Peace in Perspective - Chapter 1
Peace In Perspective Chapter 1
Peace in Perspective
The third millennium has begun, but peace on earth continues to remain little more than a dream, tantalisingly possible to some, but no more than a sigh to others. Nonetheless, however faltering and fraught with failure attempts to realise that dream may be, the search goes on.
In the quest some are more diligent than others, some more vocal. However, most are circumspect about peace. As individuals and collectivities, we dance around peace, sing songs extolling peace, but do not approach too closely, through fear that peace might be more than we bargain for, that too much might be required of us if we accept its embrace. Yet, everywhere the cry is ‘Peace’.
During the Cold War that dominated and distracted peoples and nations during the second half of the 20th Century, the world drifted towards nuclear Armageddon and the end of civilisation, as we know it. The voice of threatened humankind was heard in the words of Pope John Paul II who warned, ‘The whole planet…has come under threat… It is only through a conscious choice and through a deliberate policy that humanity can survive’ (2.6.1980), and who went on to declare that ‘Peace is…our supreme responsibility’ (11.6.1980).
Since then, the geopolitical order has changed, dramatically in the new millennium, and the signs of unpeacefulness manifest themselves without let. There remain the conflicts, the enmities and hatreds, the violence, the savagery, the injustices, the greed, the inequity, the hunger and poverty, the gross violations of human rights, the power-struggles, the arms build-ups, the degradation of the earth’s life-support systems. Weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction remain an essential part of the arsenals of the major powers, while others strive to acquire them.
War is still with us, although fought mainly within nations rather than between them. Ethnic hatreds and racism manifest themselves the world over, even among those who regard themselves as civilised. This happens, all too often, in shocking and brutal ways, especially where states once held together by authoritarian governments disintegrate, or where age-long, suppressed animosities, never healed, are skilfullyexploited by politicians and fomented by agents provocateur until they erupt with bitterness and violence, as they did so horrendously in recent years in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Indonesia. Compounding the problem of violence is terrorism, which vexes and confounds the minds of governments and people, demonstrating the vulnerability of everyone to one another, and the weakness of military might, and making the need for just solutions to problems and authentic peace the imperative of the new century.
* The most deadly combat system of the current epoch is the adolescent male equipped with an AK-47 assault rifle.
* There are an estimated 500 million to a billion firearms worldwide, and 200 to 250 million guns are thought to be owned in the United States alone.
* In 46 of the 49 conflicts of the 1990s, light arms were the only weapons used-and they were used on civilians, who constitute about 90 percent of all those killed or wounded in these recent wars.
* In many parts of the world, armed conflict is the only way of life that many of the combatants, recruited in childhood, have ever known.
(Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February, 1999)
In the face of all this, the militarily powerful nations of the world remain ineffectual, disempowered by their inability to rise above their own self-centred interests and also by their all too powerful weapons which are unable to deliver peace, but only death to guilty and innocent alike. When they have recourse to deadly force in the name of justice and peace, their violence compounds the very problems they would have violence address.
Elsewhere, indigenes and aboriginal peoples continue to be forced off ancestral lands, to make way for new settlers or government-sponsored development projects designed to benefit favoured areas, and in the final analysis, especially those who are already rich.
The world is gripped also by other sorts of violence, sometimes direct and obvious, sometimes silent and subtle and even urbane, especially where in the guise of free enterprise and economic rationalism, or of national culture. Underlying it all is a pervasive, cancerous demoralisation, sapping the will and driving askew the values andbehaviour of all too many, impelling them to look away or perhaps to fiddle as Rome burns.
Who speaks for peace?
Despite the pain and the despondency, many voices speak for peace. For centuries the dominant one has been that of the secular sovereign, which appropriated, on behalf of the temporal state, the right not only to define peace but also to determine and command its processes. That voice has long been echoed by soldier and merchant. Others, once respected, have been silenced or muted as a result. The wisdom of the elders was relegated to the village, the reservation or the bush, while religion was permitted to speak on peace of heart and on the ‘peace that surpasseth all understanding’, provided that what it had to say did not countermand or threaten the designs of the ruler or the status quo.
For centuries, religion was regarded as affording the richest insights into peace, but remained separated from the secular, thanks to theories of temporal power. One set of these accorded the ruler the right and the duty to pursue the interests of state unrestrained by moral considerations. The other, enunciated during the Protestant Reformation, consisted of teachings which maintained that God had ordained two governments on earth, one spiritual and the other secular, one of the spirit and the other of the sword, and that both were necessary. Where accepted, such views tended to privatise religion, to confuse and cloud conscience and to induce the good citizen to take or mistake, at the public level, the voice of Caesar for the voice of God (Alt, 1985, Swan 1987 & 1988b ).
It is necessary for a prince
Wishing to hold his own
To know how to do wrong,
And to make use of it or not
According to necessity.
(Niccolo Machiavelli, 1532, “The Prince”, Chapter 15)
Today, other voices for peace are also heard: those of the Greens, women, the peace movement and academia. Traditional voices, such as those of priest and peasant, also demand attention. Although often dissonant, collectively these voices, new and old, cry out for peace and call to question the wisdom of the sovereign and hisfellow-travellers. Individually, they often reinforce each other, but also challenge and contradict one another, at times acrimoniously. But the debate is on and peace is on the agenda of nations and peoples, although not at the top of the charts. It is not surprising that as the world enters the third millennium the clamour for peace is louder than ever, with many looking more closely at peace than before, and even pausing to ask “What really is peace?” and “What are its paths?”
What is peace?
Peace suffers from an identity crisis. Most people regard it as the absence of war and violence. But peace is also widely construed in political, geopolitical, social and economic terms. In recent years the concept has acquired psycho-social and ecological connotations as well.
Individuals tend to equate peace with well-being: interior and exterior calm, pleasant satisfying relationships, access to desired goods and services, security, a minimum of trouble and misfortune and good health and long-life to enjoy it all.
Collectivities share somewhat similar views although the scales of reckoning are different: the number of those included in the circle whose well-being is desired and sought varies from one collectivity to another. The family, the interest group, the company, the conglomerate, the sub-nationality, the state, the alliance, all see peace differently.
Peace also means different things to those who research and try to educate on peace. Highlighting this divergence is the distinction commonly made between peace at the larger societal scales and the smaller, between outer and inner peace, and between this-worldly and other-worldly peace.
Because of the fragmented nature of human understanding of the concept, approaches to peace are piece-meal. Moreover, peace is widely regarded as a goal, which the appropriate set of strategies, circumstances and effort should surely help to attain. To the majority the concept of peace remains a veritable jig-saw puzzle, large sections of which are still untouched in the box, unfamiliar, and for this reason disdained. It is time to take these also into our consideration.
In these pages, it is asked whether peace should continue to be viewed in bits and pieces or in an integrated way, perhaps a moving-out in ever-widening and inclusive spheres? Should this involve movement from the mundane to the mystical, and should we dare say it, from something to Some One?
Tensions in the Quest for Understanding Peace
GOAL ———————- PROCESS
Is peace a destination or a journey?
SECULAR ————— RELIGIOUS
Is peace to be defined in secular or religious terms?
OUTER ———————- INNER
Which is more important, inner peace or outer peace?
Could and should all these elements be brought together?
The study of peace
War, militarism, and after the Second World War the growing nuclear threat, evoked both popular protest, and duly, an academic response. The former was the Peace Movement. The latter constituted Peace Studies, undertaken by those who saw the need for research into what militated against peace and what would be conducive to it, and for disseminating their findings by educational means. Here, one could concentrate on the symptoms of unpeacefulness or delve deep in an attempt to uncover its roots.
Rarely were proposals for the introduction of Peace Studies enthusiastically accepted in higher educational circles. This was because peace did not fit readily into any of the existing academic moulds. Peace was thought of as too vague and controversial to warrant serious study, for was not each individual an instant armchair expert on the subject? Did not the very word peace conjure up images of dissidents, radicals, subversives and social drop-outs? Was not peace already in good hands, those of the state and the military, with all their rhetoric, apparatus and weaponry, and committed to achieving and defending the peace or to pacification in case ‘the peace’ was violated. There was also the United Nations Organisation to prevent its breach and to try to restore it should it break down. Moreover, as perennial as the grass were the teachings and the exhortations of religion, which extolled peace and professed to be committed to it, and especially to its personal and long-term aspects.
The whole notion of peace seemed value-laden and subjective, whereas the modern academic method was supposedly designed to encourage objective analysis. The latter approach was ‘scientific’, one in which heart and intuition had no accepted place. Where such attitudes were entrenched, and they were widely so, the very idea of Peace Studies as an interdisciplinary field of enquiry was not entertained. And so peace remains but an incipient field of study even today. Very few tertiary academic institutions examine peace as such.
Soul Search in Academia
Centre of learning,
Entrusted to soar
For the good of mankind,
To seek truth in freedom
And speak it out loud.
Hope of tomorrow,
Bent on survival,
Chasing the dollar,
Paying poojah to power,
Hooked on technology,
And, Oh! so pragmatic?
Thought without wisdom,
Salt without savour,
Trussed up in triviae,
Forgetting the substance,
Pursuing the shadow,
Seeking the part,
Ignoring the whole,
Denying the spirit?
Lamp burning dim?
Needed: the Academic Study of Peace
We all live in the curious expectation that if we allow men of goodwill, religious bodies, politicians, corporate and other interests to have their say, and if we enter into international agreements, build up our armed forces and nuclear arsenals, and trust the United Nations Organisation to do what it should, we will have peace! ….. If we want peace we need to know far more fully what it is, what it implies and what it takes to achieve peace at its many different levels, from the personal to the global; and…conversely, we need to have deeper insights into the bases of disharmony and conflict. Such knowledge of itself is no guarantee of peace, but it should show us the paths we must travel so as to secure peace, if we really want it.
It is high time that Academia re-examine its priorities and develop integrated programmes of study in this regard. Most universities should be able to mount appropriate courses with available personnel and with little structural change…..Courses could be academically challenging and impart to those who follow them the discipline and intellectual training that usually go with undergraduate and postgraduate studies. ….. Care would need to be taken against subversion by interests which would prefer a blinkered, fragmented or slanted rather than an integral approach to the matter…… The hour is late, though hopefully not too late, and the need is desperate. Academia, the world over, has this essential task ahead, a responsibility it must not shirk. If we continue, mesmerised by threat of doomsday, or ostrich-like assume that if problems are ignored long enough they will…disappear, we could expect to find ourselves one day hapless pawns in some hellish chess. Academia, please, no longer stand aloof.
(B.S., National Times Australia, 25th May 1980)