02/28/2012 08:26 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2012

Peaceful Revolution

Paul Chappell is the author of Peaceful Revolution: How We Can Create the Future Needed For Humanity's Survival (Easton Studio Press, $15.95/ $9.99 ebook). Here he explains the motivations behind his book.

I am a descendent of African slaves, and I grew up in Alabama. Although I was born in 1980, my father taught me to think like someone living before the civil rights movement. During my childhood, my father always told me: "The only place in America where black men are treated fairly is in the military. The military is the only place that gives black men a chance. You'll never be able to get a decent job unless you're in the army."

Half white and half black, my father was born in 1925 and grew up in Virginia during segregation and the Great Depression. The U.S. Army was desegregated in the early 1950s, many years before segregation ended in the South. This made a strong impression on my father.

During the 1940s and 1950s, his belief that he only had opportunity in the military was largely true. A hard worker who began picking fruit when he was six years old to earn extra income for his family, he fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars and retired as the highest enlisted rank, a command sergeant major.

I graduated from West Point in 2002 and served in the army for seven years. My mother is Korean, and when I told her in 2009 that I was leaving active duty, she said: "Are you out of your mind? Nobody is going to hire you. It's bad enough you look Asian, but you're also part black. Nobody is going to give a job to a black man who looks Asian."

My parents did not tell me lies. On the contrary, they told me their truth. They were describing life as they had experienced it and trying to protect me from the suffering they endured. Although I experienced racism as a child, as an adult I began to realize that my multi-ethnic background was no longer the hindrance my parents believed it to be, because I owe my very existence to the power of waging peace and its ability to change our society for the better.

America's Founding Fathers rebelled against Great Britain because they felt unfairly treated. They believed it was unjust to be taxed or controlled without the opportunity to participate in the political process, and that those who govern must gain the consent of the governed. The motto "No taxation without representation" echoed their outrage and became a call to arms, leading to the American Revolution.

But until the 1820s, fifty years later, less than 10 percent of the American population could vote. Women could not vote. African Americans could not vote. And most white people could not vote unless they owned land. During the early nineteenth century "No taxation without representation" only seemed to apply to the rich.

How did so many Americans increase their liberties during the past two hundred years? Did nonlandowners fight a war to obtain the right to vote? Did women fight a war to get the right to vote? Did African Americans fight a war to attain their civil rights? Did American workers fight a war to gain their rights? Was a war fought for child labor laws? These victories for liberty and justice were achieved because people waged peace, but this is a part of our history that many people do not remember.

This is not the only part of our history that has been largely forgotten. By exploring the truth of our human history -- in addition to the history of our country -- we can understand how far humanity has come, how much further we can go, and how we can get there.

Five hundred years ago ideals such as democracy, the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and women's and civil rights virtually did not exist. And how many democratic countries were there two hundred years ago? Napoleon overthrew the democratic government in France, and the United States was not a democracy for African Americans, women, and even many white people, since owning land was a common prerequirement for voting. But because people in the past took action, democracies now exist in many parts of the world, and America has become a place where I can write these words today.

The simple idea that all human beings have a right to liberty, which once sounded radical and dangerous to most people around the world, has now become so common that many of us take this idea for granted.

Today if I said, "It's not in the nature of some races to be slaves. Human beings have an innate yearning for freedom, and to enslave a group of people harsh techniques must be used to break their will and suppress their human nature," most of us would agree it is a self-evidence statement that makes common sense. But this was not common sense several hundred years ago.

By the eighteenth century, state-sanctioned slavery had existed since the beginning of recorded history and was an integral part of the global economy. Thomas Clarkson and other abolitionists believed all human beings should have the gift of freedom, yet they were ridiculed and threatened for opposing slavery. The idea that slavery is wrong -- which was once ridiculed -- has now become so widely accepted that anyone advocating slavery today would be called insane.

For most of recorded history, women around the world had virtually no rights. During the eighteenth century, not only were they forbidden from voting or owning property, in most places they were property. Those who advocated women's rights were ridiculed and threatened for challenging the oppression of women, but today if an American politician suggested that women should not be allowed to vote or own property, many would call him insane.

Today it would be political suicide for any American politician to say, "We should bring back slavery and segregation, and women should not be allowed to vote or own property." But two hundred years ago nearly all American politicians openly supported slavery and the oppression of women.

If we can change attitudes about slavery and the oppression of women, why can't we also change how people see war, nuclear weapons, environmental problems, and many other problems? For most of my life I believed war was the best way to solve conflicts between countries and violence was an effective way to solve problems between individuals. But now I have learned another way.