If Peace Comes and Nobody Wants It

Millions marching for peace made headlines worldwide in 2003.

Millions marching for peace made headlines worldwide in 2003.

Once, while still in the U.S. Air Force, I discussed the issue of the need for world peace with someone very close to me. At one point, she very sincerely asked a question I had never considered: "What if peace comes and nobody wants it?"

I answered that if peace came and nobody wanted it, then the world would see to its immediate destruction. Sometimes I think peace is constantly asserting itself and the denizens of planet Earth are constantly insuring its destruction. Since engaging in the noted conversation, I have examined and meditated on peace from a number of perspectives and in a variety of genres. I made my best case to "let it be," I think, in an essay called FEBRUARY 15, 2003: THE HISTORY THAT PEACE MADE. The following are several excerpts:

 

(I)

It is difficult to decide the best way to pose the question: should it be at what point does peace end and war begin?  Or, at what point do those who love peace accept the reality of war’s ongoing presence in the world? 

On the weekend of February 14-16, 2003, more than 8,000,000 human beings decided that peace was something that had to begin with them and war was a reality they could not accept for the reasons offered by those proposing it.   The profound courage and intense beauty of their attempts to curtail war was one of the most notable and noble achievements ever recorded by humanity. 

Yet as triumphant and potentially redeeming as the accomplishment was, the popular media and federal government officials in the United States responded to the phenomenon as though it were little more than an amusing afternoon matinee.  Those who lived it and those who, watching mesmerized from the sidelines, thrilled at the sight of this spectacular contribution to the annals of enlightenment–despite the inability, ultimately, to avert war–knew that something much greater, much more rare, and much more precious, had taken place.  A vision of humanity as a unified force for peace had come alive in the form of millions of living breathing souls and an ideal of international democracy had been realized on a small but unprecedented scale.  History was not only made–history was tremendously honored.

 
Children in Seattle with the weight of the world
on their shoulders in 2003
.

Peace is not so much a political mandate as it is a shared state of consciousness that remains elevated and intact only to the degree that those who value it volunteer their existence as living examples of the same.  It does not end when jetliners are used as bombs to decimate skyscrapers, nor does it end when a father shoots to death his adolescent son and daughter.  Peace ends with the unraveling of individual hope and the emergence of the will to worship violence as a healer of private and social dis-ease.  It is, after all, not only nations and communities that need peace so desperately but individuals divided against other individuals and within themselves.  And whereas peace allows one to easily embrace such elements essential to integrity as respect for the truth and reverence for life, war perhaps begins with the abandonment of these same elements.

 

(III)

How does one prepare the world for peace in a manner at least as effective as that with which nations and individuals prepare the world for war?  The millions of people who announced to the world on February 15, 2003, that war was neither an adequate nor an acceptable solution to political dilemmas prepared for peace primarily by believing in it.  Many of them had suffered personal loss on September 11, 2001.  Some were veterans of previous wars, and some were veterans of previous movements for peace.  All were convinced that mass destruction was and is an endeavor inappropriate for a modern industrialized civilization.  They prepared for peace precisely in many of the ways that one might expect–by praying for it, sacrificing personal resources for it, communicating the idea of it in their words and actions, and living it with as much force of commitment as they could.

 

(V)

The estimated 8,000,000 people who demanded of the world, from February 14 to February 16, that peace be given a chance were a lot more difficult to ignore than other events leading up to the historical occasion and every major television network provided extended coverage of the worldwide phenomenon.  That the world community had spoken so voluminously and unambiguously through so many made it easy to believe that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines moving toward Baghdad would soon receive orders to execute an about face.  It appeared the most indisputably intelligent and democratic course of action available.  Only it never happened.  History, under the guidance of those clamoring for war, took the road so often traveled in the past.

           
Statements from the White House regarding the overwhelming strength of the peace movement were at best patronizing; and at worst, patronizing.  They acknowledged that the right to assembly–guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the United States and in many other countries by their constitutions and bills of human rights–was a wonderful, and perhaps amusing, thing to behold.  It was pointed out that such an activity was not guaranteed in Iraq and could result in imprisonment or death for those attempting to exercise it. And it was further made clear that such demonstrations, despite the good intentions behind them, were erroneous insofar as their political applications and implications were concerned.  The message that came through more than any other was that millions of children had successfully thrown their tantrums and should now be put quietly to bed.  Democracy as practiced in the United States during the early part of 2003 had become, apparently, much more a matter of bending and disregarding the will of the people than representing or expressing it. 

If the bodies and souls of 8,000,000 people were not sufficient to sway national policy on war against Iraq, what, then, was the meaning of such a massive uprising?  Was it truly a matter of nothing more than overgrown misinformed juveniles venting fear and frustration as implied by White House officials?  Could it have been part of a terrorist counter-tactic to weaken the United States’ war plans? Or was the international character of the movement an indication of a new form of global democracy evolving out of the fellowship established between like-minded individuals over the Internet? 

 
Peace in action in 2003.

It may be that the best answer to the meaning of February 14-16, 2003, was offered by the former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, Dr. Robert Muller, later chancellor emeritus of the University of Peace in Costa Rico.  Addressing an assembly a month after the massive demonstrations in San Francisco, Dr. Muller observed of the millions marching all over earth that, "This is what waging peace looks like.  No matter what happens, history will record that this is a new era, and the twenty-first century has been initiated with the world in a global dialogue looking deeply, profoundly and responsibly as a global community at the legitimacy of the actions of a nation that is desperate to go to war.  Through these global peace-waging efforts, the leaders of that nation are being engaged in further dialogue, forcing them to rethink, and allowing all nations to participate in the serious and horrific decision to go to war or not."

He may have added that these gallant warriors of nonviolence were doing something their countrymen who controlled the popular media had clearly refused to do: they were making peace visible.  And by accomplishing that, despite the roar of death and destruction well underway, they succeeded, for a time, in making peace real.

 

© by Aberjhani
from The American Poet Who Went Home Again

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