Kenneth Boulding Interview: Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

National Security through Stable Peace: Conversation with Kenneth Boulding, University Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Colorado; March 16, 1987, by Harry Kreisler.

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The Peace Movement

Professor Boulding, welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here.

As an individual and as an economist, how and when did you become interested in the problem of peace?

As an individual, really a very long time ago, when I was a boy. I grew up in Liverpool, long before the Beatles, of course. I was a boy in the First World War, and some experiences there, which I won't go into, led me into the feeling that this was just an intolerable piece of human stupidity. So I became very peace-minded, shall we say, when I was about fourteen.

And this would be at the time of World War I.

Yes, just after, yes. I was nine when it ended, so I remember it very vividly. So it goes back as far as that. And then I became an economist and so on.

I was brought up a Methodist, so I wanted to save the world. I came to this country as a graduate student and fell in love with it, and I've lived here over fifty years now. So, even though I don't quite sound like it, I feel myself very much of an American.

As an economist, did you conclude that war wasn't profitable, or what was the issue?

That came a little later. When I started studying economics, it was just the beginning of the Great Depression, when unemployment was the overwhelming problem. But in later years I got very much interested in this, and there are some studies of the economics of the "war industry," as they call it, and also the economics of imperialism, which is somewhat related to this. I've been teaching one or two courses in this.

Certainly, the evidence is very strong that the war industry is a very severe burden on the American economy, and of course, even more so on the Russian economy, because it's a larger proportion, and particularly in that it's a brain drain. This malaise we have in declining, or not increasing, productivity has something to do with this. The way I often put it is that the man who ought to have been designing Hondas in Detroit was designing missiles for Lockheed.

Science is ambivalent about war, isn't it? On the one hand, peace researchers are trying to uncover the roots of the structure of peace, but on the other hand, science in general is in service to military needs and military discovery.

Science tends to go where the money is. But also, scientists are human beings like the rest of us, and they participate in the national cultures that they belong to, even though they also participate in the world culture. So I would say that science is a little ambivalent about this.

Do you see the scientist making an important contribution to our understanding of what peace can and should be?

Well, I've been in this almost from the very beginning, what we call the "Peace Research Movement," which is an attempt to mobilize the social sciences particularly -- because fundamentally war is a social phenomenon, although it has implications in all the other sciences, naturally in terms of its technology. But this began really in Palo Alto in 1955, when I was at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences the first year it was operating. A little group of us got together, asking ourselves how it was that we all felt that war and peace were the fundamental problems of the age; the bomb, of course had [been dropped] by then. The whole world had changed, as Einstein said, it's just that we haven't changed.

How could we mobilize the scientific community to work on this problem? So we decided to start a journal, which is still going as a matter of fact, called the Journal of Conflict Resolution. That was the beginning of what you can call the peace research movement. We have a world organization, the International Peace Research Association, which my wife [Elise Boulding] has been editing the newsletter of. It has been located in Columbus the last three years. It's going to Rio De Janeiro now, which is interesting. Has been all round the world.

Next page: Stable Peace

See also: Interview with Elise Boulding (1986): Peace Movements, Peace Research, and the Peace Process

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