The war in Iraq, and the echoes of the Vietnam era heard today by certain children of the Sixties, have brought about a great deal of talk about peace. The condition is always contrasted with war, and in turn war is always equated with senseless slaughter. Under these terms, peace is an unequivocal good.
Yet the peace advocated by the various “peace movements” — the mere absence of war — is an empty label. Peace might be filled with nothing: in this sense, the dead are said to rest in peace. Or it might be filled with misery, or oppression: crime was lower in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia than it is in either country today.
Peace is the background for a way of life, desirable only when that way of life makes possible happiness and achievement. Violent conflict might be preferable to a peace based on slavery. Certainly, that was the moral judgment of our forefathers, at the times of the Revolution and the Civil War.
No people known to history have held peace to be an absolute virtue. The reason is obvious: any community that refuses to fight will be overrun by war-like neighbors.
However, at least one ideology has glorified peace on earth, without qualifications. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached: “Resist not evil.” Ideologically, if not in practice, Christianity is a pacifist religion. Christians believe in a heaven and a hell beyond this life. The radical pacifism of Jesus makes sense, from a moral perspective, only if we accept those transcendent assumptions.
It would be reassuring to believe that the peace movements are motivated by religious devotion — the wish that we all enter heaven together. This City Journal piece by Bruce Bawer (author of While Europe Slept) puts that hope to rest.
According to Bawer, the peace movements are fundamentally opposed to liberal democracy. The advocates of peace despise the American way of life, and maintain that it is rooted in crime and the exploitation of the weak. They hate what we consider to be our freedoms. They extol our enemies, even when these perpetrate murderous violence.
In the “peace studies” that have blossomed in academia, suicide bombers are sometimes justified. Many of these peace professors are zombie Marxists, the ideological living dead, with long track records of supporting Stalinist Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Castro’s Cuba. Others are Third World idolaters, for whom a Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden can do no wrong, given their cultural origins. Still others are affluent and shallow-minded fools, devoid of moral or historical imagination.
Here’s Bawer on the matter:
The people running today’s peace studies programs give a good idea of the movement’s illiberal, anti-American inclinations. The director of Purdue’s program is coeditor of Marxism Today, a collection of essays extolling socialism; Brandeis’s peace studies chairman has justified suicide bombings; the program director at the University of Missouri authorized a mass e-mail urging students and faculty to boycott classes to protest the Iraq invasion; and the University of Maine’s program director believes that “humans have been out of balance for centuries” and that “a unique opportunity of this new century is to engage in the creation of balance and harmony between yin and yang, masculine and feminine energies.” (Such New Age babble often mixes with the Marxism in peace studies jargon.) [. . .]
It is this mind-set that leads peace professors to accuse the U.S. of “state terrorism,” to call George W. Bush “the world’s worst terrorist,” and even to characterize those murdered in the Twin Towers as oppressors who, by working at investment banks and brokerage houses, were ultimately responsible for their own deaths. Barash and Webel, for instance, write sympathetically of “frustrated, impoverished, infuriated people . . . who view the United States as a terrorist country” and for whom “attacks on American civilians were justified” because one shouldn’t distinguish “between a ‘terrorist state’ and the citizens who aid and abet that state.” They also approvingly quote Osama bin Laden’s claim that for many “disempowered” people, “Americans are the worst terrorists in the world” — thereby inviting students to consider Osama a legitimate spokesperson for the “disempowered.” Speaking at a memorial concert on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, George Wolfe of Ball State University’s peace studies program suggested that we “reflect on what we as Americans may have done or not done, to invoke such extreme hatred.” The Kroc Institute’s David Cortright agrees: “We must ask ourselves . . . what the United States has done to incur such wrath.”
Bawer concludes with a quotation from Orwell, who always could see through such ideological perversions and self-willed blindness: “To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.” So with today’s peace movements and peace studies: they will survive only if they fail.