How can we stop war?
This question has plagued humans since war itself became a tool for societies to achieve their goals.
As we face this question anew while we witness the horrific war unfolding in Ukraine, it is natural to feel helpless, overwhelmed, and at a loss as to what to do.
Late University of Michigan professor Anatol Rapoport had these same emotions.
He experienced first hand the horrors of war in Ukraine in 1917 as the Red and White Armies clashed in a brutal civil war.
As a ten year old boy, seeing no future in his conflict torn homeland, he attempted to skate across a frozen dam to Poland, and to freedom.
“Out of nowhere, a Red Army soldier looking down from atop the dam was shouting and waving at me,” Rapoport recounted. “As I hesitated, he aimed his rifle at my head. I turned around and skated back as fast I could to the Russian side.”From “A Professor’s War for Peace,” Roger Rapoport, Michigan News online
He eventually escaped by being smuggled across the border.
In his newfound freedom, he dedicated his entire life to ensure that others would not have to experience the horrors that he did as a child, eventually studying mathematical psychology and founding the U-M Mental Health Research Institute.
What does mathematical psychology have to do with peace?
His main focus in this research was to understand how individuals made decisions and to help them develop better strategies in competitive situations. So, rather than every individual always trying to make decisions that solely help themselves, if individuals could consider how a decision might benefit another person, they are more likely to make decisions that benefit society. This is the basic concept for a field of research called “game theory.” A particular strategy of game theory that he advanced was called “Tit for Tat.”
Game theory, which posits that a person is more successful if they cooperate with another person in competitive environments.from “A Professor’s War for Peace” , Roger Rapoport, Michigan News online
Professor Rapoport was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and led teach-ins and participated in public demonstrations for peace.
While he had many academic accomplishments, peace has remained elusive. Yet, he never lost hope that one day our globally, interdependent societies can move beyond traditional thinking and begin developing collective thinking, empathy, understanding, which will eventually lead to better outcomes.
His son Anthony states about his father, “it’s the transcendence of the personal that allows us to realize the potential of our humanity.”
What a fitting testimony to a life dedicated to peace and an inspiration for us all.
Questions for Discussion
- Why was professor Rapoport interested in preventing war?
- What area of research did Rapoport study?
- What is “tit for tat” strategy in game theory?
- What does “transcendence” mean?
- Do you agree with his son Anthony’s statement :”It’s the transcendence of the personal that allows us to realize the potential of our humanity.” Give examples of when this might be true or not true.
For the source article, please read https://michigantoday.umich.edu/2022/03/26/a-professors-war-for-peace/