Guest Editorial
Richard Register
February 2003

Several of us were mulling over what one can do for peace when national and business leaders are planning war and moving weapons of mass destruction toward use against real, living people—military defenders of Iraq, old men and women, people in their prime, children and babies. I lamented that my own proposals for solutions go too deep and take too long for people needing quick fixes.

The dramatic non-violent honest confrontation is the best we seem to be able to do once the warships and bombers are poised and the politicians are screaming their brains out to attack—for reasons that are false, when the truth is they are hungry for power, wealth and ego gratification. We who care for life and liberty on this planet and hold compassion dear have to confront their lies and greed in any speedy way we can.

But so much of war-making comes from much deeper roots that are neglected in emergency times like these because we need to move fast, and are neglected in times of peace because war seems far away and we feel no emergency. Both perspectives on war, close in and far off, have their excuses for not dealing with the deeper issues, and for neglect of the deeper issues we keep coming back to the emergencies in which we don't have the time to deal with the deeper issues.

During the Vietnam War, as early as summer of 1964, I was disturbed that adults were lying to children about the nature of war. On the Fourth of July, I was driving through a typical Los Angeles neighborhood, but one with more American flags than usual. Here comes a sweet looking little boy, about five years, old alligator crawling across his lawn in military fatigues and helmet, a machine gun in one hand, his belt dripping with guns, knives, hand grenades.

Remembering that Fourth of July image, by the spring of 1965 I was working to establish a campaign I called No War Toys. I though a lot more was going on than most people recognized when parents gave their little boys war toys and smiled while the kids pretended to kill one another, laughing all the way. By Christmas of 1966, Charles Whitman had taken us into the era of citizen-initiative mass killings. That summer he had murdered 14 people shooting from the University of Texas tower in Austin. For the birthday of the Prince of Peace, I rolled out photographs from Life Magazine of Whitman as a child posing under a Christmas tree with his new toy machine gun.

Was violence really fun? Are the real seeds of war in the home, in the psyche, in the step-by-step giving of the impression that a good, even exciting and proper way to be a man is to exact violence upon others? Do apparently small things like giving war toys to children and taking them to violent movies encourage the drift back to the emergency at which time we don't have the time to deal with the glacial drift set in motion long ago, like small snowflakes of violence collecting into an enormous pressure grinding across the country.

With this war, we are beginning to catch on to the fact that the way we drive around promotes a dependence upon oil and that dependence forces the people of the United States to buy into the violent games of the leaders who want to control more oil. The leaders are really playing the power-and-wealth game, but the oil is the substance that, like a drug in the body, changes things in a destructive direction. As people begin to comprehend, they start blaming the SUV drivers for all the gasoline they demand and start saying we should all be driving energy efficient cars.

Enter an even deeper cause of war: city structure, and another connected insight: that we need to take a "whole systems"or "ecological"perspective if we hope to figure this one out and dispel another deeper cause of war. In the recent peace marches, the signs against SUVs and for hybrid and other energy efficient cars made immediate, reflexive good sense. Knee-jerk isn't a friendly way to think about it but the immediate response to move away from SUVs is, very honestly, a quick-impression reaction. We need to understand the interrelated systems if we are going to solve this problem underlying the cause of our present generation of American wars.

The energy efficient car probably promotes war more than the SUV. (That should shock a few people of good conscience!) Why? Because the more efficient car causes people to drive farther for less money and feel good about it. That in turn means they are promoting sprawl development and the paving of more landscapes with asphalt—another oil product—causing the destruction of agricultural land and natural habitats, CO2 build-up and climate change. Because of both habitat destruction and climate change, the energy efficient car is a major component in the cause of the largest mass extinction in the last 65 million years. More energy efficient cars—especially when people believe they are in some sense "good"—means more travel, more accidents, more needless death and injury; about a third of a million people are killed by cars every year and mostly by cars much smaller than SUVs.

It will sound strange at first, but the city structure—flat and sprawling—is one of the major causes of war today. The car isn't the problem alone. If it were, perhaps flailing against SUVs would do some good. But the car is part of a whole system in the way that blood corpuscles are part of a human body, along with the veins (roads), heart (energy for movement such as gasoline provides in cars), and body (the particular physical structure of the city's buildings and arrangement of open spaces, connectors and associated natural features like creeks, shorelines and ridge lines).

Today's cities are defined by cars, sprawl, freeways and oil. They could be defined by people on foot and bicycle with support from transit, compact development with a high level of diversity of "uses"and activities close together, connectors like pedestrian streets, elevators and foot bridges and natural energy from sun, wind and other renewables. That—building ecological cities, cities for people instead of cars—is one of the crucial physical solutions to today's problem of wars. On the psychological, intellectual and spiritual level, war toys and other means to lie about the nature of war is a another deeper cause seldom dealt with as if it were serious. But it is serious. Dead serious.

How to stop wars? There are undoubtedly many ways, but among the most important are two I've been involved with that as yet very few honor.

Peace now! No war toys! Build ecocities!