In 1932, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein conducted a correspondence
subsequently published under the title ‘Why War?’ See ‘Why War: Einstein
and Freud’s Little-Known Correspondence on Violence, Peace, and Human

In many ways, this dialogue between two giants of the 20th century is
symbolic of the effort made by many humans to understand that perplexing
and incredibly damaging feature of human experience: the institution of

In a recent article, the founder of peace research, Professor Johan
Galtung, reminded us of the legacy of Freud and Einstein in this regard
and reflected on their dialogue, noting some shortcomings including
their failure to ‘unpack conflict’. See ‘Freud-Einstein on Peace’.

Of course, Freud and Einstein weren’t the first to consider the question
‘Why War?’ and their dialogue was preceded by a long sequence of
individuals and even some organizations, such as the Women’s
International League for Peace and Freedom and War Resisters’
International, who sought to understand, prevent and/or halt particular
wars, or even to understand and end the institution itself, as
exemplified by the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928 outlawing war. Moreover,
given the failure of earlier initiatives, many individuals and
organizations since Freud and Einstein have set out to understand,
prevent and/or halt wars and these efforts have taken divergent forms.

Notable among these, Mohandas K. Gandhi was concerned to develop a mode
of action to deal with many manifestations of violence and he
dramatically developed, and shared, an understanding of how to apply
nonviolence, which he labeled satyagraha (holding firmly to the truth),
in overcoming large-scale violence and exploitation. He successfully
applied his strategic understanding of nonviolence to the Indian
independence struggle against British colonial rule. But while Gandhi
was happy to acknowledge his debt to those who had gone before, he was
not shy in proclaiming the importance of finding new ways forward: ‘If
we are to make progress, we must not repeat history but make new
history. We must add to the inheritance left by our ancestors.’

My own journey to understand human violence was caused by the death of
my two uncles, Bob and Tom, in World War II, ten years before I was
born. My childhood in the 1950s and 1960s is dotted with memories of my
uncles, stimulated through such events as attending memorial services at
the Shrine of Remembrance where their war service was outlined. See ‘My
Brothers’ on my father’s website.

But by the early 1960s, courtesy of newspaper articles and photos, I had
become aware of exploitation and starvation in Africa and elsewhere, and
as a young university student in the early 1970s I was reading
literature about environmental destruction. It wasn’t just war that was
problematic; violence took many other forms too.

‘Why are human beings violent?’ I kept asking. Because I thought that
this question must have been answered somewhere, I kept reading,
including the work of Freud and Karl Marx as an undergraduate, but also
the thoughts of many other scholars, such as Frantz Fanon, as well as
anarchists, feminists and those writing from other perspectives which
offered explanations of violence, whether direct, structural or

By the early 1980s I had started to read Gandhi and I had begun to
understand nonviolence, as Gandhi practised and explained it, with a
depth that seemed to elude the activists I knew and even the scholars in
the field that I read.

Separately from this, I was starting to gain a sense that the human mind
was not something that could be understood well by viewing it primarily
as an organ of thinking and that much of the literature and certainly
most of the practitioners in the field of psychology and related fields,
especially psychiatry, had failed to understand the emotional depth and
complexity of the human mind and the implications of this for dealing
with conflict and violence. In this sense, it was clear to me, few had
understood, let alone been able to develop, Freud’s legacy. This is
because the fundamental problem is about feeling (and, in relation to
violence, particularly suppressed fear and anger). Let me explain why.

Violence is something that is usually identified as physical: it
involves actions like hitting, punching and using weapons such as a gun.
This is one of the types of violence, and probably the one now most
often lamented, that is inflicted on indigenous peoples, women and
people of colour, among others.

Separately from this, Gandhi also identified exploitation as violence
and Galtung elaborated this concept with his notion of ‘structural
violence’. Other forms of violence have been identified and they take
many forms such as financial violence, cultural violence and ecological
violence. But violence can be more subtle than any of these and, hence,
much less visible. I have given two of these forms of violence the
labels ‘invisible violence’ and ‘utterly invisible violence’.
Tragically, ‘invisible violence’ and ‘utterly invisible violence’ are
inflicted on us mercilessly from the day we are born. And, as a result,
we are all terrorized.

So what are ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence?

In essence, ‘invisible’ violence is the ‘little things’ we do every day,
partly because we are just ‘too busy’. For example, when we do not allow
time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child
learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal
communication system. When we do not let a child say what they want (or
ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and
behavioural dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own
needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically
programmed to do).

When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate,
taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize
with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth
and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame,
humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail,
moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by
this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by
feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others). However,
parents, teachers and other adults also actively interfere with the
expression of these feelings and the behavioural responses that are
naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence
that explains why the dysfunctional behavioural outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by
comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their
feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a
child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when
they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behaviour that
is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them
or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to
unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.

However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their
awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their
feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed
their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. This has many
outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for
nature because the individual will now easily suppress their awareness
of the feelings that would tell them how to act most functionally in any
given circumstance and they will progressively acquire a phenomenal
variety of dysfunctional behaviours, including many that are violent
towards themselves, others and/or the Earth.

Moreover, this emotional (or psychological) damage will lead to a unique
combination of violent behaviours in each case. And some of these
individuals will gravitate to working in one of the social roles that
specifically requires, or justifies, the use of ‘legitimized violence’,
such as the violence carried out by police, prosecuting lawyers,
magistrates and judges, as well as that inflicted by the military.
Others, of course, will operate outside the realm of legitimized
violence and be labelled as ‘criminals’.

But, you might be wondering, what is the link between what happens in
childhood and war?

The answer is simply that perpetrators of violence, and those who
collaborate with them, are created during childhood. And these
perpetrators and collaborators are all terrified, self-hating and
powerless – for much greater detail of the precise psychological
characteristics of perpetrators of violence and their collaborators, see
‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology
and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’
– and they go on to perform all of the key roles in creating,
maintaining, equipping, staffing and legitimizing the institutions of
war and in conducting it.

If it weren’t for the violence to which we are all mercilessly subjected
throughout childhood, there would be no interest in violence or war of
any kind. If we were raised without violence, we would be naturally
peaceful and cooperative, content to spend our time seeking to achieve
our own unique evolutionary potential and to nurture the journey of
others as well as life itself, rather than just become another cog in
someone else’s military (or other bureaucratic or corporate) machine.

If any of the above resonates with you, then I invite you to make ‘My
Promise to Children’.

In addition, if further reducing the violence in our world appeals to
you, then you are also welcome to consider participating in ‘The Flame
Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’,
signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a
Nonviolent World’
considering using the strategic framework on one or the other of
these two websites for your campaign to end violence or war in one
context or another: Nonviolent Campaign Strategy and Nonviolent
Defense/Liberation Strategy.

A child is not born to make war. But if you inflict enough violence on a
child, and destroy their capacity to become their own unique and
powerful self, they will be terrorised into perceiving violence and war
as their society wants them to be perceived. And violence and war, and
the institutions that maintain them, will flourish.

If we want to end war, we must halt the adult war against children as a