Tuesday, November 10, 2015

To Secure Peace

I may ruffle a few feathers with this one, but I’ve done that before. I’ll do it again. C’est la vie. Consider this your warning. Controversial thoughts lie ahead.

Conflict is the natural state of man. That isn’t a good thing; it’s just a thing. It is what’s real. Since the first man determined that a well-placed rock could end a dispute and fill a belly, we have been going above and beyond to improve upon that rock and to find new ways to inflict pain and misery on each other. It’s a talent; one I wish we didn’t find quite so useful, but one that is very real just the same.

I hate violence. It’s one of the few times I will use the word “hate,” and mean it, and not feel the least bit bashful about it. I hate violence. If I have two viable options, one violent and one not violent, and all else is equal, I will choose the not violent option by preference each and every time. You need to understand that before we go any further. If I could wave a magic wand and have a perfect world of my own design, there would be no violence, and no need of violence.

I don’t have a magic wand, though, and this world is far from perfect. In the real world, we have violence, and we sometimes need violence. Not liking that fact won’t make it unreal, and denying it won’t make it go away.

“Qui desiderat pacem, bellum praeparat.” (Whosoever desires peace prepares for war. Flavius Vegetius Renatus in De Re Militari, circa 390 B.C.E.) We’ve all heard the phrase, in one form or another, but how many have given it serious consideration. George Carlin once said that, “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity,” and Carlin hid many wise thoughts behind his particular brand of raw comedy. Unfortunately, though, as much as I would like to agree with him, Carlin was dead wrong on this one. It’s a classic case of apples and oranges, or, in this case, dynamic versus binary. Virginity is binary, on or off. You either have it or you don’t, and there is one specific act guaranteed to make sure you don’t. Peace, on the other hand, is nothing like binary. It is very dynamic, with nearly infinite degrees of variation across its spectrum. Contrary to how it might seem on the surface, there is not one way to have or not have peace.

I can hear some of you saying, “But peace is not fighting, and fighting is not peace. Simple.” Is it simple, though? No, because those who believe this are forgetting another common saying: “It takes two to tango.” Peace, just like violence, requires input from multiple people. While it is possible to be at peace in any situation, it is not possible to have peace in any situation. I can be at peace in the middle of conflict, but I cannot have peace in the middle of conflict. If you understand the difference, you begin to see the issue here.

There are violent people in this world, people who actively inflict violence, and people who will not refrain from violence simply because we ask nicely. These people will always stand in the way of peace. As long as they are only standing, let them stand. We can go around. They tend to march, though, and that may require a response. If violence in answer to violence can stop violence, that is exactly what “fighting for peace” means. Sometimes the only way to stop conflict is by wading in and physically putting a stop to it. In other words, it is sometimes necessary to fight today in order to have peace tomorrow.

As should be quite clear by now, I do not believe in the philosophy of peace at all costs. In fact, I believe that philosophy is detrimental to the idea of peace, itself. Peace at all costs is a great way to get slaves or corpses, but it’s a lousy way to get peace. Those who are inclined toward violence will not shy away from it just because people don’t fight back. If no one fights back, violent people will be violent unchecked. This may eventually lead to a sort of peace, when they run out of victims, but it won’t be a peace that peaceful people will enjoy. It probably won’t be a peace that violent people will enjoy either. It will be a miserable peace, made possible only by graves and chains. That doesn’t sound like a good thing to me.

Peace is not an end, but a means to an end. We revere peace because of what it allows us to do and what it allows us to be. When it does not allow those things, it is not to be revered. An absolutely totalitarian dictatorship might be able to achieve a perfect peace, but would anyone want it? I doubt it. I suspect even the dictator would find that sort of peace lacking, once the results were examined in detail.

I do not seek conflict, but I will not embrace a false or destructive peace just to avoid conflict. I want a better world, and that requires active effort, not passive acceptance. If, on occasion, that effort requires conflict then so be it. That is not my preference, but I have no illusion that this universe operates in accordance with my preferences. If things were done my way, I would spend a lot more time on a beach and a lot less time in an office, but we work with what we have, not with what we want. What we have is a world that will sometimes require conflict in order to achieve positive results. It is what it is.

Knowing that conflict will sometimes be required, those who prefer peace must be prepared for war. We must have peaceful warriors because the alternative is unthinkable. If we who prefer peace will not defend it then who will? If only those who glory in violence take up the sword, what will happen to the rest of us? We need those who will take arms when it is necessary to do so, but who will lay them back down again when the need abates. Without those who will fight for peace, all we will have are those who fight for war.

Not everyone is equipped for conflict, it’s true, and it is even more so that not all who prefer peace are so equipped. Not everyone is equipped for farming or crafting or any of the other necessary functions of life, either. We each do what we can, and no one is expected to do everything. It makes sense, though, to be appreciative of those who do what we can’t. I don’t farm, but I am sure grateful for those who put in the work necessary to keep food on my table. Likewise even those who abhor violence would do well to appreciate those who take up sword and shield to keep the darkness at bay. We sleep in peace because someone else is willing to do otherwise.

November 11 is Veterans Day in the United States. What began as Armistice Day after World War I was expanded after World War II to recognize and celebrate all veterans. This is the day when we officially say thank you for doing the things that many cannot do. Whether or not they are ever called to do so, each and every veteran has volunteered to put his or her life between me and someone who would do me harm. That, alone, calls for a thank you, regardless of anything else. For that, thank you.

Because I love life, I will defend it. Because I prefer peace, I will fight for it. I believe that we need more people like that, because I know that we have far too many of the other sort. I hate violence, and will do everything I reasonably can to avoid it, but when it’s necessary, it’s necessary. I don’t shirk from what is necessary, and I am thankful for others who feel the same. Thank you, veterans, for your service and your sacrifice.

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