The term “beat swords into plowshares,” in reference to turning away from military activity to pursue peace, comes from the Bible. There are several references to turning swords into plowshares and vice versa in the Bible, reflecting the widespread use of both swords and plowshares in Biblical times. Today, the term has been adopted by many Christian peace organizations as a motto or title, and it is also famously included in the Plowshares Movement, an anti-nuclear movement which arose in 1980.
In the Book of Joel, one verse refers to beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears, in a verse in which people are encouraged to rise up to defend themselves and their values. The same phrasing is used again in the Books of Micah and Isiah, with an opposite meaning, in verses which tell people to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, referencing the need to return to peace. A sword is a potent symbol of military efforts, while a plowshare symbolizes agrarian life and community.
The contrasting uses of this term in the Bible could be used to illustrate the need to defend oneself when appropriate, but to dismantle the tools of war after a mission has been accomplished. “Swords into plowshares” is often taken to mean a return to peaceful ways, and a very final way of turning one's back on war, by literally destroying the weapons with which war could be waged. One could also theoretically take it to mean that the tools of war are potentially always ready to hand, given the verse in which people beat plowshares into swords, although this interpretation is not widespread.
Many peace activists have pushed their nations to beat swords into plowshares by retooling things designed for military use so that they can benefit civilians. In fact, many military inventions do benefit civilians, such as sonar, which was designed to look for enemy ships and submarines, but which can also be used as ultrasound to visualize the interior of the body in a noninvasive way. Military technology is often applicable to civilian uses, assuming that the military is willing to release it to the general public.
The cry of “beat swords into plowshares” is also used by organizations which lobby for peace and humanitarian efforts around the world. For example, some organizations promote the rehabilitation and training of boy soldiers in Africa under the argument that if one can beat swords into plowshares, surely people who have been trained for war can be trained for something else. Many of these organizations call for a general laying down of weapons on all sides so that people involved in conflict can pursue nation-building and improvement of living conditions, rather than focusing on war.