Brandt F. Steele are found in: THE PHAROS OF ALPHA OMEGA ALPHA, printed in April, 1970, Vol. 33. No. 2, Pages 42-48 and were used with permission of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.


William M. Timpson, Ph.D. has been on the faculty at Colorado State University in its School of Education for many years. What follows is adapted from Timpson’s 2009 book, 147 Tips for Teaching Peace and Reconciliation, co-authored with an international group of peace scholars that included Ed Brantmeier, Nat Kees, Tom Cavanagh, Claire McGlynn and Elavie Ndura (Madison, WI: Atwood).

The telling of history from limited, violence-based perspectives constructs social memory in ways that help to perpetuate violence as inherent, natural, and a human absolute—in short, ‘just the way things are.’ The telling of violent histories saturates collective memory with violent images and struggles of the past; these violent narratives can serve to impact the power of present transformative action toward actualizing nonviolent futures. In Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History, Elise Boulding (2000) writes of the war-steeped telling of history as related to western civilization, that history is often written as stories about the rise and fall of empires, a description of the rulers, their armies, navies and air power, their wars and battles, i.e., the history of power—who controls whom.

In this provocative book, Boulding critiques the telling of history from violent, power-dominated, and patriarchal viewpoints. She furthers her argument by providing historical examples of groups and societies who lived relatively peaceful and harmonious lives, solving conflict in nonviolent ways. Examine how you and participants are/were “told” stories in history books and various media. What explicit and implicit messages are reinforced through these narratives? Brainstorm a list of examples of nonviolent historic responses to conflict situations. Who were the key players, leaders, and ‘behind the scenes’ people and groups involved in these conflicts? What methods, besides violence, were used to actualize change? Reflect on how peaceful, nonviolent, and cooperative paradigms might alternatively transform present community, societal, national, and global conflicts into mutually beneficial outcomes for humanity and our fellow planetary inhabitants.

In the photo below, a large mural in Londonderry pictures the violence of “Bloody Sunday” when British troops fired on civil rights marchers, an event that triggered the Irish Republican Army to declare war on the occupying British forces. A very violent two plus decades followed until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 made for a peace that still holds. The challenge for educators and the community in general is how to tell the story of this history in a way that honors the experiences of all sides to this conflict but also emphasizes the forces of peace that eventually took hold.




Del Benson, Ph.D. is Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University since 1975 working to connect persons with nature and with other humans.

Can nature study and human history inform thinking about social groups, cooperation, posturing, territorial displays, aggression, violence, civility, and even peace amongst populations of wildlife or humans? These topics are so broad and deep that I suggest reading ecology books and Google searches about animal references. Scholarly accounts of the past from history books or religious books will suggest that humans have been quite violent towards each other over all time. Violent topics are common in The Story of Civilization, an 11-volume series by Will and Ariel Durant, the Bible, and the Quran.

Animals generally have social hierarchies within geographical territories that are defend against others of their species either overtly or subtly.  Birds sing and elk bugle to show their locations and to attract mates. Browsing mule deer might ward off another deer, even their own young, that wants to feed in the exact same place without clear signs that the space is being secured. Nests of birds and fish are often protected by at least one parent.  Cliff nesting birds tolerate very close proximity to other nests while eagles defend larger spaces.

Male grizzly bears and African lions kill the young of females to initiate estrus allowing breeding and genetic exchange with the new male. Baboons and some monkeys (especially the open grassland species) are quite territorial with violent interchanges under conditions of threat. Other primates (often the tree dwellers) such as chimpanzees and great apes show less physical violence but use posturing for social status and aggressive displays to ward off intruders of the same species.

Most animal species display with songs, feather shows, antler thrashing of the ground, urinating on bellies and bushes, brow lifts, or by driving Mercedes cars to show social standing. Social order and submission to authority can be maintained by picking bugs and grooming other primates, bearing necks and lowering the tails of submissive canines, cowering behind an aggressive partner, or by not speaking up at board meetings. Do these behaviors promote peace and civility for animals…or human animals?  Peace no, civility yes!

It is better to avoid fighting than to fight and lose, so displays are generally adaptive for upward mobility in the social structure. Many species will flee when danger is too near and that is why humans are taught to make noise when in dangerous situations of nature. Some animals give warning sounds such as the chatter of squirrels and trumpeting of elephants. Chimpanzees might pick up sticks to warn intruders or use them in battle if the threat is upon them.

Mock charges of display are frequently a first attempt to bluff the intruder before fleeing or fighting as seen with the neighbor’s dog, a bear in the forest, or with candidates at Presidential elections. Even generally gentle animals will fight off predators and other perceived threats. Hikers are told not to get too close to babies in the woods. Human presence could result in the mother disappearing or she might attack aggressively.

Fighting off unwanted suiters is a biologically adaptive strategy to make sure that breeding is taking place with those of similar fur and feather. Animals in situations where fleeing is not an option will likely play dead or fight. Never back a skunk into a corner with no escape route. These imperatives relate to humans also.  Cooperation is useful and adaptive…until that strategy does not work! Humans can try to live together, because our big brain affords us intelligent reasoning.

Humans have family and social structures.  We create tribes, cities, states, nations, organizations, and levels of authority and responsibility. Disputes can be handled civilly while skirmishes are avoidable…unless there is a greater threat. Humans pick leaders based upon displays of status that could include traits which are physical, psychological, social, economic, designated, assumed, or acquired by aggressive force.

Human civilizations have many attributes, but one major reason for being is the acquisition and distribution of energy. We use energy in the form of reproduction, food, labor, product making, distribution, transportation, securing the supply, and communications about the availability of resources to the rest of community. Ultimately, energy is used to acquire and to protect territories and to locate and secure resources that are needed and wanted for the times.

When resources are scarce, humans can think and solve those problems.  Solutions can cause invasions of human territories leading to conflict. Stories of history, whether academic or spiritual, are replete with examples of how humans have maintained and expanded their territories and fought for energy resources, labor, distribution, wealth, and status.

Is peace attainable?  No!  The hungry will try to eat. The oppressed will grow weary and fight back. Can civility be learned and practiced? I hope so! Humans have the ability to try.  Consequences for not trying are grave. Human abilities for destruction are greater today than at any time in history.  We have nuclear warheads, remote distribution systems to deliver them, and the appetite for dominance and display. We consume resources at alarming rates and defile the atmosphere, lands, and waters with activities and pollutants that harm nature and ourselves.

We know that we can exert force, but should we us it? Now is the time to focus our big brains on civility and diplomacy. We cannot flee because there is no place to go. We should not fight because that merely leads to more fighting and we learned from the animal world that fighting is only valuable when you win.

Can humans afford to battle nature or each other; or should we use the paradigm of diplomacy and civil actions?


Robert N. Meroney, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering with a long career at Colorado State University.

Why does man fight?  There are two primary theories.[1]

1.)  Prussian officer Carl von Clausewitz proposed war is a “continuation of policy . . . by other means.”  War is another way that nations advance their own interests, a gainful enterprise, a rational action, or socially sanctioned group behavior.

2.)  Sigmund Freud concluded there is a flaw in human psyche, a desire to destroy, an aggressive instinct, an irrational behavior that leads to war.

Some believe that Freud’s conclusion can be explained by our basic genome.  Ever since the development of the theory of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin (1859), which suggested that humans were a natural consequence of the laws of nature, people have debated how “animal like” are humans.  Initially, evolutionary scholars argued that a sudden increase in cranial capacity allowed man to step beyond animal instincts to kill for food to a human capable of spirituality and morals.[2]  This theory was supported by the discovery of the large sized Piltdown skull.  But when this was shown to be a fraud in 1953, many researchers returned to the idea that man’s nature was basically driven by its ape ancestors who routinely killed to eat; thus, man, the killer ape.

Raymond Dart in 1953 posited that the cruelty of man can only be explained by “man’s carnivorous and cannibalistic origin.”   Robert Ardrey (1961 to 1976) even argued that it was competition, violence and war that keeps man evolving, and without these activities mankind is doomed to dwindle to near extinction like the gorilla or entirely disappear like the dodo (Raphus cucullatus) last sighted in 1662.

The killer ape hypothesis is only one of at least twelve theories of how mankind evolved, and most do not stress a violent animal nature.[3]  Different scientists have proposed that humankind was uniquely determined because:   we make tools, 1944; we’re killers, 1953; we share food, 1960s-70s; we swim in the nude, 2013; we throw stuff, 2013; we hunt, 1968; we trade food for sex, 1981; we eat (cooked) meat, 1992; we eat (cooked) carbs, 2015; we walk on two feet, 1809-1899; we adapt to climate change, 1996; and we unite and conquer as an invasive species, 2015.   Many of these ideas may have merit, but they share a bias that each proposer believed that it was one well-defined trait that changed ape into man.  Critics argue there is nothing in any proposal that causes inevitable change to a man from a toolmaking, stone throwing, meat and potato eating, highly cooperative, adaptable and big brained pre-man.[4]

There is also the view of Social Darwinism and Sociobiology adherents that human morality should be based on the evolutionary process of the survival of the fittest.  Individuals, ethnic groups, races, or societies that are most fit survive, and the weak are eliminated….and that is good!  Thus, competition and winning are the basis of human morality and ethics.  Ethical principles are only good if they allow the human race to survive, otherwise they are irrelevant.  These arguments seem to be equally popular among laissez-faire capitalists, Nazi fascists, imperialists, eugenics supporters, nationalists and racists.   These ideas have led to so many inconsistent and incompatible ideas that today it is criticized as an inconsistent philosophy, which does not lead to any clear conclusions.[5]   Critics also suggest that although genes might play a role, aggressiveness could as easily be explained by social environment, i.e., is it nature or nurture?

That man has an inherently aggressive nature is also frequently stressed by theologians who find it compatible with the idea of the originally sinful nature of mankind.  Do you remember the old comic line “The Devil made me do it!”  made famous by the comedian, Flip Wilson’s  Geraldine Jones character?[6]  Some might find it comforting that this suggest our “inherent” violence and war propensities aren’t our fault…the devil makes us do it!

Robert Sussman argues that even if there is some truth in aggressive human instincts, it is still possible for humans to deliberately choose NOT to be violent.  We need not deny our demons, but we can be masters of our own future.  We have the capacity to learn from our past, we need not be governed by it.4   Barbara Ehrenreich concludes her book on the origins of war by noting that one new and unique result of the many centuries of war is the arise of the world-wide peace movement and resistance to the institution of war itself.  These movements are still very small and feeble relative to their opponents, and often reactive and tardy.  But the author feels they are the primary hope against future war.1



A song for peace from Bob Meroney: “Here is an unusual song/poem by Burl Ives that speaks to the personal loss associated with war. One of my favorites, although it brings tears to my eyes.”


[1] Ehrenreich, Barbara (1997) Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 292 pp.

[2] Charles Darwin visualized a spiritual and intellectual gap between humans and their closest ape cousins.  He noted that man was capable of love for all living creatures a trait seemingly absent in all other animals.

[3] Strauss, Mark (2015) 12 Theories of How We Became Human and Why They’re All Wrong, National Geographic,

[4] Sussman, Robert W. (1999) The Myth of Man the Hunter, Man the Killer and the Evolution of Human Morality, Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science, Vol. 34, Issue 3, pp. 453-471.  Also republished in 2013 as Why the Legend of the Killer Ape Never Dies, Chapter 6 in War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of evolutionary and Cultural Views (ed. Douglas P. Fry), Oxford Scholarship on Line.

[5] Social Darwinism,

[6] The devil made me do it! or


It has been both a heartbreaking and an inspiring time to be in New Zealand in the wake of the March 15th attacks on two Christchurch mosques. A common response to the horror of these mass shootings in the United States is to argue for more guns to protect people. The response in New Zealand, and particularly by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has had a very different tone, a notably restorative tone. It has been incredibly moving and inspiring to watch unfold. For this month’s newsletter, I would like to share a reflection by my PhD supervisor, Professor Chris Marshall, on the restorative power of the response we have seen.

Restorative Politics and the Christchurch Massacre

By Professor Chris Marshall, Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice, Victoria University of Wellington

Originally posted at

The unspeakable horror perpetrated at two Christchurch mosques on 15 March, and the overwhelming response of grief and solidarity with the Muslim community expressed throughout the nation, has generated a huge amount of media coverage over recent weeks, both locally and internationally.

I have been particularly struck by the weight of commentary devoted to the extraordinary moral leadership displayed by our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Many have described her response as “pitch perfect”, and noted the way she is being hailed around the world as a beacon of hope for a new kind of political leadership.

It is hard for New Zealanders not to feel a sense of pride in her performance – and a pride also that our small country, notwithstanding its own entrenched injustices, has spawned a female leader of such caliber, courage and compassion.

In an international arena increasingly dominated by thugs, bullies and strongmen, Jacinda Ardern has provided a masterclass in what I call “compassionate justice”. Talk of a Nobel Peace prize nomination does not seem far-fetched, given that some are saying her response has probably helped forestall copycat or revenge attacks occurring elsewhere in the world.

But to think of Jacinda’s response as “pitch perfect” or as a “performance” is potentially misleading. For its significance lies precisely in the fact that it was not a carefully calibrated political performance.

She herself has said that she never really thought about how she should conduct herself at the time. She followed her instincts, she listened to her heart, she was guided by empathy and by the humane values and virtues she has probably cultivated all her life.

In one interview, she batted away any suggestion that she had shown great leadership, saying instead she had simply shown humanity.

One of the more perceptive accounts of her response has come from Dr Ghassen Hage, Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourne, in a short piece entitled, “You Can’t Copy Love: Why Other Politicians Fall Short of Jacinda Adern”. Although he makes no reference to restorative justice or restorative practice, Hage offers two compelling observations that are pertinent to those of us working in the restorative justice field.

First, he speaks of his admiration for the “multidimensional restorative potential” of Jacinda’s style of politics. Hage describes white nationalist racism, like all ethno-nationalist racism, as a “shattering force”. It is not only physically violent, it is also psychically and spiritually violent as well.

It shatters communities, ruptures relationships, and fragments and disperses identities. Racism is not only a “weapon of economic dispossession, but also a weapon of mass psychosocial destruction and communal disintegration”.

Given its splintering impact, the only remedy is “a fundamental and sustained politics of restoration that unleashes all the possible economic, practical and affective centrifugal forces to counter the corrosive effects of the disintegrative politics that has prevailed so long”.

What a powerful image this is! Systemic racism is like a destructive tornado whose centripetal forces fracture communities and alienate people from sources of identity, value and belonging. To counteract this trajectory of dissolution and dispersal, a restorative politics is needed that releases centrifugal forces of integration and connection.

This requires more than policy efforts to close the inequality gap between minority and majority communities. It also requires a more fundamental, grass roots commitment to resist all the social and ideological forces that separate and alienate and subordinate communities of difference, while nurturing efforts to build just relationships and forge affective connections between citizens.

This need to create both just relationships and empathetic connections between people is exactly what restorative practices aspire to do. Which means that any serious attempt to advance “restorative politics” on a societal scale can only benefit by drawing heavily on the democratic values and discursive practices of restorative philosophy. Restorative practices, in other words, have the potential to build the social capital needed if restorative politics is to strike at the root of systemic racism.

The second observation Hage makes about Jacinda’s response is the way it exemplified a “special kind of love”, or what he calls the “difficult love” that crosses cultural boundaries and embraces multiplicity and difference. “While love on its own leads us nowhere, a restorative politics is not complete without it being permeated by a deeply felt love, a love that can cross rather than erect cultural boundaries and that can heal rather than entrench divisions. It is in this regard that Jacinda Ardern’s restorative politics is so crucial…it provides a glimmer of hope that a politics that heals the shattering effects of white ethno-nationalist racism is possible”.

Once again, this description of a putative restorative politics echoes the nature of restorative justice on an interpersonal level. Restorative dialogue also seeks to transcend barriers of hostility and alienation, and to heal rather than entrench division. And its transformative potential lies in the fact that such a way of responding to harm and hostility manifests the inherent power of love, albeit a difficult kind of love.

Tellingly, Hage suggests that it was Jacinda’s display of authentic love that makes her example so difficult for other politicians to emulate. For it is not just what Jacinda did but how she did it that was crucial. The gift of support she gave to those traumatized by the massacre was imbued with the spirit in which she offered it, and without that spirit – without that sincerely felt love – her gift would not have had its restorative power.

None of this is to imply that Jacinda is a saint or super human. Quite the opposite. The reason why she has had such an astonishing impact on millions of people, here and around the world, devastated by the massacre is because she responded in such a genuinely human way, a way that allowed compassion rather than political calculation to guide her actions.

As another recent commentator, Nesrine Mailk, has put it, the Prime Minister displayed “a normal human reaction, not robotic or platitudinous, not scripted or insincere.” What is so depressing about her example of “compassionate poise”, this columnist suggests, is that such a normal human response is now so unfamiliar, so rare, among political leaders. “What should be the norm is elevated to exceptional.”

While that may be true in the political sphere, it is not so true elsewhere. In fact, the capacity of ordinary people to rise above self-protection and reach out in shared humanity and understanding to others is surprisingly commonplace, as everyone working in our field knows.

It was also powerfully demonstrated at the National Service of Remembrance on 29 March by the moving words of forgiveness and understanding of Farid Ahmed, whose wife, Husna Ahmed, was killed at Al Noor Mosque. Such displays of compassionate justice show that restorative politics is not only desirable and essential in our brutally fractious world, it is actually possible, if only we have the courage to do what Jacinda did.