Anisuzzaman is a Professor at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has written numerous works of literary criticism and research methodology in Bangla and English. He has received Bangla Academy Award, Ekushe Padak and Ananda Puraskar.

Voices Endorsing the
Culture of Peace

Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.

—UNESCO Constitution


Man doesn’t learn lessons from history. We don’t seem to have learnt much from the devastations of two world wars that claimed at least 60 million lives – not to mention the injured and maimed, the widows left to raise their families on nothing, or the women who had to sell their bodies for survival. In 1964, I came to know a young German student at the University of Chicago, who told me that he could never forgive Hitler for what the Fuhrer had done to his family. In fact, no member of the family was taken to gas chambers or concentration camps, for they were not Jewish. On the contrary, the father was a member of Hitler’s army. At the end of the war, the father disappeared while the mother had to flee with the children to safety. For years they had no means to know if the father was alive until one day the old couple met quite accidentally and he was brought home. The son found it very difficult to accept a stranger as his father and they lived uneasily ever after. Million others must have tales of human misery of one kind or the other to tell.


Still, the second half of the century saw a succession of wars from Korea and Vietnam to Somalia and Egypt, from Falkland Islands to Gulf. The Palestinian issue has involved Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and, of course, the PLO in a protracted conflict while India and Pakistan have fought more than once over Kashmir. And the twenty-first century has dawned with the Afghan war. All these have belied our hopes that, with the end of cold war, hostilities among nations would cease. On the contrary, the Gulf war and the Afghan war have shown that the lone superpower has now got the liberty to chastise other nations at will.


Many people, who are entitled to be heard on the matter, have, time and again, explained how mankind could immensely benefit should we agree to divert part of our defence expenditures to social sectors. This advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The armament industry must be allowed to carry on : therefore, we need wars as much as the wars treat human beings and their achievements as cannon-fodders.

Our frontiers of knowledge have expanded over time. Technological advancement has also led to production of more and more sophisticated lethal weapons. Ethical issues do not come in here. Man’s tyranny over man and nature thus continues unabated, as if invoking the principle of the survival of the fittest. This applies not only in warfare but also in a situation where hostilities are not apparent.


Here one may be reminded of the famous saying of John F. Kennedy: ‘The mere absence of war is not peace.’ We must take notice not only of the conflicts between nations, but also of those within a given nation. Economic disparity and deprivation, intolerance, and a sense of superiority have been some of the causes of wars and internal conflicts. Rulers of nations have been able to end wars temporarily, but not root out the origins of antagonism. This is where the creative persons—the writers and the artists—never considered as practical men and women—come in to proclaim with John Donne: ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’


A creative person can’t say otherwise. He has infinite sympathy for man and nature, yearning for beauty, and abhorrence for destruction. In the words of Hasan Hafizur Rahman (1932-83) :

Sorrow, I will not say farewell to you.
Grief, suffering, old age, death, cruel separation,
No, I will not ask any of you either
To go away.
Only killing, you be gone!
And take away with you the bitter poison from the air.

Many a happy home has been destroyed;