PEACE

On December 30, 1990, Dr. Epstein published an article in The Washington Post entitled "How About One Day of Peace?," calling for a worldwide armistice on January 1, 2000, the first day of the new millenium. The article was soon reprinted in the International Herald Tribune and other periodicals, including both The Egyptian Gazette and The Jerusalem Post—perhaps an unprecedented occurrence. Dr. Epstein's article and subsequent proposals made by others led to efforts to achieve the millenium-day armistice by more than 1,000 organizations and many prominent individuals, including the United Nations, the U.S. Congress, and Pope John Paul II.

Dr. Epstein continued to be an advocate for peace in editorials he published in Psychology Today during the years he served as editor-in-chief. To view his 2001 article about the 9/11 attack, "Day of Tragedy, Day of Growth," click here. To view his 2003 article, "Of Ants and Men: The Lust for War," click here. To view the original Washington Post article, click here. The full text appears below.

Dr. Epstein has also advanced peace efforts through his founding of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in 1981. At the time of his retirement as Executive Director in 1990, more than 130 distinguished individuals in 18 countries served on Center boards. The Center's mission is to advance the behavioral sciences and their humane applications to human affairs. Current Center activities are reported at http://behavior.org.


How About One Day of Peace?

Robert Epstein

There are nearly 30 million soldiers in the world, and the United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 of them are children. What's more, many are fighting and dying every day, even when the headlines fail to remind us. A recent yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute documents 32 major armed conflicts during 1989 alone, with several brutal new wars too new to make the list. In all, more than 20 million people—most of them civilians—have died in armed conflicts around the world since 1945, with no sign of real change.

Total disarmament may be too much to ask for. Self-interest and fear may prevent it forever. Persuasive people will argue the need for aggression or defense or deterrence, and enough people will be persuaded to cause trouble. Remember, too, that war is one of the biggest, most successful businesses in the world, to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars in expenditures each year.

But how about a day, just a single day of peace? Could we not at least try that? No monarchs would fall, no one's borders would be threatened, no one would lose a sale or a job—not in just a day.

January 1st of the year 2000 marks the beginning of a new year, a new decade, a new century, and a new millennium.1 It is only the second such day in the calendar of human history, and it is within reach, so near we can almost touch it. Most of the people alive today—and the vast majority of all of the children alive today—will witness this extraordinary day.

Why not begin the next thousand years with a day of peace on earth?

For much of the world, the day will be a holiday, anyway. Even if we did no special planning, fighting would slack off. Why not make the moratorium complete?

It will take a great deal of work by many political, religious, and military leaders, many governments, many service organizations, and many private citizens around the world to engineer a global truce, but it's well within the realm of the sober realities under which we live.

How do we convince all of the relevant parties to lay down their arms, and how can we prevent some trigger-happy bully from ruining the day? Should we pay people off who cannot otherwise be persuaded? Should we call out the hit squads? Should we trade wheat —or perhaps even weapons—for cease-fires? Some planning and hard work will yield reasonable answers to such questions. We have nearly a decade. We can do it in that time. It's a reachable goal.

The behavioral sciences tell us that a little goal setting can go a long way. If we work together to create this remarkable day, we will behave better toward each other along the way. We will long for this day and envision this day, and we will be better for it.

If we achieve this day of peace, it will be remembered for all time by all humanity. It will tell us that the cycle of war can be broken, that peace is truly within our grasp, that humanity, with all its flaws and in all its diversity, is good.

And maybe—just maybe—this day without war, this single day of perfect peace, will last another day.

Note

1. Calendar purists may argue for January 1, 2001.

Originally published in The Washington Post, December 30, 1990. ©1990, Dr. Robert Epstein. The article also appears in Dr. Epstein's book, Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays, under the title "A Day of Peace on Earth."