Most of the American president invoked
peace in their inaugural addresses, but few explained what they
meant by it or showed any evidence of understanding it in anything
more than an incantatory sense. Interestingly, the best passage
I found was by Dwight Eisenhower, a professional warrior for most
of his life, in his second inaugural address:
seek peace, knowing that peace is the climate of freedom. And now,
as in no other age, we seek it because we have been warned, by the
power of modern weapons, that peace may be the only climate possible
for human life itself. "Yet this peace we seek cannot be born
of fear alone: it must be rooted in the lives of nations. There
must be justice, sensed and shared by all peoples, for without justice
the world can know only a tense and unstable truce. There must be
law, steadily invoked and respected by all nations, for without
law the world promises only such meager justice as the pity of the
strong upon the weak. But the law of which we speak, comprehending
the values of freedom, affirms the equality of all nations, great
and small. "Splendid as can be the blessings of such a peace,
high will be its cost: in toil patiently sustained, in help honorably
given, in sacrifice calmly borne."
That's not a bad expression of high-minded statesmanship, circa
mid-century. It almost makes one nostalgic to read it now; in the
light of post-Cold-War imperialism it seems almost naïve.
have recently raised their estimation of Eisenhower, who while in
office was generally viewed as a benevolent but detached golfer.
It is worth remembering, however, that he was the only modern American
president to express concern over the growing military-industrial
complex as he was leaving office, to be sure and his comments
showed a certain amount of insight into the dangers of the complex
to freedom, the rule of law and fundamental American principles.
My favorite quote came from that old
pacifist-activist A.J. Muste: "There is no way to peace. Peace
is the way." Martin Luther King, Jr. said something similar:
"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means
by which we arrive at that goal." A woman known as Peace Pilgrim
said: "When you find peace within yourself, you become the
kind of person who can live at peace with others."
Einstein once said that "Every kind of peaceful cooperation
among men is primarily based on mutual trust and only secondarily
on institutions such as courts of justice and police." The
Swami Brahmanada declared that "In truth, to attain to interior
peace, one must be willing to pass through the contrary to peace.
Such is the teaching of the Sages."
NEED FOR CONCRETE IMAGES OF PEACE
of what I found was interesting and insightful, but the image of
peace projected was almost universally virtually devoid of content.
What does peace mean beyond the absence of war, a surcease of violence?
Why is it desirable? What promise does it bring beyond contentment
and a good night's sleep?
that contentment and rest are to be despised, but peacemongers would
do well to acknowledge that war has long held attractions, and not
all of them obviously ignoble or embraced only by a tiny band of
elite leaders who gain power or wealth from war. War can be seen
as and sometimes really is an adventure that can be experienced
in no other way. It is a testing ground, especially for young men
who feel the need to discover what they are really made of. It can
impart a sense of camaraderie and fellowship, of strong feelings
for one's fellows that is difficult to find in any other endeavor.
For many veterans even though they may have horrific memories of
blood and buddies lost war was the peak experience of their lives.
can peace offer as a counter-attraction to what might be a genuine
human need to test oneself in situations that are not only exciting
but present one with the stark possibility of facing life or death?
I suspect such risk seeking is not a universal human desire I never
felt much desire to participate in extreme sports, even when I was
younger and more foolish (though I must admit some of the videos
are fascinating) but it seems to be a widespread urge. And even
those who prefer to "pass our time in rest and quietness"
(as the old Book of Common Prayer's Collect for Peace puts it) still
have a desire for various kinds of excitement.
didn't say it would be easy, nor did I claim to have the answers.
It might take us a millennium to fill up the platter of peace with
meats, sweets and condiments sufficient to inspire a critical mass
of humanity to study war no more.
a sense, selling peace is a bit like selling freedom, presenting
some of the same difficulties. Those who advocate restrictions on
freedom often have the rhetorical advantage of promising some concrete
benefit in exchange for giving up some freedom. The promise may
well be a false one, and it may even be known to the promiser to
be false. But it still has rhetorical and persuasive power.
honest advocate of freedom, however, can seldom make such promises.
If people are really free, you simply can't predict what they will
do, and you can be reasonably sure that some of them will behave
badly. You can argue from theory and experience that they will produce
more, innovate more, love and laugh more than those in bondage.
But you can't honestly promise that things will turn out for the
best, and it's easy to sound like a naïve Pollyanna with an
unjustifiably rosy view of human nature.
making a case for peace, however, it might be possible to turn the
circumstance to an advantage. Peace, like freedom, carries possibilities
that are simply impossible to contemplate under tyranny or war.
Maybe scientists won't discover new methods of communication or
nutrients that will allow us to live longer and healthier lives;
if they're living in bomb shelters and designing weapons, however,
you can be sure they won't. Maybe the next Bach or Rembrandt or
Shakespeare or Louis Armstrong won't delight future generations;
if he is killed in a bombing raid, however, you can be sure his
or her gifts will never be shared.
might be a beginning. I sense there's a strong need to go well beyond
what I have said or can even imagine. I sense that serenity and
joy can be more firmly correlated with peace and the relationships
among them can be explored in more detail. I am sure, as Basil O'Connor
once said, that "the world cannot continue to wage war like
physical giants and seek peace like intellectual pygmies."
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