I remember with chagrin being summarily corrected for my sure-of-myself statement “Peace is the absence of war.” I had thought it through and concluded that as long as they weren’t harming anyone, people should be allowed to do what they wanted.
Neophyte philosopher that I was, I needed someone a bit wiser to inform me that I was missing a key point: If we take peace for granted, we’ll probably not have it long.
I believe we need to promote peace as a positive virtue, a thing marvelous in itself, and not just as the absence of war. We don’t normally talk about peace, we don’t rhapsodize about it, we don’t celebrate it. The only holidays we have that are de facto celebrations of peace are those dedicated to the ends of wars.
We are once again longing for peace in the form of wanting a long and costly war to be over. When what was put into place by a spurious promise of security and a desire to show them whose boss, drags to its ignominious conclusion, what will happen to our commitment to peace?
Back at the edges of our personally relevant histories is the “War to end all wars.” Think of how closely that was followed by World War II, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Gulf War, and finally the War in Iraq, plus assorted “minor” conflicts all involving the U.S. The question arises over and over, as it does in the song: “When will we ever learn?” The answer is: not until we learn to appreciate peace.
The surest road away from war is towards peace. We need to study peace, so that we understand the enormous and general benefits it sheds upon all of us. When is the last time you heard someone—even someone running for office—extolling in anything but generalities what we could do with all the wealth that’s wasted on war?
We need to celebrate peace. We need to do so with the sense of delight of the flower children of the 70’s, but without their naiveté. We need to figure out. independently of religion that so often promotes war, that it is the ethical, the good, and the right thing to be at peace. We need to further understand that peace is practical because it’s good, and it’s good because it’s practical.
Until we get to know and love peace for what it truly is, we will be susceptible to the siren call of war. That call comes from the few who make their ill-gotten, short-sighted profits from war and from those with a lust for the power of “leading” the charge, albeit from the safety of their plush offices. It is precisely because these people already wield so much power and influence that the rest of us can’t lie back passively at peace.
I believe if we are to have a peaceful society, we must want it much more than we want war. Because that seems such a simple proposition, it’s easy to let it fade from our attention. This time when we celebrate the end of war, let us consciously and conscientiously begin a non-stop celebration of peace.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.