Brave new peace

“[M]any of our intellectual weapons for peacemaking are hopelessly out of date… the way we make anti-war must reflect the way we make war.” –Alvin & Heidi Toffler (1993)

As John Robb observes, we have entered into a time of “Brave New War.” Here on Polizeros, there’s been a good deal of discussion of the new nature of it.  Yet Toffler observed almost 15 years ago that new ways of making war require new ways of making peace.  In a time of “brave new war,” we need to find a “brave new peace.”

For me, peacework starts with an axiom: an assumption that cannot be proved, but on which logical propositions are based.  Most of peace work is based on assumptions, because there is no proven formula for ending a war.  Indeed, the only way to prove a war can be ended is to end it. 

My axiom of peacework is based on the Buddhist concept of anicca, or impermanence: Everything that has a beginning has an end. Paraphrasing the Buddha’s words when he stated the Four Noble Truths, where there is war, there must be a cause, and where there is a cause, there must be a solution.  Simply put, the axiom is this: A war can be ended if its underlying cause can be understood and addressed.

The cause of a war may be difficult to identify, but it is always there.  It can usually be found by studying the history leading up to armed conflict.  Too often, war did not have to happen: there were clear opportunities along the way for avoidance.  In Sri Lanka, one Sinhalese commentator observed that all parties had missed every possible opening that could have prevented an outbreak of hostilities.

Much like trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube, once violence breaks out, war can be exceedingly difficult to end. This suggests another axiom: it is easier to prevent a war than to end it once it begins.

I’ve been invited to explore, in a series of posts, what I’ve learned in my own peacework. In turn, I’d like to invite your comments and discussion, since I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have all the answers.  And in the process, perhaps some insight can be reached in the practical application of trying to end a war.

  • DJ has lived in Sri Lanka for extended periods volunteering for Sarvodaya, a grassroots organization working to end the civil war there.

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