Address on Peace
Originally presented to
The Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics Annual Peace Conference.
(They were not happy):
Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, Men and Women of, as they say, Good Will:
Before I begin, let me reduce the entire text of this speech to five words:
"...good fences make good neighbours..."
That is, of course Robert Frost, and now anyone who wishes to leave, may do so fully satisfied that he or she has heard the full address. Though Robert Frost clearly meant the opposite, as everyone knows.
And now the actual address:
From Webster's Dictionary:
1. The absence of war or other hostilities.
2. An agreement or a treaty to end hostilities.
3. Freedom from quarrels and disagreement; harmonious relations.
4. Public security and order.
5. Inner contentment; serenity.
If we take the first definition above to be the most significant one - and I do not think it is - then, peace may be a good thing, depending on its price. An "absence of war" that may exist because we have been conquered or enslaved is not peace in the second, third or fifth definition above. But assuming that the absence of war has been achieved via mutually agreeable terms, then peace may be desirable.
Peace, after all, is a derivative of the word "pact" from the Latin pactum, meaning agreement. Agreement on any level - personal, civic, global - is conducive to, if not definitive of, peace. But - how realistic is agreement?
Insofar as peace requires more than one party for the first four definitions above and probably for the fifth, (one can hardly be serene in a state of total isolation wherein one has no occupation nor useful purpose to others, Thomas Merton notwithstanding, as he did after all write to and for others) if we are practical about serenity, the probability for true agreement decreases with the number of parties involved. And in the absence of true, deep agreement, the value of peace leaves much to question.
Peace is essentially a defenceless state. It trusts that there are no aggressors, that everyone is in a state of agreement (see definitions of peace above); that walls, passports, arms, weapons, suspicions are inappropriate to a state of this accord. It is, in essence, the Chamberlain-ian view. Whereas, in this not only post-holocaust world, but post-Cain and Abel world, a state of defencelessness is gross stupidity.
Those who consider themselves peacemakers, humanists, or even responsible intelligent citizens, and who tend to regard themselves (usually with some complacency) as ethically conscientious or even ethically superior beings, often seem reluctant to bear in mind the possibility that a state of armed truce may be preferable to a state of peace as defined above. This is also a form of stupidity.
It is not necessary to assume that just because one is armed against invasion (and here the reference to personal individual lives as well as national security) that one need consider the invaders to be "enemies" or morally deficient people, nations, etc. (although of course, they well could be, depending on intent). Just as possible, however is that they are good people or nations - perhaps better on some objective scale. Conflict may arise merely because our objectives differ and theirs may oppose, hinder, obstruct, or even obliterate us. If we wish to leave that possibility open, then peace is a natural goal. If we wish to stake a claim to continued existence on this planet in whatever state we deem appropriate to our own best interests - then we must be prepared for opposition, for argument, disagreement, disharmony, difficulty, friction, dissent, strife, discord - for the consequences of collision between contrary ideologies - for war.
"Being prepared" does not mean "intention to engage in." It means being prepared. We may never have a major earthquake in California in our lifetimes - but we have water and flashlights in the garage. The advantage to preparedness against human invasion, as opposed to earthquake preparedness is that the latter is not a deterrent. An earthquake is as likely to occur if we are prepared as if we are not. A war - or even an attempt at interference, is deterred from happening by the mere presence of visible preparedness.
Peace is not a natural state. It precludes the clash and invention and danger - the controversy, contention, polemic, wrangle and resolution of human life. It gives up too much for too little. It gives up honesty - it gives up the true wish not to be involved with - not to be near, around or even brushed by a culture - a religion - a fanaticism, a habit, a sexual practice, a legislative system with which one or one's nation is at total variance. It seeks tolerance at the price of ethical integrity, sometimes even of existence as a distinct being or a distinct culture. It seeks harmony between the bird and the fish where no harmony need exist.
Separate elements can co-exist without reference to one another - equally entitled to occupy space, sing their songs, live out their vastly different lives. (And to those who point out that the bird is the natural predator of the fish - well - yes - some fish. Some birds. Some fish. The sparrow is no danger to the tuna. The point is for the salmon to avoid the eagle - or evolve.)
In order to have complete peace, one must have trust. Impossible.
Until everyone believes in the same causes, embraces the same gods, honours the same holy words and holy days (religious and patriotic, ethnic and gender-based, sexual and civic, mental and physical, intellectual and aesthetic) - Impossible.
Peace, and the pursuit of peace is, therefore, destructive.
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance