An announcement that crossed my desk about the upcoming Second Annual UNM Peace Fair set me to thinking again about this very misunderstood notion of “peace.” It could be a symptom of just how far we've strayed as a society from our most fundamental values that the term “peace” has virtually disappeared from the public policy lexicon.
We don't waste time dismissing it or arguing with it. We simply ignore it as even a distant or potential goal for these hyper-realistic times post-9/11. We instead find ourselves listening to our president talk about a “perpetual war against terrorism,” and we aren't amazed that we don't recoil at the prospect.
So it is very encouraging that in the midst of this awful vision for the future there is still a hardy remnant of the American population willing to wave the banner for peace. I'm planning on going to that Peace Fair next Wednesday, March 29, at the UNM Student Union Ballroom. We desperately need mutual support in times like this, when there are so few messages about hope being offered.
There will be speakers at the fair, as well as entertainment, information booths, food, art, poetry and music. It sounds like a great chance to revive our energies and it will be free to everyone. Last year, over 1,500 people attended for some part of the event, which starts at noon and lasts until the SUB closes at 10 p.m. Planners intend for it to be a true Albuquerque community event, not one limited to university students or organizations.
The Peace Fair's theme is what caught my eye: “Wage Peace, Question Violence.” It reminds me of a bumper sticker I see occasionally around town (but I don't think I've ever seen one on a Humvee) that says, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Which also brings to mind a lesson from a long-ago study group: Peace is much more than simply the absence of war.
Yet that's what we've allowed the loudest voices in our national cheering section to insist: Peace is something we achieve once we finish the war. No wonder we never talk about peace if that's how we define it.
We've already appointed ourselves the worldwide policeman against terror; therefore, we have to abandon all hope for ever achieving peace since that particular war can never be truly over.
But there is an alternative definition of peace to consider. It offers a vigorous, robust, active view of peace, not just the “absence of war” that sounds so passive and weak. It is a view that rejects violence but not conflict. It works for justice, not conquest. It tirelessly seeks solutions for problems, and doesn't bury them under quick-and-dirty polling results or “majority” votes where dollars hold sway.
Peace is not reached by compromise. It is not imposed by the powerful on the vanquished. It is not thin gruel offered to starving waifs willing to settle for anything warm in their chipped soup bowls. It is instead the most powerful, uncompromising and insistent force in history—the demand for justice.
There is no peace if there is economic oppression. Environmental degradation. Racial, sexual or religious discrimination. Inadequate education, health care, housing.
So this view of “peace,” far from being merely the “absence of war,” is an agreement within a society to create something wonderful: opportunity, choice, access.
The problem is, of course, that this vision also involves a rejection of what we have somehow blundered into making the cornerstone of our current supercompetitive society: the fallacy that somehow if each of us pursues our own self-interest exclusively, out of all that greed and selfishness an equitable community will emerge.
It is not possible to build a just world (and therefore to create peace) by seeking to do whatever it takes to maximize profits and compete ferociously for market share. That is the downward path toward the First World/Third World split that has produced pre-emptive war in Iraq, global warming, starvation in Africa and universal desperation.
The third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq is an appropriate time to spend puzzling out how we might achieve peace.
We have been at war with terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq for 51 months now (November 2001 to March 2006). World War II lasted 45 months (December 1941 to August 1945). Only Vietnam, of all our other foreign wars, lasted longer than our current conflict in the Middle East. By the end of this calendar year, we will have been fighting in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II. There is no end in sight.
Stopping this war is not enough. Building justice, relearning peace, may be a slow, difficult process for us. I'm hoping the UNM Peace Fair next week opens a few doors in that direction.