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Whatever happened to peace?

When I was a lad and then a young man and a young academic, peace used to be an idea we studied, debated, marched for. It was a central concept around which movements and university centers were built.

Now I cant recall the last time I heard someone arguing about peace. I’m sure there are still researchers and activists working on peace issues. But it has dropped from public consciousness as a topic or even as a goal. Why?

I only have some hunches.

During my time with the concept of peace, I saw it incorporate conflict. Peace was getting a bad name as a wooly-headed, utopian idea of the young and recently stoned. So, we built right into the concept of peace — and into the names of the academic centers dealing with it — the idea that peace is not the absence of conflict. A peaceful world would still be at odds with itself. Otherwise, we’ve defined peace into unattainability.

Over time, perhaps (remember, this is a hunch), the focus shifted from peace to conflict studies. First, peace is such a high value that putting it into an academic centers name makes the center sound partisan. And Lord knows, we wouldn’t want academics to have a partisan bias in favor of peace! Second, it’s far easier to be practical and helpful about resolving conflicts than about bringing peace.

I have no problem with this — if these hunches are correct — except that there’s still a role for thinking about peace. For example, we hear lots about cyberwar, cyberterrorism, and cybersecurity, but comparatively little about what a cyberpeaceful Net might look like.

Is it time to give thinking about peace another chance?

9 Responses to “Whatever happened to peace?”

  1. I think it has a lot to do with the different priorities of uni students. In Australia many work part time and have less free time to protest. And so many are overseas students who don’t want to get involved with such movements.

    I think as US and Australian people realise the real loss and injury of our young people in Afganistan they might begin to see the need for peace. But I think that students don’t see themselves as like soldier recruits who are either not uni type students or who went to exclusive defence academies.It was different when uni students in Australia could be called up for compulsory service and then were killed in Vietnam. That’s when it began to hit home to the student community that without peace our young people die. Perhaps we need the dreaded compulsory call up to force young people to think of peace.

    My suspicion is that there are many older poeple, now retired, who still want peace. They have the time to protest and little to loose. Perhaps they need to be the ones to relieve their youth and get out again. With the growing numbers of seniors in many countries they could be a potent voting force. Maybe they are already protesting in their voting. Or have they become conservative in their old age.

    Our societies need thinking young students to lead the way in many things and sadly I just don’t see them caring for some things. Perhaps they are active with the green movement so that is something.

    On a very small hopeful note, I bought a rubber stamp the other day which has the word peace and the symbol we all loved back then. So someone must be buying these stamps.

  2. In a world of terror fueled by both real and imaginary fears, the concept of peace has disappeared. The idea of being militarily proactive to prevent a catastrophe has eliminated thoughts of peace.

    The threat of the draft made military service in an unjust Vietnam war a large presence in our lives.

    I always admired the poet, William Stafford, who was a CO during WW II, a war where my father and many others enlisted before they were drafted.

    I abhor violence and war but I live in a culture of violence. Violence appears on Television, in films, and in video games. Young boys tape films on their cell phones of random beatings to impress their friends. Boxing, whose goal is to inflict a serious injury to another human being, is still considered a sport. I purchased two pair of jeans at the outdoor store last week and at the other counter a young man was purchasing a rifle. I felt immensely sad for whatever was going to be shot by that gun. I am looking at property in Vermont near a Wildlife Management Area where animals are preserved during the year so there are animals to shoot during hunting season. Imagine pulling the trigger on a shotgun aimed at a flock of migrating snow geese and then feeling somehow good about what you have done.

    It takes a certain evolved consciousness to embrace peace because peace is a collective and cooperative value whereas war and violence are selfish and egoic values.

    It is always time to give peace another chance.

    As the Dalai Lama said in a talk at Rutgers University several years ago, we must disarm our inner selves before we disarm our nations.

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  4. (I inserted “thinking about” into the last line to make it clearer.)

  5. This quotation arrives today in my reading about Shakespearean values in The Imperial Theme by G Wilson Knight: “the ideal is victory and consequent peace under a perfect king”.

    In our youthful idealism, peace was a value asserted with the intention of averting or ending war.

    In the Shakespearean world, peace is portrayed as the outcome of victorious waring. But this is the Shakespearean ideal. Most Shakespearean conflicts are preludes to further conflicts.

    Perhaps we have falsely adopted the Shakespearean ideal and we believe that peace can only be achieved by the annihilation of our opponents. This belief can only lead to a very long war.

    In Hamlet: Poem Unlimited, Harold Bloom suggests that ” Historians, though, are likely to see the destruction of the World Trade Center as the overt beginning of what could turn out to be a hundred years’ war between extremist Islamism and the West.”

    In order to give thinking about peace a chance then, we must see the world very differently than through the bipolar lenses of fundamentalist religious sensibilities.

    One whole circle has no sides.

  6. As a former ’60’s peacenik/hippie/yippie I realized when I grew up that there are those to whom peace means “helpless victim.” Talk to Chengiz Khan about peace, or Tamerlane, or Mohammed. (Or Alexander, Justinian, Caesar, Constantine, Andrew Jackson etc. for the more anti-western among your readers.) In the ’30’s most of the belligerents in WWI wanted peace far more than the hippies, but Hitler, Stalin, and Tojo overruled them. Now Ahmadinnerplate, Chavez, Putin and the Chinese talk a pious game about peace, but they run over their own people and as many defenseless neighbors as they can. The Chinese support the janjaweed in Sudan, and supported the horrors in Rwanda. And of course you have the fact that of the 20+ wars in the world going on right now, there are Moslems on at least one side in 20 of them.

    But keep at it. If you prevent even one war, it will be a blessing upon all mankind. Good luck.

  7. Could be in-part because protest songs were banned from most commercial radio stations in 2001 in the first days after 911 and have yet to return.

  8. Another hunch: peace was too personal and too complicated. So the concept first was diluted: from ‘peace in our time’ it became ‘world peace’ (a ‘cloud of goodness’, these days mainly advocated by those aspiring to become miss universe). Then it moved to the inside, to ‘being at peace with yourself’. Think meditation, think therapy, think cocooning. Society is the field where we fight our daily battles. Then we go to recluded places: our home in a walled garden, our wellness centre or lounge. There we find peace, there we enact non-violence and tolerance, to return revigorated to the real world, where we fight for other causes than peace.

    Yet another hunch: peace has turned out to be a too complicated phenomenon in the world as we experience it today. It may be a negotiated situation that requires a lot of giving and taking, a lot of smoking peace pipes, accepting limatations to our own freedom in order to guarantee those of others. Feels too complicated to achive in the world of today. We are left with the sad thought that the peace we marched for when we were young was an illusion, that couldn’t stand the test of reality.

  9. Lots of thoughtful and worthwhile ideas here.

    I’ll add a simpler and cruder suggestion about why we tallied peace more in our day, David: the draft. at that time, middle-class families had to worry about the price of war. Today’s army is disproportionately lower economic class, fighting for money. To that we add a huge corps of highly paid mercenaries.

    So the conversation has changed. Imagine that.

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