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Johan Galtung

Violence, War, and Their Impact

On Visible and Invisible Effects of Violence


The investigation pursued in this article seeks to contribute to a better, deeper understanding of violence, war and their effects – the visible and particularly also the invisible ones. Ultimately, this should assist to prepare the grounds for a lasting peace process. The formation of violence can be differentiated into direct violence (its visible aspect), and structural and cultural violence (its invisible aspects). These are the three corners of a »triangle of violence«. After discussing the role of reciprocity and revenge as well as intention and irresversibility when dealing with trauma and guilt, central aspects of violence are thematised with the help of a table; this table lays out the material and visible effects of violence in opposition to the non-material invisible ones using the following six dimensions: nature, humans, society, world, time, and culture. In conclusion, an alternative conception of violence is sketched out, with reference to different ideas of conflict, violence, and peace. It is suggested that this conception will be able to indicate means of overcoming violence and lead to a culture of peace. 1



1. The Triangle of Violence

Peace and Development Network for Conflict Transformation by Peaceful Means:
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1 Violence has occurred, in the collective form of a war, with one or more governments participating, or in the family, or in the streets. Material and somatic, visible damage is accumulating, deplored by parties and outsiders. But then the violence is abating: the parties may have run out of material and nonmaterial resources; the parties converge in their predictions of the final outcome and more violence is seen as wanton, wasted; or outside parties intervene to stop the violence, keep the peace, for whatever reason, like preventing the victory of the party they disfavour. A truce, cease-fire (armistice, Waffenstillstand, cese al fuego) is initiated, an agreement is drawn up, signed.
2 The word »peace« is used both by the naive who confuse absence of direct violence with peace and do not understand that the work to make and build peace is now just about to start, and by the less naive who know this and do not want that work to get started. Thus the word »peace« becomes a very effective peace-blocker.
3 Our purpose is to contribute to the worldwide effort to unblock that process toward a peace beyond cease-fire so that »after violence« does not so easily become »before violence«. The first task after violence is to map its formation, to understand better how the meta-conflict has run its diabolic course, wreaking havoc within and between humans, groups, societies, producing war-torn people, war-torn societies, a war-torn world. War is man-made disaster.
4 To start this mapping of violence the following triangle may be useful:
Triangle of Violence
5 The direct violence, physical and/or verbal, is visible as behaviour. But human action does not come out of nowhere; there are roots. Two roots are indicated: a culture of violence (heroic, patriotic, patriarchic, etc.), and a structure that itself is violent by being too repressive, exploitative or alienating; too tight or too loose for the comfort of people.
6 The popular misunderstanding that »violence is in human nature« is rejected. The potential for violence, like love, is in human nature; but circumstances condition the realization of that potential. Violence is not like eating or sexing, found all over the world with slight variations. The big variations in violence are easily explained in terms of culture and structure: cultural and structural violence cause direct violence, using violent actors who revolt against the structures and using the culture to legitimize their use of violence as instruments. Obviously peace must also be built in the culture and in the structure, not only in the »human mind«.
Cultural and structural violence cause direct violence. Direct violence reinforces structural and cultural violence. 7 But the violence triangle has built-in vicious cycles. The visible effects of direct violence are known: the killed, the wounded, the displaced, the material damage, all increasingly hitting the civilians. But the invisible effects may be even more vicious: direct violence reinforces structural and cultural violence. Most important is hatred and the addiction to revenge for the trauma suffered among the losers, and to more victories, glory among the winners. Power also accrues to the men of violence. People feel this, are sceptical about »military solutions«, start searching for »political solutions«. They tend to be structural, like drawing geographical borders. Left out is the cultural aspect, including the possibility that drawing borders in geography may cause and reinforce borders in the mind, which in turn may legitimize direct violence in the future.
8 Geographical fragmentation may substitute the horizontal structural violence of »too distant« for the vertical structural violence of repressing, exploiting and alienating minorities within a nation-state. We are now in a phase of internal wars of secession and revolution. But distance may also lead to a new phase of external wars between newly created states.
9 In addition, with a cease-fire the motivation for serious action often suffers a dramatic decline. The obvious thesis would be: if violent cultures and structures produce direct violence, then such cultures and structures also reproduce direct violence. The cease-fire, then, becomes nothing but a between-wars period; an illusion perpetrated on people with too much faith in their leaders. A feeling of hopelessness follows as people start realizing the vicious circle: violent structures can only be changed by violence; but that violence will lead to new violent structures, and also reinforce a culture of warfare.
10 A way out lies in denying the first horn of the dilemma, the thesis that »the (oppressive, exploitative) structure can only be changed by violence«, itself a part of a culture of violence. If the contradiction is not too sharp, then the politics of democracy is an answer. If the contradiction is very sharp – meaning that the vested interests in the status quo are considerable for some, and so is the suffering in terms of the basic needs of survival, well-being, freedom and identity for the majority or the minority (in the latter case majoritarian democracy may legitimize the status quo) – then the politics of nonviolence, following the lead of Gandhi, may be the answer.
11 A major problem is that (parliamentary) democracy and (extra-parliamentary) nonviolence are parts of the political culture in only some parts of the world, and democracy (which may be violent in its consequences) more so than nonviolence. But both are spreading rapidly, and do not exclude each other.
Virtuous cycle in conflict resolution:

a. Resolution of the underlying, root conflict;

b. reconstruction after the direct violence;

c. reconciliation of the conflict parties.
12 In this complex of vicious cycles we can now identify three problems that can only be solved by turning the vicious cycles into virtuous cycles:
a. The problem of resolution of the underlying, root conflict;
b. the problem of reconstruction after the direct violence:
– rehabilitation after the damage to humans,
– rebuilding after the material damage,
– restructuration after the structural damage,
– reculturation after the cultural damage;
c. the problem of reconciliation of the conflict parties.
13 If you do only one of these three without the other two you will not even get that one. In that sense it is possible to understand Hegel's position as an attempt at arguing reconciliation between master and servant, without resolution; Marx argues resolution without any reconciliation. Reconstruction without removing the causes of violence will lead to its reproduction. Badly needed is theory and practice combining all three problems.
14 But what does »combined« mean? Assuming violence has already happened, it means synchronic rather than diachronic, linear, one-after-the-other. That opens for two models: three separate tracks for each task; one track for all three tasks.
15 The first model refers resolution to jurists-diplomats-politicians, reconstruction to »developers«, and reconciliation to theologians and psychologists. The second model would fuse the tasks into one, based on a fundamental hypothesis: reconciliation can best take place when the parties cooperate in resolution and reconstruction. And this may also be where the road to peace is located, if peace is defined as the capacity to handle conflicts with empathy, nonviolence and creativity. The capacity to handle conflict gets lost in war. It must be rebuilt.

2. Violence and War, Trauma and Guilt

2.1 Reciprocity and Revenge

16 In the beginning was the act, not the word; physical movements were followed by verbal acts. Some acts are beneficial, they enhance others. Other acts are harmful: a punch with an arm, or the extension of an arm, arms, armies; a word that hurts, or the extension of bad-mouthing, propaganda. There are also neutral acts. But when tension and emotions are high, no act is neutral. The act is a transaction, between the two, sender and receiver, or perpetrator and victim if the act is violent, harmful. If the act is beneficial the bond may be friendship, even love. In either case reciprocity is the norm, a well-balanced interaction is required.
17 In Buddhist discourse beneficial acts carry merits to the author, the actor; and harmful acts carry demerits. Both have major consequences for the quality of the rebirth. In Christian discourses good deeds may lead to salvation and evil deeds to damnation; with major implications for the afterlife, and with no appeal. The relation is not only Self-Other, but Self-Self.
The norm of reciprocity demands that the harm is equalized; trauma for trauma (you suffer my suffering), and guilt for guilt (we are equally bad you and I). 18 Both discourses agree on one point: a harmful act implies not only trauma suffered by the victim, but also guilt suffered by the perpetrator. The norm of reciprocity demands that the harm is equalized; trauma for trauma (you suffer my suffering), and guilt for guilt (we are equally bad you and I). X has done horrible violence to Y, the guilt is unbearable. If Y also does something horrible to X the two become equally guilty as when Germans equalized Auschwitz with Dresden-Hamburg after the Second World War. Revenge, retaliation balance both accounts.
19 According to this logic there are two ways of getting equal in a violent exchange: when the perpetrator suffers a trauma of (about) the same magnitude, and when the victim suffers a guilt of (about) the same magnitude. In the act of retaliation the two approaches blend into one, both traumatized, both guilty, no doubt a reason why revenge is so frequent. »You are guilty of hurting me, I am guilty of hurting you, we are equal you and I.« By this logic the traumatized party has an asset: the right to have a trauma inflicted on the perpetrator. And the guilty party has a deficit: »One day he may come back and do to me what I did to him.« The former may lead to trauma-chains through history, vendettas; the latter to a politics of paranoia.
20 Both trauma and guilt may be deposited in the world trauma and guilt banks. The traumatized has a violence credit, and the guilty a violence debit. Both carry interest over time, at the risk of inflation gnawing at the capital. Amortization is long term. This, in turn opens for two new, well-known scenarios:
21 Traumatization done to somebody else. Y may find it too risky to inflict a trauma on X; X may simply be too powerful. How about Z, lower down on the pecking order, and a chain of violence winding downwards through social space, time and space?
22 Traumatization done by somebody else. If X has to be traumatized, there is also the possibility that W, still more powerful, can do so, opening for the possibility of a chain of violence winding upwards in social space, and through time and space. A special case is known as »punishment«, W is the »authority« entitled to inflict pain, trauma, not thereby releasing own guilt since the authority is guilt-free. Others, V and U, may doubt this and do the same unto W. And so on.

2.2 Intention and Irreversibility

23 Let us now introduce two more dimensions of violence: intention and irreversibility. Was the harm, with all its consequences, fully intended? Was the harm irreversible, or can it be undone? The harm is in the eyes (and many other senses) of the beholder, the victim; some harm being unavoidable in normal social interaction. But two traffic rules in social or world (between states or nations) interaction may be useful:
– Never intend to do any harm to others!
– Never do to others what cannot be undone!
As a rule of thumb let us now assume that the guilt is a function of the harm, the intent and the irreversibility:

Guilt = f(Harm x Intent x Irreversibility)
24 The latter may be modified to apply to harmful action only; the problem is difficulty in knowing in advance whether action is harmful or not. There may be unknown consequences, and, more importantly, the rule »do no do to others what you do not want others to do to you« is problematic: tastes may be different.
25 As a rule of thumb let us now assume that the guilt is a function of the harm, the intent and the irreversibility:
Guilt = f(Harm x Intent x Irreversibility)
26 This is what makes lethal violence to persons stand out: it is irreversible. We can create, but not recreate, life, a reason why the killer of a child in some cultures had to give his own child in return (or have it killed). Nonlethal violence also has elements of irreversibility: wounds rarely heal completely, and wounds to the spirit never, as psycho-analysis informs us.
27 Sexualized violence may leave no wound on the body, but irreversible trauma on the spirit. The same applies to all forms of violence to the body as any violence is violation, invasion of the sanctum, the privacy of the body; sexualized violence doubly so. To some extent this also applies to property as body extension, and to burglary as invasion of the family sanctum.
28 The formula above opens for two additional approaches to guilt release: denial of any evil intent, and reversibility through restitution. Western jurisprudence seems to have developed more in the former direction, with pleas of ignorance, chronic and acute insanity in the moment of action, etc. And this in spite of the fact that even if harm wrought by crimes of violence and sexualized violence may be irreversible, the harm wrought by property crimes is not. Money can be earned and paid back, the house can be restored. However, destroyed cultural monuments might not be restorable at all because damage is symbolic, not only material.
The formula above opens for two additional approaches to guilt release: denial of any evil intent, and reversibility through restitution. 29 How does all of this change the moment X and Y are not individuals but collectivities, at war? Actually, everything mentioned above remains valid, with some terminology differences as when »restitution« is referred to as »reparation« after wars.
30 But one difference is significant: a collectivity may be divided over the violent acts, as when both German and French troops mutinied against their generals at the end of World War I. Orchestrated violence, as exercised by armies, requires unconditional obedience, with a very asymmetric chain of command (as opposed to a guerrilla movement). On the other hand there is a difference in risk-taking, higher for the soldier in the combat zone than for the ranking officer in the bunker, not to mention the politicians back home setting the parameters for the war.

3. Mapping the Violence Formation

When only visible effects of violence are considered costs are high, but manageable. The more complete the accounting, the more hesitation there should be before a war is launched, under assumptions of rationality. 31 In our next effort we shall illustrate the violence formation in a more complete map, covering six »spaces«, and both material, visible and nonmaterial, invisible effects:
Space Material, visible
Nonmaterial, invisible
Nature depletion and pollution;
damage to diversity and symbiosis
less respect for non-human nature;
reinforcing »man over nature«
Humans somatic effects:
number killed,
number wounded,
number raped,
number displaced,
number in misery,
widows, orphans,
soldiers unemployed
spiritual effects:
number bereaved,
number traumatized,
general hatred,
general depression,
general apathy,
revenge addiction,
victory addiction
Society the material damage to buildings;
the material damage to infra-structure:
road, rail, mail, telecommunication, electricity, water, health, education
the damage to social structure:
to institutions,
to governance;
the damage to social culture:
to law and order,
to human rights
World the material damage to infra-structure:
breakdown of trade,
international exchange
the damage to world structure;
the damage to world culture
Time delayed violence:
land-mines, un-exploded ordnance;
transmitted violence:
genetic damage to offspring
structure transfer to next generation;
culture transfer to next generation;
kairos points of trauma and glory
Culture irreversible damage to human cultural heritage,
to sacred points in space
violence culture of trauma and glory;
deterioration of conflict-resolving capacity
33 It is telling evidence of the materialism of our culture that the first column is taken so much more seriously than the second. The case is reminiscent of mainstream economic analysis with its focus on material factors only (nature/land, labour and capital) and their effect in producing concrete goods and services, adding up to net and gross national products; leaving out the enormous costs of »modernization« on nature, the human spirit, social and world structure and culture in general.
34 We are up against a general cultural syndrome which makes struggles to have invisible effects taken seriously even more problematic. The syndrome serves a rather obvious function: when only visible effects of violence are considered costs are high, but manageable. The more complete the accounting, the more hesitation there should be before a war is launched, under assumptions of rationality. The same goes for unfettered economic growth, sometimes similar to warfare, but the costs are the effects of structural violence built into the economic and political structure, rather than the effects of direct violence.
35 The left hand column has an air of the obvious except for one more recent entry in the callous »number killed, number wounded, material damage« reports about wars: the number of women raped. The use of women's bodies as battlefields between gangs of men is probably as old as war; the frequent mention in reports these years is also due to the recent rise of feminism. The right hand column is, however, far from trivial.

3.1 Nature

The war is legitimated. The damage may be deplored, not the legitimation. 36 One thing is damage to the eco-system and eco-deterioration; another is reinforcement of the general cultural code of domination over nature, also a part of the rape syndrome. Countless millions watch on TV not only people killed and wounded but also nature destroyed, poisoned, going up in flames. The war is legitimated. The damage may be deplored, not the legitimation.
37 Most damaging is the use of ABC-weapons, capable of also wreaking genetic havoc. But old-fashioned kinetic and incendiary military insults to nature, when done on a large scale (including peacetime manoeuvres) can make civilian insults look innocent. Like mega-violence to humans, e.g., Auschwitz and Hiroshima-Nagasaki, mega-violence to nature makes lower, »conventional« levels of violence look almost innocent.

3.2 Humans

»The war is only sweet to those who never experienced one.«

Erasmus Rotterdamus
38 The number of people bereaved through warfare is unknown. A modern family of two or three generations means the order of 10¹; counting other primary groups (friends, neighbours, colleagues) we come closer to the order of 10². We can safely multiply the number killed during a war by 10, as a low estimate. Added to that comes second order bereavement, knowing somebody bereaved: the condolences, the sharing in the sorrow, bringing us to 10³. Then comes the tertiary order, general national bereavement, as in general when catastrophe strikes, natural or social.
39 As Erasmus Rotterdamus said long time ago: »The war is only sweet to those who never experienced one« – an important point against the naive, self-exculpatory German »War is a law of nature« (»Der Krieg ist ein Naturgesetz«). Because war, like slavery, colonialism and patriarchy, is a social institution, unknown to a number of societies, war is avoidable. If social = structural + cultural then we have already two handles to limit war.
40 Of course, a war culture includes ways of making the bereaved, individual and collective, accept their losses:
– the sacrifice was for a just, even holy, cause usually meaning for God (as instrument for his will, Deus volt), for History (as instrument for the course of History), or for the Nation, as a collectivity defined culturally by the sharing of (kairos) points of glory and trauma, in time and space;
– war is justified by Law as defensive war against aggression;
– victory proves that God, History, Law is on our Nation's side;
– defeat shows that the Nation has betrayed God, History, Law so the sacrifice is only meaningful if the Nation wins next time;
– war is in human nature anyhow, expressing a law of nature.
41 With rationalizations such as these no wonder that major causes and effects of wars are kept in the dark – Law is basically silent about structural and cultural violence. The awareness of these consequences would erode the commitment to God, History, Law and Nation.

3.3 Society

The war may be used by societies as a means for the restitution of community: outgroup aggression, ingroup cohesion. 42 At the social level of the human condition we find as mentioned, structure and culture. What does war do to them? Nobody will dispute that wars bring about cohesion both on the military and the civilian sides because of the single-minded devotion to one cause: winning, or – failing that – to bring the war to an honourable end. How long-lasting is another matter. The war may be used by societies threatened by general atomie, atomization, fragmentation, as a means for the restitution of community – today perhaps particularly pronounced in advanced democracies with eroded traditional sources of cohesion: outgroup aggression, ingroup cohesion.
43 Nor is there any question that wars bring out such positive traits as dedication, sacrifice, solidarity, discipline, team-work, good administration. Those who prove themselves along such lines will demand, and often get, high social positions after the war. But these virtues are embedded in a casing of violence and contempt for life that also may carry over to civilian life. War provides mobility for the downtrodden, a reason why soldiers are often from the underclass of society (including the unemployed and the unemployable). But the result may be a lasting over-employment of the under-qualified.
44 Culturally, war may also cure society of anomie, the absence of compelling norms, substituting war-time norms about God, History, Law, Nation. And that leads to the same question: does this mean that post-war society is organized like an army, responding to military culture? If we assume military culture to be to culture what military music is to music, does that not mean a belligerent cosmovision (Weltanschauung), filled with friend-foe ideas? If so, society never demobilizes but remains militarized, war-prone, in the sense of easily accepting war as an alternative.

3.4 World

The more wars we have had, the more do we see the result as normal. 45 If we now define the world as a community of nations in addition to a community of states, in other words as an inter-nation system in addition to an inter-state system, then the effect of wars becomes even clearer. At the superficial level nations share religion and language. At the deeper level they share chosenness, glory and trauma; the CGT-complex. Wars are help define these kairos points. Contiguity around sacred places, and continuity to pay homage to sacred dates, project the nation into geography and history, as clearly seen by watching the names of metro stations and squares in a country referring to itself as la grande nation. Studies of national holidays and anthems, old conflict symbols, also bring out this clearly.
46 After the guns have become silent the war in the minds is still there: the Dichotomy of nations into two camps, the Manichean view of the camps as good–evil, friend–foe, as the struggle between God and Satan on earth, the Armageddon battle as the defining event; for short, the DMA-complex.
47 The pattern becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The DMA-complex in the minds survives the end of the war. Any sign that the enemy is still alive will trigger ready-made responses; in the absence of such signs other enemies will be found to complete the Gestalt formed by this type of cultural violence. The end of the Cold War is by now a classical case: the evaporation of the »East« as a conflict partner was unexpected; new enemies of the Nation (or super-Nation) are being excavated from History, with the help of God and Law. Wars wreak havoc with structures and cultures. And the more wars we have had, the more do we see the result as normal.

3.5 Time

A kairos of war may have to be confronted with a kairos of peace. Better still is a long, patient khronos of work for peace. 48 As mentioned, a war serves to equip time with the glory and trauma points that in turn serve to define nations. But in addition to that structure and culture also possess certain inertia. They both drift through vast stretches of time, like in a placid river, largely unchanged at the level of deep structure and deep culture, below surface ripples and eddies. There are waterfalls, »revolutions« for structures and »change of ethos« for cultures; but they are far between. And further down the river the water tends to be about the same.
49 We live in an inter-state, inter-nation system, to a large extent shaped by well-defined wars, with poorly defined peace as between-wars periods. Each new war reinforces the image of war as normal and natural, as a layer sedimented on top of the other in the national archaeology. The nations are vehicles for the transmission of structure and culture, including the pattern of war; much like violent behaviour is transmitted in the family. Major vehicles for transmission are the national language and religion, the myths expressed in popular art and the monuments dedicated to the sacred points in time and space. All this is transmitted through family and school. A national army, and arms including nuclear weapons, is telling evidence of the readiness to translate the myths, those public dreams of the collective subconscious, and the well-embedded conflict, into action.
50 The basic point about time is the inertia of structure and culture. Unless something deliberate is done to counteract them, they will continue, unabated. A kairos of war may have to be confronted with a kairos of peace. Better still is a long, patient khronos of work for peace till the vicious cycle is broken by a transition from quantity to quality.

3.6 Culture

Major components of a peace culture:

51 Through each war humanity dies a little. But we are a sturdy species, otherwise we would have extinguished long time ago. There is more to us than the sad story told by focusing on war and violence only. If conflict, in the sense of incompatibility of goals, is ubiquitous, at all levels of human organization, from the intra-personal to the inter-regional, intra-global, inter-stellar for that matter, then we evidently also have some great conflict-transforming capacity.
52 More precisely, humanity must have great reservoirs of the three major components of a peace culture, or cultural peace as opposed to cultural violence: nonviolence, creativity, empathy. Wars and violence are travesties on these virtues and reduce human conflict-transforming capacity.
53 That wars are not nonviolent is more than a tautology. There may be self-imposed restraints in wars, operating on one or more sides, both ad bellum and in bello. But the point about nonviolence is to respond to violence and destruction with love, or less pathetically, with something constructive. Wars rule out that response as treason, and substitute a culture of secrets and deceits, lies and propaganda.
54 There is no denial that wars may be highly creative in their destructiveness. But the bottom line remains destruction, of life and property. Creativity in life-enhancement, in promoting Other, even »them«, is also ruled out as treason.
55 And the same applies to the third virtue: empathy, the capacity to understand Other from the inside, is high treason. In doing so Other's behaviour becomes a consequence of his history. External causes become good reasons. The will to kill »them« may be subverted.

4. On Images of Conflict, Violence, and Peace

4.1 Conflict as Organism

Violence and war are seen as an eruption with a beginning and an end and no other consequences than those that are visible at the end of the violence: the killed, the wounded, the damage. 56 Violence must be seen in a context, and the context chosen is »conflict«. There are many misunderstandings and unfortunate conceptions of conflict, that great Creator and great Destroyer.
57 A common discourse about conflict, in the media, among researchers and people in general, conceives of conflict as an organism with birth, growth to a turning point, and then a decline, till in the end the conflict dies out. That discourse has quantitative time, khronos, on the horizontal axis and on the vertical axis the level of direct violence, from the first sign of »trouble« to »cease-fire«, the kairos points of time, in the qualitative sense. The conflict may have »burnt out«, the parties may coincide in their prognosis about the outcome and find it useless to continue destroying each other, or a third party has intervened, forcing them to stop, or making them agree to stop. The end is then often called »peace«, a khronos flow.
58 A list of major shortcomings of this discourse includes:
– The impression is given that violence and war arise out of nothing, ex nihilo; compatible with the idea of evil at work.
– The impression is given that violence and war have their origin at precise space and time points, and with the first violent act.
– The impression is given that violence and war end with no after-effects, compatible with ideas of »conflict termination«.
– The impression is given of a single-peak conflict life-cycle, and not of long periods of latency, multiple peaks etc.
– A point not to be underestimated: violence and war are seen as a variable, peace only as a point, as zero violence or war.
59 Thus, violence and war are seen as an eruption with a beginning and an end and no other consequences than those that are visible at the end of the violence: the killed, the wounded, the damage. Of course, nobody is quite that naive; a considerable literature exists about »causes of war« and the »aftermath«. But this image counteracts both prevention and aftermath care.

4.2 Violence as Disease

Key causes may be far away from the symptoms. 60 Before an alternative image is developed, let us compare violence to disease, for instance to tuberculosis, TBC. A fruitful way of conceiving of any human pathology is in terms of interplay between exposure and resistance; in casu between micro-organisms operating under the right conditions (for them) of temperature and humidity, and the level of immunity of the body, which in turn has to do with the immune system, nutrition and living standard, mind and spirit. This all plays together holistically and synergistically. Of course some generalities can be identified, but they will never completely cover any individual case, leaving room for empathy with the individual patient and his total environment and history, combining the generalizing and the individualizing.
61 More particularly, studies show how TBC rates decreased more because of improved living standards (nutrition, housing, clothing) than because of artificial strengthening of immune systems through inoculation, and early diagnosis (X-ray). A disease cannot be detached from patient and context as an abstract entity with a life-cycle of its own, calling for generalized prevention, therapy and rehabilitation. Key aspects of exposure and resistance may be in the context in a broad sense, not in the disease-patient interface. Causal cycles pass body-mind-spirit, not only the body. And key causes may be far away from the symptoms. Include the full context, and the cycles may even be global (AIDS), and macro-historical (flu).

4.3 Conflict Formation and Conflict History

Violence cannot be detached from its space-time context. 62 Nor can violence be detached from its space-time context. The context in space is the conflict formation, including all parties involved, proximate and distant, with all goals relevant for the conflict, consciously held values as well as positional interests. A first mistake in conflict practice is to include only parties in a limited violence area; confusing symptoms with causes, like a physician referring to a swollen ankle as an »ankle disease«, not as a possible heart disorder symptom. Or to hunger as »insufficient food intake«, not as a social problem. Remote, back-stage, parties may be crucial.
63 The context in time is the conflict history, including the history of the future. A second mistake made in conflict practice is to equip conflict history with beginning and end, coinciding with a limited violence interval, from the first eruption of violence till the cease-fire confused with peace.
64 A violence area-interval is then detached from formation and history and reified as in the »Manchurian Incident«, the »Gulf War«, the »Yugoslav debacle«, »Rwanda«, and tabulated in research long on data and short on understanding.
65 One reason for this is no doubt epistemological, rooted in empiricism and beyond that in behaviourism: violence is behaviour and can be observed; conflict is more abstract. Another is political: violence may escalate not only inside but also »out of area-interval« and become dangerous to others by contagion, like an epidemic disease. Hence the focus on proven carriers of the germs of disease and violence, »terrorists«, to be eradicated, like germs. Causal cycles outside area-interval might include very powerful actors who prefer to remain unnamed and unmentioned. Mainstream media tend to fall into all these traps.

4.4 An Alternative Image of Violence

Johan Galtung:
»Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict Resolution:
An Introduction«.
In: Transcend Articles Database.
external linkArticle
66 What kind of discourse would we recommend to accommodate these considerations, focusing not only on the aetiology of a given outbreak of violence and war and on meaningful intervention, but also on the aftermath? Here is one tentative answer:
67 a. Direct (overt) violence is seen as having a pre-, side-, and after-history, in unbounded areas and intervals.
68 b. These histories can be traced in six spaces:
– Nature: as ecological deterioration – ecological improvement;
– Human (body, mind, spirit): as traumas-hatred – as glory-love;
– Social: as deepening of conflict – as healing of conflict;
– World: as deepening of conflict – as healing of conflict;
– Time: as the kairos of trauma or glory – as the khronos of peace;
– Culture: as deposits of trauma or glory – as deposits of peace.
69 c. These six spaces can be summarized into three:
– direct violence – peace: to nature and human body-mind-spirit;
– structural violence – structural peace: in social and world spaces, as:
· vertical structural violence: repression and exploitation;
· horizontal structural violence: parties too close – too remote;
· structural peace: freedom and equity, adequate distance;
– cultural violence – cultural peace: legitimizing – delegitimizing violence.
70 Time enters as a medium in which this all unfolds. But whereas direct violence is usually seen as a process with kairos points, structural and cultural violence, and peace, are more like step functions at those kairos points. There is an event that brings about a lower or higher level, after which the level is more permanent. As the permanent is difficult to see (there is no contrast), and the event is difficult to catch (it is too sudden), both phenomena easily pass unregistered. Violence is easier to understand and conveniently confused with conflict.
71 How would we now depict a conflict process? There is no denial that the violent aspect of conflict is a function of time like an organism with birth, maturity and death, even if multi-peaked rather than single-peaked violence processes may be more realistic (as for diseases). But there are three problems:
72 This represents violence as a variable and the absence of violence as a point, as zero violence, as »cease-fire«. But peace should also be seen as a variable, in terms of more peace or less peace, reflected among other places in the level of positive, cooperative interaction and the level of friendship.
73 Only one type of violence is included: direct violence; not the underlying structural and cultural violence.
74 Third, and this is more psychological than logical: »up« and »down« have evaluative connotations, so why not have peace on the positive side of the Y-axis, and violence on the negative? With three types of violence and peace this means three Y-axes.
Johan Galtung:
»Cultural Peace:
Some Characteristics«.
In: Transcend Articles Database.
external linkArticle
75 Thus, a more adequate conflict analysis would start with a social formation, and then assess the levels of structural and cultural violence or peace. If positive and high, don't worry. But if both are low we have an early, very early, warning. Both have considerable inertia, being permanent for long intervals of time, like the level of repression and exploitation of indigenous people combined with Western and Christian contempt for primitives-pagans, and machismo interpreting direct violence as catharsis.
76 Structural, like direct, violence is relational, not only relative. Not only »Y was killed by a bullet, X was not«, but »Y was killed by a bullet fired by X«. Not only inequality, but inequity: not »Y is low on well-being and human rights« and »X is high on both«, but »X is high on both, because Y is low«.
77 Structural and cultural peace correspond not only to immunity in disease analysis, but to level of health in general. This resistance may not only be disturbingly low but negative, meaning there is structural and cultural violence operating.
78 The exposure, like the shot in Sarajevo, is often seen as an event although the famous drop that leads to an overflow may be a better image. A final provocation, an additional act, with repression, misery, hunger and alienation at an intolerable level. The violence may be expressive of despair and frustration rather than a calculated, instrumental act for basic change. But it will probably provoke a counter-violence, and the process unfolds, downward in this image, until the curve turns upward, less violence, passing zero = cease-fire, and then into peace.
79 But then comes the basic point: after the cease-fire the situation may be worse than before the violence erupted. The direct violence may be the lesser evil, at least in the longer term, than the structural and cultural damage wrought. It is like the way being hospitalized is seen in some societies: like a market. The patient offers one disease and gets two or three iatrogenic diseases in return, one surgical error, one infection; and then »hospitalitis« if only in the form of long-lasting back-sores.
80 Direct violence may have come to a celebrated end. The direct suffering is over, but the structural and cultural violence have increased in the process. Violence therapy has to learn from disease therapy: include prevention – build cultural and structural peace – and include rehabilitation, meaning build cultural and structural peace again. And again. And again.
polylog. Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 5 (2004).
Online: http://them.polylog.org/5/fgj-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
© 2004 Author & polylog e.V.


This text is the first part of a prior programmatic article, After Violence: 3R, Reconstruction, Reconciliation, Resolution. Coping With Visible and Invisible Effects of War and Violence, available online at the website of Transcend: Peace and Development Network:
http://www.transcend.org/TRRECBAS.HTM go back


Johan Galtung (*1930 in Oslo, Norway) is one of the founders of peace and conflict research. He holds advanced degrees in both mathematics and sociology. In 1959 he established the first peace research institute, the International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and served as its director for ten years. In 1964 he founded the Journal of Peace Research. He was Professor of Conflict and Peace Research at the University of Oslo from 1969 to 1977. He collaborated widely with numerous institutions of the United Nations, and has served as a visiting professor on five continents, including work in Chile, at the UN University in Geneva, in the United States, in Japan, China, India and Malaysia. Galtung is currently Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Hawaii, director of Transcend: A Peace and Development Network and rector of the Transcend Peace University. In 1987 he was awarded with the Alternative Nobel Peace Price (Right Livelihood Award). His prodigious output includes 50 books and more than 1000 published articles. He has had an immense impact on peace research as a thinker, writer, lecturer, consultant, and activist.
Prof. Dr. Johan Galtung
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