Today is November 11, which is celebrated as Veteran’s Day in the United States and as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day in many other countries. The day started as a remembrance marking the end of Word War I. WWI was dubbed “the war to end all wars.” Of course, we know this did not happen as a decade later we fought another World War, one which was far worse in death and destruction than the first one. And certainly numerous smaller wars have been conducted since — and some still continue today.
I am someone who practices, studies and teaches about dispute resolution. War/violence is a dispute resolution method. When Alexander Hamilton, one of our founding fathers, and Aaron Burr had a long-running dispute, the way they resolved it was to travel to New Jersey (where dueling was legal unlike across the river in their home state of New York) and use single shot pistols. The duel left Hamilton dead and Burr, who was the sitting Vice President of the United States, on the run. Another early naval American hero, Stephen Decatur, met a similar fate.
Personal duels and wars present rather permanent and costly results of dispute resolution. Deaths cannot be undone. Casualties are a high price to pay to restore honor. Ironically, Decatur’s co-dueler, James Barron, who was also wounded in the duel but survived, said to the mortally wounded Decatur as he was being taken away “I forgive you from the bottom of my heart.”
World War I resulted in between 8.5 and 11 million soldiers killed, another 7 to 8.5 million civilians killed and 22 to 24 million soldiers wounded. World War II was even worse, with some 75 to 80 million total deaths. That represented about 3-4% of the world’s 1940 population. Europe was physically destroyed twice. And the veterans of those (and all conflicts), had their lives irrevocably changed between being wounded and psychological issues such as PTSD.
(Update: This video shows the level of deaths from wars and Word War II in particular:)
Meanwhile, most of the state combatants in both World Wars are now friends and allies. Think about the import of that. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and now both are close allies and trading partners. The Jews of Europe were nearly annihilated by Nazi Germany and now Germany feels it has a moral obligation to protect Israel. Surely we could have reached this position without killing 3-4% of the planet’s population.
The Kings of England created a system that has evolved into our modern court system — a way for people who have disputes to resolve them in a “civilized” manner. While litigation is certainly better than dueling, it too comes at a cost. Litigation is expensive and takes a long time. Both of these elements can create psychological issues such as stress.
ADR or alternative dispute resolution is an alternative to litigation, just as litigation is an “ADR” to violence. Mediation and arbitration are being used more and more to resolve disputes within and outside the court system. Click on their links to learn about their advantages over litigating or violence.
In closing, let me honor those men and women who fought for our and their countries. Most did not have a choice in decisions made by political leaders, but they gave their all to protect their families and their fellow citizens.