It was fun, my freshman year at a small, liberal arts, historic peace-church-related college.


A small paper cup of water rigged over a dormitory room door. A practical joke, a surprise on an unsuspecting person entering their room. It was innocent fun. At least, that is how it started.


That practical joke called for a response in kind, with something added to “get even.” Larger cups. Milk cartons. Larger and larger water balloons. Water balloon launchers. Water balloons out of third story windows on persons below. Water balloon fights in the hallways and rooms. Larger water balloons, wastepaper cans and trash barrels of water down stair wells. Destroyed property. Fist fights. It escalated.


Roommates became rivals.


Friends became foes.


Acquaintances became enemies.


Yet it all began as fun—innocent fun. At a liberal arts, historically peace-church related college. The irony is not lost.


I learned something from that experience. I learned how wars start.


A small antagonism; a boundary dispute; a resentment; a jealousy; an affront to another’s dignity or personhood; a racial slur; a difference of opinion.


Eric Fromm, noted early 20th century psychologist/sociologist, observed that the outcome of a game of chess is determined not at the checkmate, but in the first half dozen moves. It is the little beginnings that determine the outcome.


Left to its own devices, violence begets violence—indeed, escalated violence.


Add weapons to the mix and it becomes deadly, each side developing more sophisticated weapons and delivery systems, each bigger and more effective. This could be in neighborhoods, or organizations (gangs), or families, or clans, or nation states. The dynamic is always the same.


One of the consequences is that, in all of history, war has never settled anything. A winner may be determined, not by any altruistic measure, but by the size of its weapons, the cleverness of its strategies, or the number of combatants. But it never settles anything. In all of history, the ending of any given war becomes the basis for future resentment, dispute, conflict, and another war.

There are many facets to violence. The root of violence is at the very beginning, not when it escalates.