Swords to ploughshares

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Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection
Hand-separated large candlestick church chandelier with brass wax drip tray – GDR around 1980 – Use of armoured steel and brass – Single piece – Weight 10 kilograms

Swords to ploughshares (or plowshares) is a concept in which military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications.

The phrase originates from the Book of Isaiah chapter 2:

Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. –

The ploughshare (Hebrew: אֵת ’êṯ, also translated coulter) is often used to symbolize creative tools that benefit humankind, as opposed to destructive tools of war, symbolized by the sword (Hebrew: חֶרֶב ḥereḇ), a similar sharp metal tool with an arguably opposite use.

In addition to the original Biblical Messianic intent, the expression "beat swords into ploughshares" has been used by disparate social and political groups.

A past example from the period 1993 continuing to 2013 is the dismantling of nuclear weapons and the use of their contents as fuel in civilian electric power stations, the Megatons to Megawatts Program. Nuclear fission development, originally accelerated for World War II weapons needs, has been applied to many civilian purposes since its use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including electricity and radiopharmaceutical production.

Biblical references[edit]

Mosaic in the Beit Habad Gallery, Jerusalem, quoting Isaiah 2:4, with lion, spear and spade.

Beyond the above usage in the Book of Isaiah, this analogy is used twice more in the Old Testament/Tanakh, in both directions:

Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.”

— Joel 3:10 or 4:10 in the Masoretic system.

This is the opposite of what Micah says in Micah 4:3 (see below).

He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

— Micah 4:3

An expression of this concept can be seen in a bronze statue in the United Nations garden called Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a gift from the Soviet Union sculpted by Evgeniy Vuchetich, representing the figure of a man hammering a sword into the shape of a plowshare.


James Legge's translation of Analects of Confucius includes a story of Confucius asking his disciples to list their aims, resulting in praise for the virtue of Yan Hui:[1]

At last came Yen Yuan, who said "I should like to find an intelligent king and sage ruler whom I might assist. I would diffuse among the people instructions on the five great points, and lead them on by the rules of propriety and music, so that they should not care to fortify their cities by walls and moats, but would fuse their swords and spears into implements of agriculture.

— "Chapter V, Section III: His Immediate Disciples", Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, and The Doctrine of the Mean (1892)

Practical applications[edit]

In political and popular culture[edit]

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences world-wide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien than war and the threat of war?

Melting down all metals, turning plows and shears to swords
Shun words of the Bible, we need implements of war
Chalklines and red puddles of those who have been slain
Destiny, that crooked schemer, says the dead shall rise again

And everyone neath their vine and fig tree
shall live in peace and unafraid,
Everyone neath their vine and fig tree
shall live in peace and unafraid.
And into ploughshares beat their swords
Nations shall learn war no more.
And into ploughshares beat their swords
Nations shall learn war no more.

O' beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king

Create a world with no fear
Together we'll cry happy tears
See the nations turn
Their swords into plowshares

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Don’t stop after beating the swords
into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into plowshares first.

  • Guns into Plowshares, a sculpture by Mennonite artists Esther Augsburger and Michael Augsburger
  • The marketing slogan used by the fictional Globotech Industries in Small Soldiers, serving as the introduction to the movie, and foreshadowing the central plot of smart ballistic missile guidance microprocessors being mistakenly used in children's toys.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Confucius (2012). Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, and The Doctrine of the Mean. Translated by Legge, James. ACLS Humanities E-Book. hdl:2027/heb09336.0001.001. ISBN 978-0-486-12292-2.
  2. ^ Templar, Simon (11 October 2015). "Civilian Shermans: after the war – they went to work..." Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  3. ^ a b Spoelstra, Hanno. "Shermans into ploughshares". web.inter.nl.net. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  4. ^ "The Swords And Ploughshares Museum". www.calnan.com. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  5. ^ "BBC NEWS – Monitoring – Media reports – Ukraine turns tank into tractor". news.bbc.co.uk. 19 October 2002. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  6. ^ "More Than Music: Peter Tosh And His M16 Rifle Guitar". Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  7. ^ UNODC. "UNODC Perspectives No. 3 – Escopetarra: Instrument of peace". www.unodc.org. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  8. ^ United States Department of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (May 2004). "Introduction to Industry Implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention" (PDF). cwc.gov.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Gilman A (May 1963). "The initial clinical trial of nitrogen mustard". Am. J. Surg. 105 (5): 574–8. doi:10.1016/0002-9610(63)90232-0. PMID 13947966.
  10. ^ Kleinman, Zoe (2018). "Illegal guns turned into headphones". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  11. ^ "Megatons to Megawatts program will conclude at the end of 2013 – Today in Energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)". www.eia.gov. Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  12. ^ Paul, Ron (17 July 2015). Swords into Plowshares. Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. ISBN 978-0996426503.
  13. ^ United Press International (UPI) (20 January 1973). "Protestors' shouts mar inaugural ceremonies". Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  14. ^ "These Are the Bible Verses Past Presidents Have Turned to on Inauguration Day". Time.
  15. ^ Ross, Scott (21 January 2013). "Obama's Inaugural Bibles: Lincoln, MLK". NBC 6 South Florida. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  16. ^ Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter. Office of the Federal Register. 1979. pp. 518–520.
  17. ^ "Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Archives". UTexas.edu. 1987-09-21. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
  18. ^ Concepts, Lucid Design. "Megadeth". Megadeth. Retrieved 2021-12-22.
  19. ^ "Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp Songbook". Fredsakademiet.dk. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
  20. ^ "Swords to Plowshares".