Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Peace of the Grave

Dr Udayakumar may well be correct in his analysis. I will concede that there are differences between what is evoked in the minds of non-Westerners when “peace” is mentioned, compared to that which is in the minds of Westerners. Peace as a “matter of existence” and “life oriented” sounds very much like Mahatma Ghandi’s vision of peace. Richard Jackson amplifies this Ghandian conception by writing that “Peace is not just the absence of violence; rather, it must be actively and deliberately (re)constructed through social action and political practice everyday.”
In some ways, Ghandi’s peace is the peace of the grave. In Ghandi’s book Non-violence in Peace and War, he advised England to put down their arms in the face of Nazis because it was better to be dead than to be violent: “I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.” (pg 115)

To realize Ghandi’s peace, short of the grave, requires unnatural quantities of faith and courage to even contemplate, much less strive to obtain. Most people do not have so deep a reservoir of faith, so must be content with a definition of peace that may include the presence of justice but most emphatically MUST include “absentia bella” or absence of war, as a pre-requisite. It is only in the breathing space created by the absence of actual combat that philosophers and aesthetes can contemplate whether the absence of conflict they are in is “shallow peace” and what more need be done to deepen it.

Classic examples of this observation in action is the peace in China after the Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 and the peace that prevailed in Korea after the armistice in 1953. In both cases, the shooting stopped and people, at least on one side of the conflict, began to internalize life-oriented deep peace. These countries have experienced nearly 6 decades without armed conflict. In South Korea and Taiwan have also been liberal democracies for years. Now, there are substantial parts of the populations of both countries that are pacifist. These large groups of the electorate are having increasing influence on election and on the policies of the leaders once elected. These peace movements would like nothing more for their countries to completely renounce conflict.

South Korea and Taiwan developed this life-oriented deep peace after a cessation of conflict, and little more. There was no formal peace treaty for either country, instead, Taiwan and South Korea have existed in a sort of cold war with their primary enemy for all these years. However, the absence of conflict was sufficient to give the inhabitants of these counties a chance to develop Ghandi’s deep peace.

The conditions that prevail in South Korea and Taiwan are probably the best that a government can do to foster “full peace.” A government can respond to provocations by either resorting to combat, or not. Inside the “or not” category is the entire spectrum of options that include everything from disarmament and supplication that Ghandi urged on the English during WWII, to financing a proxy war as the America did against Afghanistan in the 80’s. However, the lack of actual combat, while it may not meet Dr Udayakumar’s definition of “full peace” nonetheless allows those so inclined to strive for full peace.

Inertia is one of the strongest forces in the universe, and psychological inertia is one of the most powerful determinants of actions in humans. If humans grow to expect a lack of conflict, humans begin to sense a lack of conflict as the natural order. It becomes harder with each generation to conceive of breaking the peace, even if that peace, all those many years ago, was based on a “temporary” armistice. Absentia bella gives people, regardless of their underlying culture, a chance to conceptualize peace, and makes Ghandi’s vision of a deeper peace that much more likely.

Gandhi, Mahatma. Non-violence in peace and war. (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Press)

Jackson, Richard (ed.). (Re)Constructing Cultures of Violence and Peace. (Amsterdam: Rodopi) 2002.