BOOK REVIEW by Patrick T. Hiller Portland State University and The War Prevention Initiative

Published in the Journal of Peace Education.

From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years, by Kent D. Shifferd, Jefferson, NC, McFarland, 2011, viii + 232 pp., US$38.00 (paperback), ISBN 978-0- 7864-6144-8

In a time when wars and military options seem to be the prevalent and commonly accepted ways of dealing with social conflicts all over the world, From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years by historian Kent Shifferd proposes a bold thesis – that we have a good chance to outlaw war within the next 100 years. The war system, states Shifferd, has prevailed for 6000 years, therefore leading to the common assumption that war is inherent in human nature. However, this per- ception of inevitable warfare can be challenged by understanding war as a social phenomenon with understood causes and conditions. It is pointed out that institu- tions and techniques already exist that are capable of dealing with conflict in non- violent, constructive manners. Moreover, Shifferd calls attention to the fact that the perception of honourable war is fading. He provides evidence that real, sustainable peace exists in parts of the world where war was previously the dominant mode. Pointing to the emerging and partly existing peace system, Shifferd states that ‘most of what needed to be invented to end war has been invented’ (11).The message of this book is that war is clearly obsolete and that there are ways to end it – and today we can even talk about this without being ridiculed.

The book is written with a clear structure, first examining the evolution of the war system and then examining the peace system which has significantly grown over the last 100 years. Rather than presenting simplistic, linear causal relationships for explaining war and peace, Shifferd provides strongly grounded arguments emphasizing the complexity and historical continuity of dynamic social systems.

Looking at the evolution of the war system from a historical point of view, Shifferd focuses on the contemporary human landscape, giving special attention to the psychology of killing based on processes of desensitization and dehumanization as part of war-conditioning. He also emphasizes institutional religion as an influen- tial factor contributing to the war system, arguing that religion has not frequently been the cause of war per se, but that it serves as a justifying force or solace. Shifferd also highlights the environmental impacts of warfare, especially by quantifying not only the direct environmental consequences of war, but also the overwhelming ecological disasters directly attributed to the global military- industrial complex. Modern war, according to Shifferd, exists due to people’s missing knowledge of the reality of peace.

Shifferd continues by dedicating the second part of the book to the system of positive peace which has been developing over the past several decades. In a way, Shifferd takes Lederach’s (2005) concept of moral imagination, a set of joint capacities that help transcend violence, into a systemic peacebuilding context. Examining the history of peace, Shifferd demonstrates that there has been more peace than war in history and numerous peace movements were active even during times of war. In more recent times, the growing number of religious and non-religious peace movements, the emergence of multinational governance institutions, and developments in international law leading to almost globally accepted treaties concerning topics such as anti-personnel mines, child soldiers or human rights have contributed to a more institutionalized peace perspective. Peace education and non-adversarial conflict resolution are other significant developments in the ‘century of peace’. Shifferd points to the emergence of a global civil society where citizens populate a myriad of non-governmental organizations doing peace and justice work. Finally, Shifferd revisits his discussion of religion, providing his- torical arguments for the fundamental peacefulness and strong peace traditions of all major religions.

Peacemakers who endorse nonviolence are often questioned about the efficacy of nonviolence for dealing with social conflict. Therefore, successful nonviolent struggles are given an entire chapter in the examination of the peace system. Shifferd reminds us that the issue is not nonviolence in a utopian sense, but the effectiveness of nonviolence over violence. Indeed, Shifferd’s point was recently addressed by Chenoweth and Stephan (2011), who provide empirical proof that nonviolent civil resistance is more successful than violence.

Shifferd effectively moves along through historical and contemporary systems and shares theoretical ideas and practical applications with the reader. To help the reader process the significant trends in the evolution of the peace system and to provide support for his optimistic beliefs, Shifferd compiles his earlier discussion in an appendix of 23 convincing factors, the integration of which can lead to a transformation of the war system. The book has the academic depth one would expect from a historian yet it is engaging. And above all, it is so clear and logical that one must wonder why wars are still acceptable to any society whatsoever.

This book is highly recommendable for scholars, students and practitioners in the realm of peace education and conflict resolution, activists and non-activists and essentially anyone who is pondering the dilemma that nobody wants war but almost everyone supports it. The clarity and overwhelming logic is inspiring and animates readers to put down the book and start working on or within the peace system. We now can see that the structures are in place and already working. If we follow Elise Boulding’s often cited advice that ‘there is no time left for anything but to make peace work a dimension of our every waking activity’, then we might be able to demonstrate to Shifferd that 100 years was overestimated.


  • Chenoweth, E., and M. J. Stephan. 2011. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Lederach, J. P. 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Patrick T. Hiller Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA [email protected] © 2014, Patrick T. Hiller

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