WINTER 2000/01
Peace Matters index




reactionary forces


ONLINE contents

- goddesses of peace
- cluster bombs
- kid's tv preventing violence
- reactionary forces
- peacemaking in Cyprus
- remembering the holocaust
- conflict transformation

Watchtowers and barbed wire fences stretching across the 745 miles border between Poland and the Ukraine, despite misgivings, are being erected as the price for Poland’s EU membership


'War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention', said a 19th century lawyer. The Invention of Peace is the title given by historian Michael Howard to his recent essay on war and international order. This small book - it fits nicely into the average coat pocket - offers an excellent history of war in Europe, not so much condensed as distilled - both précis and panorama - in 30,000 words of elegant, vigorous prose. Peace, remarks the author, is 'a far more complex affair than war', and thought by political leaders to be a practicable project 'only during the last two hundred years'. Some of us may feel it hasn't been even that long.

Pacifists need to know about war. We're certain that war isn't natural, instinctive or inevitable; but it's long been an optional habit into which many people have fallen, or been pushed. We need to understand it if we're to drive it out of fashion.

So The Invention of Peace is instructive, letting the reader look down, as it were, on the ebb and flow of wars across the continent. From this bird's eye overview we can see how war gets into the system of bodies politic and lurks there like a chronic and debilitating disease, sometimes manifesting itself in nasty bouts, sometimes emerging in painful local eruptions. Until the Enlightenment and Immanuel Kant, no-one thought there was a cure. Since then prescriptions for peace have multiplied, but there's been reluctance to try them out. A tendency to think that war is the price of peace has proved hard to dislodge.

Even Michael Howard, who has no brief for war, is infected. 'Peace is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate, and highly volatile'. Surely that's a definition of war? Throughout history wars have been waged by far less than half the population; most have doggedly got on with commitments to work, family, life - often fortified by the teachings of some well-known pacifists, Buddha, Lao Tse, Jesus, Gandhi. There will be always be conflicts; 'peace' doesn't imply their absence.

What it implies to Michael Howard is 'a social and political ordering of society that is generally accepted as just' which 'may take generations to achieve, and social dynamics may then destroy it within a few decades. Paradoxically, war may be an intrinsic part of that order.' Where's the paradox? Where war is intrinsic, of course such instability will prevail: where war is intrinsic, the peaceful order hasn't been achieved.

'Change is the greatest enemy of stability and so, in consequence, of peace,' is Michael Howard's view. But shouldn't the true stability we aspire to, in home and town and country and world, be a peaceful framework in which change can take place? Conversely, why should instability necessarily produce war? War may have been historically a preferred reaction to unrest, but that's choice, not inevitability.

Howard's History traces a series of 'new orders', none of which has quite turned out as their architects hoped. The Church, ostensibly a unifying influence, had to reconcile its peaceful doctrine with warlords on which its survival depended, and came up with the idea of the just war. As a result, war became routinely perceived as part of the social and political order, with Europe divided into thousands of power bases. Soon 'war was no longer a struggle for survival but a form of litigation, limited, like all litigation, by the resources of the litigants'. Increasingly expensive for small princedoms to wage, war led to the creation of states, each with its own army: peace should be preserved - but only as a balance between powers; 'a balance that might have to be constantly adjusted by wars'.

Immanuel Kant produced his blueprint for peace in 1795. Kant, says Howard, was alone in understanding that 'demolition of the military structures in Europe would be no more than a preliminary clearing of the ground. New foundations would then have to be laid: peace had to be established.' Kant's vision was of a 'league of nations', all of them republics. He understood that getting there would be a long process; but 'a seed of enlightenment' would prevail. His words: 'It is our duty to act according to the idea (which reason commands) even if there is not the least probability that it can be achieved' - a fine encapsulation of historic pacifist endeavour.

Kant's famous essay was written as revolution ('this universal doctrine of peace and brotherhood spread by French bayonets') was spawning huge armies of unpaid, untrained, undisciplined men reliant on loot. 19th century nationalism 'opened a Pandora's box whose contents have not yet been exhausted'. And with industrialisation war had become quickly winnable, or so the generals thought.

In a system in which armed forces are the key it is to armed force that people turn. Despite the horrors of World War 1, war didn't end there. 'A new kind of war was possible that would give scope both for professional skill and individual heroism. It would be waged, not by masses of conscripts commanded by chateau-bound generals far behind the lines, but by keen young specialists in violence: tank commanders, airmen, storm-troopers'. And it was; though the threat to civilians, and the extent of the war, had been underestimated. The war-based view from 1945 was that 'military power was essential not only to establish peace but also to preserve it'. The Cold War followed, brought to an end, like many others, by economic rather than political or principled forces.

The 1990s - in which at last the link between poverty and war was acknowledged - may have held a gleam of Kantian hope. We now have, observes Michael Howard, 'a genuine global transnational community with common values' - a foundation, one might think, for a new world order that works. But no, 'the state still remains the only effective mechanism through which people govern themselves', and states are vulnerable. Supranational bodies can override them. Multinational ones can control or bypass them.

Michael Howard adds, disturbingly, that some new states, once colonies, 'have not experienced that essential rite of passage: fighting, or at least showing a credible readiness to fight, for their independence', and in consequence have only factional foci for loyalty. 'War, or the ever-present possibility of war, no longer provided the cohesive force that held society together, and nothing comparable had emerged to take its place.' Modernisation and the promotion of humanitarian norms, essentially Western, were seen as signs of human progress: but 'there are those even in the West who now consider it a manifestation of cultural imperialism'.

Furthermore, he says, 'There is something about rational order that will always leave some people, especially the energetic young, deeply and perhaps rightly dissatisfied. Militant nationalist movements or conspiratorial radical ones provide excellent outlets for boredom.'

But all this is seeing things from war's point of view. For pacifists the answer is plain: the only way to end war is to make it impossible. A new order will work if it allows difference and dispute, but puts weapons of war out of the equation. There'll probably always be bullies and psychopaths, the vicious and the vengeful, the politics of power and the rage of rebellion; there doesn't always have to be war.

But the cracks that let the virus in are there right now. The European Union is setting up its Rapid Reaction Force ('What can it do that NATO can't?' asks Time magazine. 'Not much.'). 745 miles of, yes, wire fences, watchtowers and border guards - the 'Lace Curtain' - are going up on the Polish border, to keep the East out of the West's market. The UN wants to pull out of Haiti: 'attempts to strengthen democracy are failing in the face of mounting violence against the international community'.

It's time people turned against war instead.

In 'Peace Matters' 22 Howard Clark wrote about Albanian nonviolent action in Kosovo after threats to its autonomy from 1988. He told of the miners' march which inspired demonstrations throughout the province; the people's 'semi-resistance' using orchestrated noise, the 'days of sorrow' marked by lighted candles in house windows; their successful campaign to reconcile endemic blood feuds in the interests of solidarity; their nonviolent response to mass sackings and suppression of education, by establishing effective parallel systems of schooling, taxation and medical care.

Now he's published a book about it: both history and analysis, detailed and scrupulous, of the Kosovan nonviolent movement and how it fell short of complete success. Here are valuable insights into what's needed to make nonviolence work - for anyone, pacifist or not.

It's clear that nonviolent resistance requires great courage, or at any rate the potential for it. Under a determined repressive regime, nonviolent resisters need all the qualities traditionally associated with war: bravery, endurance, resourcefulness, commitment, in full knowledge of the risks.

There's another essential virtue that for many is the hardest of all: patience. 'Nothing worthwhile grows in a hurry', and civil resistance is always likely to be slow in getting results. But it's human nature to want results; and human nature to need a sense of achievement, some encouragement that what they're doing is indeed worthwhile. For reasons that Howard Clark's account makes plain, many Kosovars ran out of patience.

Haunting most of the decade was the fear - national and international - that Kosovan Albanians would start an uprising that would precipitate another Balkan war. Much of the (inadequate) sympathy Kosovars gained abroad relied on their continuing not to rock the boat. In 1997 the students' union UPSUP, frustrated by the inactive waiting game conducted by Kosovan leadership, started their own campaign of 'active nonviolence', focused on the human right to education. These non-political demonstrations were broken up by police; as a visiting activist said, 'The contrast between the quiet but powerful nonviolence of the students and the violence and brutal attack by the police was overwhelming'.

Weariness with seemingly unending deprivation, killings, torture, imprisonment, police beatings and harassment was now too great for the people. On the Albanian national day, November 28 1997, the Kosova Liberation Army made its first public appearance at the funeral of a teacher killed in a gun battle. Then in spring 1998 came the Drenica massacres, an atrocity too far. 'How can we protest about closed university buildings when children are dying in Drenica?' 'We used to go to villages after a police raid to urge the villagers to stay calm. They didn't return fire - and were taken out and shot.' 'The people expect to suffer and sacrifice, but now, not without retaliation'. The war virus once more took hold.

Although in 2000 a peace-oriented President has been peacefully elected, a correspondent reports that the prevailing youth culture in Kosovo is 'stridently pro-KLA', adding grimly, 'the tragedy of the Kosovan Serbs seems likely to continue'.

But it was, encouragingly, the nonviolent protest that first attracted significant attention abroad. Howard Clark remarks: 'This was a rare instance when foreign governments saw explicitly waging strategic nonviolent conflict as a form of conflict prevention in its own right, and offered support'.

Patience has to be positive, not passive. There must always be something to work towards, something to sustain endurance. And if that something is the positive 'waging of nonviolent conflict', the needs can be met, not only of the oppressed - anywhere in the world - but also of those who turn to war for excitement and a cause.

The more one understands conflicts, the clearer it is that they should be managed nonviolently. Something else is obvious, too, and well understood by the peace teams and peace workers who study conflict resolution and are working at the grass roots to put it into practice: governments and governmental organisations have little part to play in bringing war to an end. It's the people who must do that.

This idea is travelling round the world already: people in trouble spots now seek out the nonviolent experts (who are also multiplying) and ask for help and training. 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for life' went the old Chinese proverb before we polluted the seas. Equally, give people a peacekeeping army and you're lucky if you give them peace for even a day. But teach them how to build peace, and they could have it for as long as they keep it standing. The dream of 'perpetual peace' could, indeed, come true.

Margaret Melicharova

Michael Howard: The Invention of Peace. Profile Books, 2000
Howard Clark: Civil Resistance in Kosovo. Pluto Press, 2000


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