President, Soka Gakkai
January 24, 2003
Thursday, January 9, 2003
SGI President Ikeda's Essay
LIFE IS WONDERFUL
- Dr. Jan Øberg, Director of the
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
"We live in crazy times, we are crazy," said a young
Muslim mother in Sarajevo.(1) Ten million land mines were
planted in the former Yugoslavia. Some of them were
designed to resemble chocolate eggs or ice creams. Why?
To tempt children to pick them up. One little girl was
instantly killed by a bomb planted in a teddy bear.
Who deployed such weapons? Who built them? Who
profited by selling them? Why can't we stop them? What
can we do?
Interview after Interview
According to Scandinavian peace researcher Dr. Jan
Øberg, cofounder and director of the Transnational
Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF), the
important thing is not to leave the area of conflict, but
to stick close to the ground and listen to the voices of
ordinary citizens, and to then make those voices heard
around the world. This is the only way, he is firmly
convinced, that peace can be achieved.
Dr. Øberg and his colleagues carried out
extensive surveys throughout the war-torn former
Yugoslavia, where violence first erupted in 1991. When I
met him in December 1995, he had been there more than 20
times and interviewed some 1,200 people. A peace
researcher who does not get involved at the scene of
conflict resolution is like a doctor, he said, who treats
patients without examining them.
This is not only true of peace researchers. The same
applies to decision makers. Dr. Øberg points out
that we don't allow those who have not received stringent
medical training to perform surgery, yet without any
training at all, politicians, presidents, and diplomats
carry out "surgery" in troubled regions of the world.
It's no wonder that the patient called "Yugoslavia" died.
The international community, he says, did many things in
response to the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, but
their actions reminded Dr. Øberg of a doctor who,
without examining the cause of the patient's illness,
erroneously amputates a perfectly healthy leg.
Nichiren Daishonin compared the methods for attaining
peace to the art of medicine, severely warning those in
power that the wrong treatment would never bring peace.
"If you try to treat someone's illness without knowing
its cause," he declared, "you will only make the person
sicker than before" (WND, 774). Similarly, Dr.
Øberg advocates "conflict medicine" and "conflict
doctors" to treat the sickness of conflict. Namely,
"scientists" and "technicians" who work for the "health"
of humanity-in other words, for peace and
The first step is proper diagnosis. Dr. Øberg
and his team talked with a wide range of people, from
heads of state to refugees. They spoke with mothers who
had lost their sons to war, as well as with soldiers,
journalists, farmers, clergy, teachers, civil servants,
and shop owners. The more they listened to the voices of
the people, the clearer it became that the message being
broadcast around the world was incredibly distorted.
One example was the lie that the conflict in the
former Yugoslavia was the result of long-standing hatred
among the region's various ethnic groups. One young woman
they spoke to in Zagreb said:
Up till just a couple of months ago, I hardly
knew who of my friends were Serbs and who were Croats.
But that has changed. Now there are companies who ask
their employees to write their names on lists on which
you must indicate your "nationality." During the
recent census, the citizens of Croatia were asked to
mention whether they were Croats or belonged to the
Serbians or other minorities. In situations like that
I come to think of what I have heard about the ways
Jews were treated in the Third "Reich" under Hitler.
Before the outbreak of violence, members of different
ethnic groups coexisted peacefully within the same
communities and workplaces, and also intermarried.
However, there emerged political leaders who incited
nationalistic fervor, deliberately stressing ethnic
consciousness and dividing the population on ethnic
An 11-year-old girl in Sarajevo saw through this
Among my girlfriends, among our friends, in
our family, there are Serbs and Croats, and Muslims.
It's a mixed group and I never knew who was a Serb, a
Croat, or a Muslim. Now politics has started meddling
around. It has put an "S" on Serbs, an "M" on Muslims,
and a "C" on Croats, it wants to separate them. . . .
Why is politics making us unhappy, separating us, when
we ourselves know who is good and who isn't? We mix
with the good, not with the bad. And among the good
there are Serbs and Croats and Muslims, just as there
are among the bad. I simply don't understand it. Of
course, I'm "young," and politics are conducted by
"grown-ups." But I think we "young" would do it
better. We certainly wouldn't have chosen war. (3)
But the adults did choose war. Alik, a 13-year-old
The soldiers ordered us out of our house and
then burned it down. After that, they took us to the
train, where they ordered all the men to lie down on
the ground. From the group, they chose the ones they
were going to kill. They picked my uncle and a
neighbor! Then they machine-gunned them to death. (4)
When someone is reported killed by the Serbs, all
Serbs are denounced. In this way, ethnic hatred is
manufactured. A journalist commented: "Ethnic tensions
and conflicts do not arise spontaneously; they are
incited, aggravated, and organized until they take the
form of conflict." (5)
While the key representatives of each of the distinct
ethnic groups in a conflict are invited to participate in
peace negotiations, there are no representatives invited
from the vast majority of ordinary citizens who wish to
live harmoniously regardless of ethnicity. How can we
expect negotiations to be fruitful when the only
participants are politicians who advocate ethnic
Dr. Øberg told me that when one is actually at
the scene of the conflict, it is practically useless to
attempt to understand the reality of the situation by
either categorizing it as an ethnic conflict or trying to
explain its causes from that perspective. Though he spoke
in a gentle tone, his words were scathing and filled with
quiet anger. According to his analysis, the conflict in
the former Yugoslavia was neither simply an ethnic or
religious conflict nor was it the inevitable result of
the collapse of communism in that country. Dr.
Øberg explained that the crisis of the breakup of
the Yugoslav socialist republic, occurring amidst
deteriorating economic conditions, was exploited by the
world's most powerful countries, which wished to insure
that the post-Cold War world order would be restructured
in a way favorable to their own interests. This resulted
in the broadening of the scope of the tragedy. In
addition, he said, local political leaders, exploiting
nationalism for their own ends, fanned nationalist
sentiments and triggered ethnic clashes.
Oversimplification Is Dangerous
The former Yugoslavia has been described as a nation
with seven borders, six republics, five ethnic groups,
four languages, three religions, two alphabets, and one
name. According to Dr. Øberg, what is called "the
conflict in the former Yugoslavia" is actually at least
30 different conflicts. The causes and histories of these
disputes are extremely complex and intricately
Nevertheless, the media and decision makers showed a
strong tendency to oversimplify the situation. Their most
dangerous oversimplification was viewing the conflict in
stark, black and white, Manichean terms. Consequently,
the international community, which should function as a
fair and impartial mediator, ended up reducing the civil
war in the former Yugoslavia to a struggle between good
Almost without exception, the Serbs were portrayed as
"evil," while the other groups were depicted as the
victims. This was the story and image that was broadcast
around the world. Once this story was established, any
facts that didn't fit were discarded, and those that did
fit were played up and disseminated widely. Though brutal
massacres were taking place on all sides, only those
carried out by the Serbs were extensively reported. As
one researcher noted: "The mass media aren't really
interested in the truth. They only want to confirm their
preconceived notions. As a result, they don't look at
realties that don't fit their beliefs. That is
Nor was this an accident. It has been pointed out that
in fact a public relations firm hired by one of the
groups fighting against the Serbs played an active role
in creating this slant. (7) Serbia, regarded as a pariah
by the international community, felt that the whole world
was against it. Naturally, objective and fruitful peace
negotiations were impossible, and the struggle dragged
You cannot conduct impartial mediation, Dr.
Øberg points out, while strongly criticizing one
side. There can be no peace while someone is being
Oversimplification of the conflict, with its
vilification of one side, easily opened the way for a
scenario of military intervention to "punish" evil. In
short, one side was demonized precisely in order to
justify the use of military force.
Over 70 years ago, British diplomat Lord Arthur
Ponsonby (1871-1946) wrote in his book Falsehood in
Wartime about the perennial propaganda claims of
wartime leaders. Belgian historian Anne Morelli has
recently shed fresh light on Ponsonby's analysis,
distilling his findings on wartime propaganda into 10
principles as follows:
1. We do not want war;
2. The other side is solely responsible for the
3. The enemy has the face of the devil;
4. It is a noble cause that we defend and not
5. The enemy commits atrocities knowingly; if we
make unfortunate mistakes, it is involuntary;
6. The enemy uses unauthorized weapons;
7. We suffer very few losses, while the losses of
the enemy are enormous;
8. Artists and intellectuals support our cause;
9. Our cause has a sacred nature;
10. Those who question our statements are traitors.
Lies and prejudices promote war, and war in turn
promotes lies and prejudices.
Dr. Øberg warns that in many countries the
media is actually more of a governmental organization
than a nongovernmental one. The political decisions and
actions taken regarding the former Yugoslavia, he notes,
were not based on reality but on reality as presented by
the media. What is the value of a "realistic" strategy
for achieving peace when it is premised on a distorted
vision of reality?
Violence Is the Recourse of Cowards
Sandra, a 10-year-old girl from Vukovar, recalls:
"There are so many people who did not ask for this war,
or for the black earth that is now over them. Among them
are my friends." (9)
Though we can learn to treat diseases, we will never
be able to eliminate disease itself. Conflict will never
disappear entirely from human society, either. Our choice
is whether to respond effectively or ineffectively to
such problems when they arise. If we respond effectively,
the problem (the illness) can be a springboard for
progress and creativity, making us stronger and
healthier. Buddhism also teaches of the oneness of health
On the other hand, if we fail to diagnose and treat
the problem correctly, says Dr. Øberg, conflict
will escalate into violence and war. As a peace
researcher, he has made the following observations:
"War is a sign of failure. It means that we were
unable to properly deal with the conflict that led to
"Violence is born from the frustration of not being
able to effectively resolve the conflict."
"The cowardly and intolerant conclude that armed force
is the only option available. In contrast, nonviolence is
a constructive belief that other options exist."
"You cannot cure the sick by attacking and punishing
them; likewise, conflict cannot be resolved through
force, which only aggravates the problem and makes
finding a viable long-term solution more difficult."
"Violence does something that can never be repaired;
moreover, killing can never be undone."
The bombing of Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia also
killed multitudes and turned hundreds of thousands of
innocent people into refugees. While some argue in
defense that the world could not stand by idly and let
the conflict rage on, this stance has been rebutted by
Prof. Noam Chomsky: "Suppose you see a crime in the
streets, and feel that you can't just stand by silently,
so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone
involved: criminal, victim, bystanders. Are we to
understand that to be the rational and moral response?"
Nor can we forget that there were arms dealers and
others who profited from the war.
Establish a Culture of Peace
War and peace. These are not distant occurrences; they
are here with us now.
A war mentality and a culture of war are evident when,
without a serious attempt to listen to and unravel the
grievances of both sides, conflicts around the world are
"solved" by using military force to punish "the bad guys"
and eliminate the problem. This thinking is entrenched
not only in global politics but also very close to home.
That is why the basis for establishing peace lies in
widely fostering in all areas of society a fundamental
commitment to resolving conflicts through nonviolent
means, and also in education that instills such a culture
of peace from childhood.
An educational group in the United States is making an
effort to teach children about nonviolence from the
preschool level. For example, a frequently recurring
conflict at a certain day care center involves cleanup.
In order to have the children reflect on this situation,
the teachers came up with a puppet show.
The scene opens with three puppets, representing the
children, playing with toys. A grown-up puppet enters and
says that after five minutes they have to clean up. The
three children puppets complain and offer various
excuses: "I'm too tired," "I don't feel well," "My leg
hurts," "I didn't play with that toy," "I need to go to
The children watching the puppet show burst out
laughing in recognition of their own daily behavior acted
out by the puppets.
Then the teachers stopped the show and asked the
children how the puppets were going to solve the problem.
Hearing that the teachers needed some ideas about what to
do next in the show, the children began to offer
solutions. Here's what the teachers reported:
1) "Teachers should hit the kids for not
cleaning up." [Violence as a solution.] We
talked about this idea and decided that no one likes
to be hit.
2) "Teachers should scream at the kids."
[Punishment and sanctions.]
People concluded that no one likes to be screamed
3) "No one should clean up. Just leave all the
stuff out." [Ignoring and evading the
problem.] We talked about that and concluded that
sometimes that can work but that things start getting
in the way, getting lost, and getting broken.
4) Finally, the solution came. "They should all
clean up together, grown-ups and children." We talked
about this. "Do we like to clean up?" No. Everybody
agreed it was no fun. "Why do it, then?" The
discussion continued. (11)
After the discussion, the teachers performed the
second half of the play based on the children's solution.
Then the children were allowed to play with the puppets
and do their own shows. From that time, their cleanup
problems were cut in half, the teachers said.
I cannot be the only one who thinks that world leaders
have something to learn from this episode.
Peace through Peaceful Means
Dr. Øberg says that when discussing peace, the
most frequently overlooked aspect is the human
How come we so often talk about restoring
peace after wars' hurt and harm without paying
attention to the human aspects of conflicts in general
and that of forgiveness and reconciliation in
particular? Take a look at Bosnia and Croatia since
1995, look at Kosovo now, or Somalia, or . . . . Have
people really held out their arms or said "I forgive
you"? Come together in trust? Have they learnt how to
deal with the past, not in order to forget it or blame
each other, but to acknowledge what happened and find
ways to avoid it ever happening again? Can that even
be said about South Africa? (12)
And what about Japan? Have we rectified the mistakes
of our past?
Dr. Øberg comments further:
It is easy to repair houses and
infrastructure, it's easy to throw money around and
talk about human rights.
But what if people deep down keep on hating each
other? Will they ever be happy and at peace with
themselves? Will their children? What kind of society
will it be if we cannot also, so to speak, repair
souls and help create tolerance, coexistence, even
cooperation and love?
We need to make forgiveness and reconciliation a
central objective. (13)
One cannot produce water from fire. Peace can only be
obtained through peaceful means.
Dr. Øberg, together with his wife Dr. Christina
Spännar and other peace researchers, has conducted
conflict study sessions throughout the former Yugoslavia,
with participants who had actually experienced the
horrors of the war. When they arrived at the sessions,
these participants found before their eyes people from
the "enemy" ethnic group-"These people killed my husband,
they stole my child!" However, Dr. Øberg's aim was
for the participants to speak to each other not as
representatives of one ethnic group or another but as
individual human beings.
One of the sessions was attended by young Serbian and
Croatian children, members of ethnic groups that had
become "mortal enemies." The atmosphere was like ice. Dr.
Øberg asked each person to tell their story - what
had actually happened to them - under the condition that
they stick to the facts of their own personal experience
and avoid placing blame. It was their first opportunity
to talk face-to-face with "the enemy."
What came out finally, in halting speech, was their
enormous pain. Talking and listening, they wept. And then
they realized that they had all suffered alike, they were
all victims of the same tragic errors. Eventually, they
moved from weeping together to laughing together. Some
even became friends, and others began working together on
Dr. Øberg called this "one of the most moving
experiences in my life."
"Why not have truth and reconciliation committees
operating before war?" he asks. (14) "We could learn to
fight war and violence as such, not each other." (15) We
support Dr. Øberg's passionate cry. We support it
with our entire beings. This is true justice!
Dr. Jan Øberg was born in Denmark in 1951.
The peace and future researcher holds a PhD in sociology.
He has served as the director of the Lund University
Peace Research Institute, and also as secretary-general
of the Danish Peace Foundation. In 1986, he and his wife
Dr. Christina Spännar founded the Transnational
Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF). In
addition to his role as TFF director, Dr. Øberg
also serves as the foundation's chairman of the board.
The official home page of TFF can be found at
(Translated from the November 10, 2002 issue of the
Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai daily
1. Peter Jarman and Jan Øberg, Learning
Conflict and Teaching Peace in Former Yugoslavia: A
Course Report (Lund, Sweden: Transnational Foundation
for Peace and Future Research, 1998), p. 46.
2. Marta Henricson-Cullberg, Carl-Ulrik Schierup,
Sören Sommelius, and Jan Øberg, After
Yugoslavia, What?-Report by a Conflict-Mitigation Mission
to Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia, September 1991
(Lund, Sweden: Transnational Foundation for Peace and
Future Research, 1991), p. 23.
3. Zlata Filipoviç, Zlata's Diary: A Child's
Life in Sarajevo, translated by Christina
Pribichevich-Zoriç (New York: Viking, 1994), pp.
4. UNICEF, I Dream of Peace (New York:
HarperCollins, 1994) p. 59.
5. Translated from Japanese. Zen Chida, Naze Senso
wa Owaranai ka (Why Is There No End to War?) (Tokyo:
Misuzu Shobo, 2002).
6. Translated from Japanese. Masayuki Iwata,
Yugosurabia Taminzoku Senso no Joho-zo (The
Reporting on the Ethnic Conflict in Yugoslavia) (Tokyo:
Ochanomizu Shobo, 1999), p. 154.
7. Toru Takagi, Document: Senso Kokoku
Dairiten-Joho Sosa to Bosunia Funso (Document: The
War Advertising Agency-Information Manipulation in the
Bosnian Conflict) (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002).
8. Translated from French. Anne Morelli, Principes
élémentaires de propagande de guerre
(Elementary Principles of War Propaganda) (Brussels:
Éditions Labor, 2001).
9. I Dream of Peace, p. 56.
10. Noam Chomsky, The New Military Humanism:
Lessons from Kosovo (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage
Press, 1999), p. 156.
11. A Manual on Nonviolence and Children,
complied and edited by Stephanie Judson (Philadelphia:
New Society Publishers, 1984), p. 43.
12. Jan Øberg, Preventing Peace: Sixty
Examples of Conflict Mismanagement in Former Yugoslavia
Since 1991 (Lund, Sweden: Transnational Foundation
for Peace and Future Research, 1999), p. 54.
14. Jan Øberg, The World Needs
Reconciliation and Forgiveness Centres (Lund, Sweden:
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research,
1999), p. 21.
15. Ibid., p. 11.
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