The opposite of peace is chaos, not war.

by Travis Normand

I stumbled upon the following quote and thought it was highly relevant to the study of the LOAC.

[Emphasis Added]

This week I have been doing some reading for a class I’m taking at ESR called Images of God. While studying the image of God as Warrior my class read an article by an Old Testament professor at Harvard, Paul Hanson, who wrote about the concept of Peace as Shalom in the early Old Testament. This concept doesn’t translate directly into the way we use the English version of it. Hanson said many interesting things -among them that the opposite of peace is not war. It is chaos. Webster’s Dictionary gives a definition of “chaos” as a word that means the disorder of formless matter and infinite space. Hanson described the ancient Israelites sharing with their neighbors over the cook pot, their basic view that the world was situated precariously between order and chaos. Order is defined as a life-enhancing condition which the creator God maintains by holding the unruly forces of chaos in check. [1]

So what does all of this have to do with the Law of Armed Conflict?

Before one can truly begin to study, appreciate, and understand the LOAC they must first embrace several concepts about  humanity, war, and peace.  Without a basic understanding and appreciation of these concepts, I don’t believe one can ever really understand the reasoning and meaning behind the Laws of War.

In other words, one must first come to the understanding that war is not synonymous with chaos.  This is a fundamental understanding and is one that so many people (at least people who I encounter) have completely overlooked.  Often people seem to think that war is a lawless place where rules simply do not exist or apply.  However, history has shown us that there have been rules (in some form or another) governing warfare since the beginning of time. [2]

Thus, the opposite of peace is chaos — or a place without rules or laws.  Further, as war has rules and laws, it cannot therefore be chaos. [3] [4]

* * * * * 

End Notes:

[1] The quoted material was taken from a paper that was posted online and can be found HERE [].  The paper is titled “Fruit of the Trees: Shalom or Chaos,” by Sue Axtell.

The paper mentions an article that was written by Harvard Professor Paul Hanson [Wikipedia – Paul D. Hanson, PhD].  The title of Prof. Hanson’s article isn’t given but I believe the article that Axtell is referencing is:  “War and Peace in the Hebrew Bible,” by Paul Hanson [Interpretation 38 (1984) Pgs. 341-362].  I have been unable to find an accessible copy of Hanson’s article online so I cannot confirm that this is indeed the correct article.  As for the citation itself, I found it on one of Prof. Hanson’s online bibliographies (found HERE –

[2] The Laws of War, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School and Lillian Goldman Law Library, found at – or –;  The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Deuteronomy 20: 19-20,; War and International Humanitarian Law, ICRC, found here: (Armed conflict is as old as humankind itself. There have always been customary practices in war . . . ); History of the Law of War on Land, 30-06-2000 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 838, by Howard S. Levie (; ILOWA (International Law of War Association) and Interactive Casebook, by Evan Wallach, found at – Fair: The laws of war and how they grew, By David Greenberg, Posted Thursday, Jan. 17, 2002 at

The idea that certain fixed laws should apply even amid the violence and anarchy of war isn’t new. The saying may have it that all’s fair in war, but restrictions on battlefield conduct have always been recognized. The Hebrew Bible forbade soldiers from, among other things, destroying fruit-bearing trees in hostile lands, and chivalric codes existed in the Middle Ages. It was the Dutch philosopher Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), however, who came to be seen as the Solon of today’s laws of war. His influential 1625 work On the Laws of War and Peace argued that there exist natural laws, independent of any individual state’s legal system, that are apparent to human reason and should prevail even during hostilities.

A History of the Laws of War: Volume 2: The Customs and Laws of War with Regards to Civilians in Times of Conflict, by Alexander Gillespie, Hart Publishing, 2011, at

This unique new work of reference traces the origins of the modern laws of warfare from the earliest times to the present day. Relying on written records from as far back as 2400 BCE, and using sources ranging from the Bible to Security Council Resolutions, the author pieces together the history of a subject which is almost as old as civilisation itself. The author shows that as long as humanity has been waging wars it has also been trying to find ways of legitimising different forms of combatants and ascribing rules to them, protecting civilians who are either inadvertently or intentionally caught up between them, and controlling the use of particular classes of weapons that may be used in times of conflict. Thus it is that this work is divided into three substantial parts: Volume 1 on the laws affecting combatants and captives; Volume 2 on civilians; and Volume 3 on the law of arms control.

[3] Contemporary challenges to IHL – Respect for IHL: Overview: 29-10-2010, ICRC,

[4]  The type of warfare that terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda use can easily be considered lawless.  Their lack of respect for the LOAC (and thus for humanity as well) is the reason they are not protected under these same laws.

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