Over at my flagship, Austin Bay asks “what is peace?”:

For the past five years, I’ve taught a strategy seminar in the University of Texas’ Plan 2 undergraduate honors program. I sometimes kid the students and tell then that the course title ought to be “Big Plans.” We do consider a few rather large-scale planning problems, like Alexander the Great tackling the Persian Empire, Hannibal challenging Rome and the Mongols conducting operations from East Asia to Central Europe.

Without exception, one of the most difficult assignments comes very early in the semester: I have the students write a paper answering the question, “What Is Peace?”

I’ve yet to get a definitive answer, but without exception each class has produced deeply thoughtful and provocative analyses.

[…]

The “imperfect nature” of human beings utterly dismayed another student, but dismay was no cause for denial of rank imperfection. Instead, she castigated utopianism, particularly economic utopianism – not the idea of freedom from want but the notion it can be achieved. She concluded “peace” based on met needs was in fact “an undesirable end” because conflict “drives people to excel and forces improvement.” Curbing conflict, however, “in order to avoid violence and mass destruction” is possible – but she asserted that required creativity in resolving conflict.

[…]

Peace derives from a reduction in fear and an increase in trust. The business major’s marketplace meshed with a philosophy major’s theory that peace resulted when a population’s “collective expectations about the future” favored equilibrium or continuity on a “scale of perceived stability.” Thus soft talk and no surprises passes for peace. I asked them both if they supported very, very large intelligence budgets – and indeed they did.

A student from an immigrant family (he’s now in medical school), however, returned to Petrarch’s crooked traits, pegging the clash of human desires as the deep problem. Peace exists when “different desires” are “in agreement.” When desire refuses “compromise,” the clash of desires can escalate to the clash of arms and clash of civilizations.

This question has gnawed at me for some time now, and I was happy to see Bay address it. Most would agree that the absence of violence would be a solid byproduct of peace, but is it peace in and of itself?

One of my hangups in regard to the modern anti-war movement(s) is that they often confuse armistice – a temporary cessation of conflict – for the active presence of peace. Peace, unlike non-violence, actually requires consensus and some common understanding.

For example, the United States has had a relatively non-violent relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran for nearly thirty years. But can we define this relationship as peaceful? I’d say no.

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