Christic Peace

Peace in Perspective - Chapter 2

Peace In Perspective Chapter 2

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Chapter Two

The Problem of Direct Violence

On account of the persistence of war as an institution, as politics by other means, and because of the horrors of modern warfare, peace research of the 1950s and 1960s,was based on the assumption that peace could be narrowly defined as the absence of war, and no more. To this was added, largely in the 1960s and 1970s, the idea that peace presupposed respect for human rights and the absence of distributive injustice. These two broad definitions did not sit comfortably together, because it was thought by some researchers that only through organised violence could injustice be effectively combated. In the 1980s, peace came also to mean development.

Those who study peace broadly categorise it into negative, oppositional and positive, more terms of convenience than ones that are precise. To these is now added ecopeace or Gaia peace, which is peace with nature.

Negative peace (i): the conventional or statist view

The term negative peace summarises the minimalist understanding of intra-national and inter-national peace. Basic to it is the assumption that peace is primarily an absence of war and of violence against the state and its inhabitants, and also within the state, hence the use of the word negative. Complementing this is the view that peace also consists in order within the realm, order characterised by the observation of the law. This is the conventional thinking on peace as articulated by the state and the general public.

Of paramount importance to the state, which is the dominant territorial actor on the world stage, is the preservation and enhancement of the ‘national interest’: to be secured by a shrewd mix of efficient government, adequate defence capability, diplomacy, technology, trade and sound economic management. The total exclusion of violence or war is widely deemed impossible. The state accepts that some violence or the threat to employ it may be necessary, in order to keep, to enhance, and at times to restore the peace. In this scheme of things, governmental policies are formulated mainly in favour of those who wield power. Acceptable change is that which is slow and consistent with the values and goals of the ruling elites, who declare and think that they speak for society as a whole. Peace-makers and peace-keepers, in this context, are governmental and international governmental organisations, or must be acceptable to them.

Governments, despite their bona fides, are not the most efficient or capable instruments for much more than short-term peace. This is partly attributable to the severe pressures imposed on the political leadership by the day to day demands imposed upon them, including those of political survival. For such reasons, long-term plans for the future, if made at all, are difficult to see through, and among these peace in its fullness is not thought of, let alone accorded the highest priority.

The avoidance of war

War and most conflict and violence are not accidents. They have causes, roots whichinvariably run deep. Those who wish to avoid war or abolish it, or who would get away from violence, need to identify their underlying causes treat and cure the basic malaise. However, throughout history, the notion that such prevention is better than cure never caught on. The questions they raised were too close to the bone, too embarrassing, and the solutions they required were unpalatable.

Although nations sometimes opt for war quite sanguinely, peace is the preferred option where they feel that they could gain their objectives without recourse to military methods. They prefer diplomacy to help attain their goals. Nations also wish to enhance their image and reputation abroad. As such they are sensitive to the opinions of others, especially that of the world forum, and are anxious to avoid both its censure and sanctions. But the movement towards rejecting war as a means to peace is also due largely to awareness of the ever-increasing reach, accuracy and power of weapons, and of the horror and futility of the enterprise.

In the course of the 20th century, nations came to realise that international war carried an unacceptable price-tag. Avoidance of war was preferable to engagement in it. But the prescription for this was the same as the age-old adage attributed to the Roman historian of war, Flavius Vegetius Renatus, ‘Si vis pacem, para bellum’ (‘If you want peace, prepare for war’). Military preparedness was believed to be the great preventive, a psychological device to dissuade would-be adversaries from attacking. Those who could or even could not afford it went in for it, and where budgets and nations were too small to stand on their own, military alliances with more powerful nations were opted for.

Nuclear deterrence

The quest for the balance of power was fundamental to such strategising, and with it went the notion that if a country or a power bloc was sufficiently well-armed and ready to use its weapons if attacked, this should deter aggression. The would-be aggressor would have to reckon with the prospect of an unacceptable retaliatory response from the nation it attacked and/or its allies. Such was and continues to be the essence of deterrence.

Through the years of the Cold War, that deterrence was nuclear. The world as a whole was traumatised by the nuclear threat, with nuclear forces eventually reaching the stage of being on hair-trigger alert, and ready to launch their missiles not on warning, but on suspicion, in the name of pre-emptive defence, and under circumstances where there could be no recall once the decision to attack was made! The Cold War and its nuclear stand-off exacted its toll both in financial terms and in psycho-social ones. Firstly there was the absurdity of the entire operation. It was based on false assumptions and false premises, as Prins has shown (1983: 23-35). It was founded in the belief that the Soviet Union was bent on expansion, within Europe and beyond; that given half-a-chance it would invade and take over as much of western Europe as was possible, replace the market economy with a planned socialist one, and extinguish freedoms there, imposing instead an enslaving, atheistic autocracy. That such expansionism was on the Soviet agenda was denied even by dissidents who had fled the country but who remained implacably opposed to the Soviet system. The notion was rejected also by American historians, such as Edward Cuddy, writing in America(16th April, 1983).

The Cold War was based on fantasies rather than facts. It involved preparing against the worst possible action that the enemy might conceivably take, rather than with what the adversary was likely to do or be actually capable of doing. The adversary was painted as being less than human, evil and with diabolical intent and completely untrustworthy. “Better dead than red” was one such slogan. Little was said about the dishonesty of members of the western alliance and their own provocative stances, but who in their own eyes were just and righteous in whatever they did. The gullible and largely ill-informed public readily believed that all blame lay with the adversary. In the meanwhile, there were those who discovered that there was money to be made in the arms race, and advantage to be had in going along with the prevailing policies.

Another kind of fall-out

As the rival North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Warsaw Treaty Organisation (WTO) alliances headed relentlessly towards nuclear holocaust, people the world over, including those whose opinions were unsought, unwanted and unheard, felt cheated at the prospect of premature termination of life, civilisation and environment. Many, especially in the third world, looked helplessly on. They realised that whatever the outcome of nuclear threat, counterthreat and protest, their problems of poverty, privation and inequity would receive scant attention from the contending superpowers and their allies.

Under the psychological pressures generated by the nuclear arms race, it seemed futile to make long term commitments to anything or anyone. In the face of the example of obvious double standards set by the superpowers of that time, with the acquiescence of their supporters, these became part of everyday human relationships, at all scales. Principle gave way to expediency. Right and wrong came to be seen as relative to need or feeling. These demoralising repercussions of the Cold War continue to sap society to this day.

The weapons trade

In today’s post-Cold War world, scenarios have changed. Although the use of nuclear weapons continues to remain on ‘hold’, they are still regarded as legitimate and indeed essential items in the arsenals of the powers that possess them. Many nations still strive to acquire them or aspire to produce them. Conventional weapons, preferably state of the art ones, continue to be acquired, wars continue to be fought, although mainly within rather than between nations. Meanwhile, the modernisation of weapons and the lucrative trade in them goes ahead, as does the production and acquisition of weapons systems by rich and poor nations alike, in the name of security and economy. More than anything else, militarisation appears due to inertia in the attitudes and the thinking which argue that military might is essential for national security.

And so, peace, as the absence of war and direct violence, continues to elude human grasp as it has always done. Far from having been exorcised, physical violence and its threat are widely promoted as acceptable for securing objectives under certain conditions, as affording the final solution to intractable problems, both in the real world and in the world of fantasy and electronic entertainment.

Where force or the threat of it are not used, subtler pressures are often resorted to by the powerful against the weak, ones of an economic and a political nature, including subversion, and disinformation and even driving an adversary into bankruptcy. This, for example, was evident in the relations between the USA as a U.N. Trustee and its ward (the island republic of Palau, in the western Pacific). The USA was determined ever since World War II to retain Palau which it had taken from the Japanese, for strategic purposes, and applied years of pressure upon it, using kid gloves, numerous referenda and cultural seduction in the process and even financial blackmail, thus obliging it in 1994 to delete the nuclear free clause it had written into its 1979 constitution, and enter into a 50 year Compact of Free Association with the USA.

A Question of Excellence

If international behaviour is often hypocritical, and standards of public morality are low, if there is inconsistency in respect for principle and for law, if people are treated as no more than pawns in the struggle for wealth and power, if violence and war continue to be used as the handmaid and extension of politics by other means, it needs to be recognised that responsibility rests squarely with those nations which (have) set themselves up and masquerade(d) as models of excellence. Excellence in the art of getting their way, by hook or by crook. Excellence in the skills of neo-colonialism. Excellence in military technology and its application. Excellence in humbug, in turning a blind eye or pretending not to notice, depending on their interests. Excellence in the ways of using others and discarding them once their usefulness is over. Excellence in the methods of propaganda, misinformation, disinformation and suppression of the truth. Excellence in converting military technology and weapons, including obsolescent ones, into profit, selling to whoever is prepared to pay the price and no questions asked. Excellence in the deception of posing as paragons of integrity worthy of emulation, and thereby infecting those who take their cue from them with their own myopia and amorality. Excellence in creating idols and in contriving to make that which is holy pay homage to them. (B.S. 1992)

Diplomatic initiatives

The second prong in the quest for negative peace is diplomatic, the externalisation of the political process. This age-long practice involving bargaining and bartering between nations, including enemies, has played an essential part in war prevention and in the improvement of international relations, and continues to do so. Action and initiatives are frequently behind the scenes, involving not heads of states who make headline news but patient and trained negotiators who work painstakingly to prevent international disagreements escalating to military confrontation, and to forge new agreements.


The Gorbachev dream of a world without nuclear weapons in the 1990s is far from realised. The West, despite mottos such as “In God we trust,” continue to maintain that their security requires the possession of nuclear weapons, and a vast array of high-tech non-nuclear ones, and all the systems necessary to ensure that they would work efficiently when called upon to do so. Nations elsewhere tend to base their concepts of security on these and to emulate them. And so the acquisition and modernisation of weapons goes on, in the name of the peace that is dependent upon military preparedness.

Negative peace (ii): the avoidance and elimination of direct violence

In the search for solutions and answers to war, researchers began to look closely at defence, giving rise to a wider perception of negative peace. This broader view sees peace as the elimination or minimisation of both military violence and of the threat to use it. Here, it is urged that those who seek peace should go beyond the limits of the conventional wisdom, re-think the whole question of what constitutes world order.

Non-violent forms of defence, which are civilian rather than militarily based, now widely referred to as social defence, are advocated. These are thought likely to deter possible would-be aggressors by assuring them that they would be denied the anticipated fruits of victory, should they undertake a successful invasion of the country they covet. They are also seen to have potential in dealing with dictators and other oppressors by denying them the support that they need to seize or to stay in power. Because non-violent civilian-based defence would require education and training in support of it before it becomes a viable option, it is widely accepted that conventional military means of defence be retained in the interim. This progressive changing over is referred to as transarmament.

Such measures and possibilities are rarely entertained by the state. Indeed, the notion of non-violent struggle against an internal or external aggressor has been scorned by many as idealistic, perhaps heroic, but naive and totally unrealistic, especially in the contestation of the despotic and the unscrupulous. On the other hand those who favour these alternatives draw attention to the success of non-violence in numerous instances, even without adequate preparation. They point to its potential, and to the folly, danger and irresponsibility of rejecting non-violence as a superior form of security and defence. They demonstrate that weapons systems themselves do not always deter. In some cases they are too weak, and in others too powerful, and thus in both instances impotent. They urge that the possibilities of non-violent defence be researched and supported by responsible public education, and insist that it can succeed in a wide range of circumstances where armed force or military methods are inappropriate and inept. Non-violence, it has been persuasively argued (see Summy,1994), may be used successfully even against the extremely ruthless.

Those who call state peace and defence values and strategies to question risk incurring the suspicion and opprobrium of the establishment and of those who believe, very sincerely, that in military methods and organised violence lie the ultimate source of power to defend, protect, safeguard and recover that which is worthy, even the very things of God.

Conflict resolution

Because peace seems to break down all too often, both intranationally and internationally, because to so many it is an unreachable star, today there is growing concentration instead upon how to live with and deal with conflict. Attention is increasingly paid to conflict limitation, mitigation and management. There is also a surge of interest in the acquisition of conflict resolution and mediation skills, so as to be able to induce contending parties to talk to one another, often through the offices of a neutral third party, to defuse tension, to duly arrive at a compromise and a settlement of differences, and thereby to dispense with either a stalemate or the ‘need’ for direct violence.

In consequence, conflict resolution is treated not so much as a quest for peace in any fullness, but as an important interim measure, perhaps en route to peace, a measure which often tends to be confused and even equated with peace. All too often, conflict resolution is regarded and sought as a patching up of differences, a modus vivendi based on compromise and consensus, to effect the cessation of conflict that threatens to deepen and to disrupt the status quo. Conflict resolution seen in these terms endeavours to restore a degree of sanity into relationships gone sour, or which were never in good order. Such conflict resolution appeals to the public, private and academic sectors, because it is seen as the means for trouble-shooting and providing space for further negotiation, better understanding and mutual acceptance of one another by parties to a conflict.

Although it has the capacity for getting down to the roots of problems, it rarely is undertaken with this in mind, and is used to treat their symptoms instead. Where conflict resolution is thus employed, it does little but to prop up the status quo. To the extent that this is so, conflict resolution is not peace, although to many it has become the surrogate for peace, for which it is no substitute. In its ideal form conflict resolution goes deep, exploring and dealing with the fundamental causes of conflict. This requires willingness by the parties involved to acknowledge and to deal with their own faults and shortcomings, not merely to point to and criticise those of others. Few are prepared to do this.

Other forms of direct violence

There are several other kinds of direct violence, physical. verbal and psychological, that are perpetrated daily in society, often glossed over because they are rampant. These too need attention if commitment to peace is genuine, for peace like charity must begin locally, starting in the home.


Terrorism is the indiscriminate violence employed by dissidents, malcontents or freedom fighters in the face of the superior might of the state or a powerful (often international) collectivity. This violence is usually directed against military and/or non-military targets, against “guilty” and innocent alike, in order to make a political point rather than to gain victory. The long-term objective of terrorism is to place the weak in a better bargaining position with the organised state, with the strong and the powerful when the latter is driven to the negotiating table.

The most deadly forms of terrorism are the ones acted out by those who are prepared to sacrifice their own lives even as they destroy their targets. Terrorism is set to be the scourge of the 21st century.

If the war against terrorism , currently being undertaken in the wake of the attack upon America on the 11th of September, 2001, is to succeed, there will have to be massive ongoing international cooperation and sacrifice. Military might is likely to prove counterproductive. Care would also need to be taken to ensure that under the guise of war against terrorism, governments do not subvert the process to eliminate those within their realms who voice legitimate grievances against the prevailing culture.

Turning Point?

On September the eleventh, 2001, extremists used civilian aircraft to destroy the World Trade Centre in Manhattan and part of the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

The death and destruction wrought with callous and unconscionable violence, the cruel carnage of the innocent and the evil vested in the whole process, horrified and rocked not only the United States of America, but the rest of the world as well. All of us have been seared and sickened by those images and reports, because wherever we may be, we are bonded by our fragile humanity, the same human stuff. And we know that nothing, nothing, nothing can justify such acts.

From an event of such a terrible order, people and governments have to decide what will flow. It will not be enough to find out who was behind the outrage and devastation, and to destroy them and their global networks. It will not be enough to grieve and to recall the heroism of ordinary men and women who stood tall in the hour of trial, and to perpetuate their memory in some way. It will not be enough to pray for the souls of the dead or all those affected by the events of that day. It will not be enough to rebuild or strengthen the same edifices of security and success, and to return tomorrow to business as usual.

If no more than these are done, the world will be back to square one. Acts of terrorism will be repeated again and again, as long as their underlying causes are not dealt with justly. Lessons that that fateful day might have to offer must be painstakingly sought, and learned, if any good is to come out of that hellish happening.

Those who were hurt and violated by those events must take care not to allow themselves to become blinded and debased by xenophobia, jingoism, hatred or the desire for revenge. These cannot free or heal the human heart.

Secondly, it needs to recognised that the time has come, indeed it has been brought forward, for the world to take stock, and to decide whether or not to go much further, and to begin to exorcise not only the demon which terrorism is, but also its many attendant spirits.

So, while the question, “Who did it?” must be answered, there are other important questions that should not be ducked. Why target the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon? Why were they, whom we would see as madmen and fanatics, willing to stifle conscience and decency, to murder the innocent and throw away their own lives in the process? Why?

We acknowledge that terrorism is the resort of those with little clout in world and national fora, and of the disenchanted to whom the future is a blind alley. Many who turn to such methods are victims or witnesses of suffering and outrage themselves, and in their idealism or desire for revenge are ready recruits for those, who for some ideological or religious reason want to make a political point or to destroy what they regard as anathema?

Whoever planned the attack of September the 11th did so meticulously, and chose as their prime targets the symbols of power, pride and privilege which support and safeguard and inequitous world economy, and without which it would collapse. Those targets could well have symbolised a wider fanaticism, so entrenched and so all-encompassing, that all of us are steeped in it and accept it as the norm. And so, through violence and suicide, the alienated and the desperate probed and exposed the weakness and vulnerability of the strong.

The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were very much assaults upon the temples of Mammon and Mars which they symbolised, where priests of the world’s business and financial elite, worship and perform the rituals which enable the latter to make the world their oyster, to be prised open and plucked at will, regardless of others’ hurt and privation; where the rules of international trade are drawn up, where the prices of commodities are determined, and currencies speculated in. Could not these targets have symbolised also the well-heeled decadence of the wealthy and the powerful, flaunted brazenly and uncaringly in the face of those who hunger and thirst for something more, and who have long been brushed aside; or symbolise, by biblical analogy, the insensitivity of the rich self-centred Dives to the plight of the beggar Lazarus who lay at his gate? Are these to be dismissed as skewed perceptions and sick thoughts? Are they really off the mark?

The pain of the 11th of September, 2001, will never be forgotten. Nor should it be allowed to go to waste, as it would if the response to it is one that sets the social and economic and political status quo in even harder concrete. It will not have been in vain if that tragedy treated as a catalyst, impelling us to re-examine our values and our practices in the name of justice and compassion and our common humanity. It would not have been in vain if it makes us ask how the global socio-politico-economic system, which is driven by the quest for power and predatory profit-seeking in the open market, should and could be redesigned so that people are placed before profit, where all are respected, and the worth of the human soul is recognised?

I see this as Kairos time, God-given time for decision, for seeking fresh direction, and for a new beginning. It is the time for profound conversion at all levels of personal and societal being. To recognise this and to do something about it, we need to pray for the grace and the mercy of God, Who alone is Light in the deepening darkness; Who alone can bring and good out of evil, because we cannot.

Now is the time for a second Exodus: from the fleshpots of greed, consumerism and hedonism, from our cosy liaison with Mammon, and from our trust in the methods of Mars. Now is the time to set our hearts unswervingly on the things of God and on the values of His Kingdom of Love, the “New Jerusalem”. To do this we must walk sincerely, humbly and closely with our God. This is the fundamental and glorious challenge of the 21st century and of the new millennium.

So, where and how do we begin? We have to pray about it, think about it, talk about it. But we had better start now. There’s such little time to waste.

Peace requires wisdom and continual conversion, a dying to self.