Reaching Across the Generations to Oppose War

Image by Valeriia Miler.

Although I am now a mother and grandmother, when I was in college in the early 1970s I protested against the Vietnam War. Thankfully, all the protests I joined stayed peaceful. I was lucky I wasn’t at Kent State University, where, on May 4, 1970, four unarmed student protesters were shot and killed and another nine were wounded by the Ohio National Guard, which had opened fire on them with high-powered rifles.

Even though the demonstrations in which I participated were peaceful, we were often told we were “anti-American” if we were against war. “Love it or leave it,” we were told. My dad was a veteran of World War II. He wasn’t happy with my participation in the protests, and he was especially upset when I wrote a letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper, publicly stating I was against the war. Indeed, he threatened to pull me out of college.

But my friends and I were not anti-American. We were anti-war…and many of us still are. I love America, but I do not love the war machine that makes some people wealthy while causing widespread death, suffering, and environmental disasters. I am against war, but still insist we care for our veterans who are injured physically and emotionally by war.

The traditional argument for war is that it makes us safe and secure. But it is hard to see how any war in this century has made us either safe or more secure. One could even argue that wars are making us less secure by creating more enemies. In my opinion, we need more Americans standing up and saying we are against war and need to find a better way to make us safe and secure.

So I am proud of the college students who have protested peacefully against the war in Gaza. Just as I was called anti-American in the 1970s, many of them are being called anti-Semitic 50 years later. I believe the vast majority of them are not anti-Semitic but, rather, are anti-war, against the killing of civilians (especially children), and opposed to the destruction of people’s homes and hospitals. In fact, there are many Jewish students who are protesting the war. Some of them are facing harsh criticism from their parents for failing to defend the state of Israel. I applaud these students for holding onto their convictions that war and killing are wrong, even in the face of criticism from home.

I would like to encourage today’s students―and people in general― to promote an alternative way to solve the conflicts among nations that sometimes lead to wars. Within the United States, we avoid violence and wars among our states by relying on judicial action to resolve disputes. The same peaceful settlement of disputes is possible on the international level through the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

Currently, though, only 74 nations accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. Legal Alternatives to War (LAW Not War) is a recently launched global campaign to extend this Court’s jurisdiction. The principal objective of the campaign is to increase the number of States accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, with the goal of achieving universal acceptance of jurisdiction by 2045, the 100th anniversary of the United Nations. In addition, the campaign works to enhance ICJ jurisdiction by promoting greater use by UN bodies of the option to request Advisory Opinions from the ICJ, such as the current requests for opinions on State responsibility for climate change, and encouraging disputing States to make more frequent use of the option of taking cases to the ICJ by mutual agreement.

Relying on the force of law instead of the law of force is a better way to address conflicts among nations and, in this fashion, keep us all safe and secure.

Donna Park is Chair of the Board of Directors of Citizens for Global Solutions Education Fund, a 513(c)(3) headquartered in Washington, DC.