Visualize Peace

In these days of microwave meals and one minute managers, we talk to each other on the run. Lately we have started wearing our creeds on our bumpers. The bumper-sticker has become the billboard where we advertise our philosophies of life, present our instant solutions to complex problems. True Believers of varying persuasions placard their sentiments so they can be read at 55 mph: ” Wipe out Hunger”  “Born to Shop” “Honk if you love Jesus.” “US out of Nicaragua”  “Nuke the Whales” “Hug your children”.

One of the slogans that interests and puzzles me most says simply: “Visualize Peace.”

I appreciate the suggestion that the cause of peace might be furthered more by accentuating the positive than trying to eliminate the negative. It is not enough to be anti-war. By now most of us have a repertoire of horrible images of the effects of war. We have grown up with pictures of concentration camps, Warsaw in ruins,napalmed children running down a road in Vietnam.  And we are haunted by apocalyptic nightmares of nuclear blasts in which cities, like Nagasaki, are reduced within a matter of seconds to heaps of ashes and radioactive dust.

Maybe these images trigger a state of anxiety that is necessary to get us seriously motivated to work on arms control and search for more peaceful solutions to our problems . But I’m afraid ,just as often, they paralyze us . We become like children in a dream pursued by a monster. We can’t move because the threat is too massive for us to do much about.

But when we turn away from the horrors of war and try to visualize peace what images come to mind?

In the first place, there seem to be a lot of doves with olive branches and lions lying down with lambs. These images imply that we should coo at our enemies, or cuddle up together in  same pastoral Utopia. They express the faith that peace can be created by moral persuasion. If only we would be gentle,if we would disarm, others would certainly follow our good example.

Next in popularity come images of mothers and children. We are regularly bombarded with stories of innocents abroad, madonnas turned citizen diplomats, peace-children bearing gifts of Levis and ball-point pens ,adolescent ambassadors winning the hearts of Soviet citizens by sharing recipes for borscht or playing basketball together. Oh, if only hard-hearted politicians would listen to the sincere desire of the Common People we would have no war.

Occasionally we are treated to a more sophisticated vision of a society converted to the economics of peace: industry forging plowshares from recycled swords; the hog share of the defense budget devoted to social security, wiping out poverty at home and abroad, cleaning up our rivers and air, preserving forests for our children, creating alabaster cities undimmed by human tears.

What’s wrong with these images?

To begin with,they don’t work. It is a sad fact that our negative images of the enemy –Communists as atheists and immoral brutes, Shiite Moslems as madmen and terrorists– are very effective. They increase our paranoia, make us suspect, hate, and prepare for war. But our images of doves, lambs and distant Utopias don’t motivate us to desire or work for peace. At best, they are naive and sentimental and ,at worst, boring. Nobody seems to get very excited by the dream of a world in which there is no conflict. Let’s face it, peace as we usually visualize it doesn’t have much sex appeal.

Most peaceful visions fail because they do not confront the problem of power,selfishness, and violence. What if my neighbor isn’t a gentle-man? When lions lie down with lambs it is usually bad news for lambs. We had generations of “peace” in Central America so long as the lambs–the peasants–allowed themselves to be shorn by rich and powerful landowners. And ,no doubt, the Soviets would be quite happy to impose their version of peace on Afghanistan if only the Mujahadeen would comply. The powerful have always been willing to baptize the status quo and name it “peace”, and the impotent are regularly accused of being troublemakers when they all they seek is justice.

There is another, entirely opposite, set of images that promotes the idea of peace through strength and armed superiority. Here we see a bird of a different feather–the hawk.The modern minuteman with “peacekeeping” missiles (replacing the muscles of the traditional warrior–visualize Arnold Schwartzneger as Conan) stands guard over our frontiers and shields innocent civilians under the Star War umbrella.  No sane enemy would dare risk the triple threat from the gods of air, land and sea ( all now united in the pantheon of war) : Atlas,  Titan, Poseidon.

Without question these hawkish images are virile and exciting, but they are every bit as misleading and naive as those of the lofty, softy Doves. If history teaches us anything it is that what you get from threat, intimidation and violence is more of the same. An economy, a government, a community  habituated to the production of arms and preparations for war cannot seriously wage peace. Like addicts ,we crave more and more of what did not satisfy us in the first place. We sell our future for a vain hope that the increasingly demonic power of omnicidal arms will create a humane community. Nor does the warriors nuclear shield protect us any more. The apocalypse, whether it comes with a bang or a whimper, by fire storm or nuclear winter, will destroy soldier and civilian with democratic indifference.

Both Doves and Hawks cause us to devalue and despise the political process –the push and pull of opposing interests, the hard negotiations and agonizing compromises– that is our only hope for peace in this pluralistic world we inhabit.

I suggest our best metaphor for peace is an ancient one–the wrestling match. The Greeks visualized peace as a form of loving combat, a contest, or “agon” between well matched and respectful opponents.  They applied the word” agon” equally to a wrestling match, a verbal dialogue, and the contests in the Olympic games. Their highest vision was of a world in which the impulse to war might be gentled in an arena where men and women competed for glory . They thought of conflict as creative and strengthening so long as it was rule governed.

When I visualize peace I think of nations wrestling together. Politics as a playing field. I see enemies facing each other not as evil empires but as worthy opponents who struggle honestly to further their legitimate interests and value systems. I see the US and the USSR trying to learn from each others strengths and weaknesses, Capitalism and Socialism locked, not in a Holy War, but in a dialogue about the priority of the individual or the community. And let there be rules,world law, and world courts, honored by all ,and referees powerful enough to enforce the will of the commonwealth of nations.

I haven’t quite gotten my faith down to a formula yet. But when I do my bumper sticker will say something like: Learn from your Enemy. Or, Grapple For Peace.