Building peace in the minds of men and women

UNESCO through the looking-glass: comic-strip special

UNESCO was created in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War in an endeavour to fulfil one of humanity's wildest dreams. After six years of unspeakable suffering, destruction and sacrifice, men and women everywhere wished above ait else to prevent the outbreak of a third global conflict and to do so by laying the foundations of a general and lasting peace.

The founding fathers of UNESCO, whose number included eminent writers and great poets, as well as poiiticians, came to a conclusion of fundamental importance, which was written into the Constitution of the new organization and which they expressed in these words :"... since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed."

This succinct formula admirably sums up humanity's long experience of war and peace. Study of the history of the great conflicts of the past-especially those of the recent past-reveals that each of them was preceded by a period of psychological preparation and mental mobilization during which armies were conditioned to believe that they were fighting a necessary, just and even holy war.

How can masses of men be conditioned to want to kill other masses of men in the belief that it is their duty to do so? The answer is that each side to the conflict must believe that the other is irremediably hostile and that the only alternatives are to kill or be killed. When we are in such a situation those on the opposite side to our own cease to be women and men like ourselves who love, suffer and hope; they become the anonymous members of a hated and despised group. On no account should we try to get to know them, to understand their motives or their values: we must be completely ignorant of what makes them human beings like ourselves; they must be lumped together as part of an abstraction-the enemy.

The mission entrusted to UNESCO by the international community is, in a nutshell, to destroy these patterns of thought and behaviour, to prevent ignorance, misunderstanding and contempt from becoming weapons of war and above ail to gradually and patiently replace them with mutual understanding and co-operation. UNESCO's role is to help peoples to value and respect each other through fuller knowledge of their respective customs, aspirations and projects-all this in the perspective of constantly strengthening respect for"justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world.."

How has UNESCO acquitted itself in its fifty years of existence? While due weight must naturally be given to the judgment of specialists in UNESCO's fields of competence and to the beneficiaries of its many activities, I feel it is no less important to give a hearing to creative artists with a free hand to express their opinions and judgments. The artists who have contributed to this issue of the UNESCO Courier were all asked the question: what does UNESCO's 50th anniversary mean to you? Their replies are necessarily a series of subjective impressions rather than an objective evaluation. The overall picture they present, a blend of approval and criticism, is in its way a verdict on UNESCO. We hope that it will encourage readers in their turn to judge for themselves.

Discover this issue. Download the PDF. 


July-August 1996