Service in the U.S. Army meant one thing.

“In my view, the purpose of the military is to build peace. Not war,” says Dr. Tom Matyók, associate professor of peace and conflict studies at UNCG.

Before joining academia, Matyók served 23 years. He was an enlisted soldier, a non-commissioned officer and a commissioned officer. He was with the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Photo of Matyók as a solider receiving orders from a general

Matyók (left) and General Barry McCaffrey (right) during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo provided by Tom Matyók)

His career has been one long peace-making operation.

“Building peace is hard. After a war or military confrontation, moving to reconciliation and past the trauma can take generations.”

There’s one essential component the military has long ignored: religion. Overlooking local religious leaders ­– and local religion – does not make sense, Matyók explains. When armies have left, when nonprofit agencies have moved on, religious leaders remain.

“In many conflicts, the only positive force that remains during and after the fighting is a religious one,” he says.

As an academic, Matyók served as senior fellow at the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, U.S. Army War College, from 2014 to 2016. There, he taught graduate courses on religion and violence and conflict studies. Many of his students had already seen deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A frequent student response: “I wish I had this knowledge before I was deployed.”

Matyók found that the curriculum of military education included almost nothing on religion.

“Very little was being done to prepare these soldiers,” he says. “It’s a gap.”

He has published widely on the topic, and in 2014, he co-edited the book “Peace on Earth: The Role of Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies.”

“We looked around the world for work demonstrating the peace efforts we’re talking about.”

One example was South Sudan and the multiple actors there working to reconcile in the face of violence – each guided by their individual religious beliefs. Another was in Nigeria, where an imam and a pastor set aside their differences to work toward a lasting peace.

“Conflict resolution is a virus,” Matyók explains. “You hope it’ll enter a nation’s body and spread.”

 

This post was adapted from a UNCG Research Magazine story written by Mike Harris. To read the full story and more, click here.

Photography by Mike Dickens