Today, Americans are debating, marveling and despairing at Washington’s latest military action – or inaction – abroad. We obsess over the latest White House, CIA or Pentagon cover-up, study and deplore the latest intervention gone wrong. We wonder why it can’t be different.
We wonder why the system doesn’t seem to work, and why the actions taken by Washington overseas always lead to more death, more hatred, more destruction, and more war. We wonder what would it be like if the United States conducted a constitutional foreign policy, or maybe, a constitutional domestic policy. We wonder if there really is such a thing as a peace dividend. We wonder if authoritarian and heavily militarized governments in northern and southern hemispheres are the norm, or just a terrible phase through which we are passing through on our way to a bright and blessed 21st century.
We wonder, why not peace?
There is a new collection of thoughts that delve into and explore this very possibility. The contributors to Why Peace, edited by Marc Guttman, represent a wide variety of experience.
The book consists of 78 short, compelling, eye-opening, and personal stories written by people who have decided on war, prosecuted war, fought in war, been victimized and damaged by war, those who have made careers on war and those who have been imprisoned as a result of war. There are stories from those who have worked and lived in the aftermath of war. Why Peace is a stimulating multigenerational conversation, around a comfortable table in your own kitchen, between the parents and children of war about visions of peace.
The chapters in Why Peace will take you around the world, and back to your own backyard. The perspectives, opinions, and experiences contained in Why Peace weave a living tapestry of our recent history, melding war’s ugliness and tragedy with the sanitized overworld of governments and politics and economics. The vignettes are not envisioned or dreamt of, but experienced and lived by real people, here in the United States and around the world.
Before sharing some of the inspirational portions of Why Peace that particularly spoke to me, a philosophical point must be made. Among apologists for the state, there exists a false idea that recurring destruction of humanity and property and peace through authoritarianism and war is the normal human condition. Because this condition is unavoidable, statist proponents of this fallacy contend that it is best for strong states to aspire to be stronger, and do what they can to lead these “wars,” control these “wars,” win these “wars” and benefit from these “wars.”
War is “the health of the state” and thus, the prevalence of wars. Money made by and for certain sectors, and political power consolidated and exercised by parties and politicians when a “nation” is seized by war fervor are driving factors. But war is a state disease, not a human compulsion. Above all, Why Peace illustrates this point.
The book begins with Marc Guttman’s introduction and some charming and hilarious stories about his own experiences, and those of his father, who served in a New York Army National Guard unit during the Vietnam era. At some point, Guttman mentions a precursor to the infamous 1970s Stanford prison experiments. The Asch conformity experiments of the 1950s demonstrated scientifically what Sinclair Lewis did in prose, yet twenty years earlier with It Can’t Happen Here. We are social beings, and we aspire to conform, even when that conformity is clearly wrong, unprincipled, dangerous in destructive.
Why Peace, in its entirety, will mean different things to different people. A review and a masterful assessment of the collection is a major undertaking, and like a good conversation, it would necessarily travel down more than a few rabbit trails. Reading this book, if you wish to learn, you will. If you are susceptible to emotionalism or sensitive to the truth, you will shed a tear. You will smile, and you will become angry. You will be shocked, and you will be comforted.
Kang Cheol Hwan’s story of his life as a child in the Yodok North Korean prison camp, is fascinating. The camp, a “business enterprise with gold mines, cornfields, and lodging operations, where prisoners of all ages labor endlessly,” serves as a frightening metaphor of statism and compound authoritarianism.
Les Roberts explains poignantly how “war is about………..