18 September 2011

Why do people talk of peace while preparing for war?

By Marguerite Finn

That is a good question to ask on the eve of UN International Peace Day. It could be that the questioner has in mind the saying: Si vis pacem, para bellum – If you want peace, prepare for war. This is usually interpreted as meaning ‘peace through strength’ – a strong society being less likely to be attacked by enemies. It is not a new idea. It was first quoted by Flavius Vegetius Renatus around 375AD and it was endorsed by the former American President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his farewell speech in 1961 when he said

“Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.”

It is probably the reason behind the British Government’s manic determination to keep and upgrade its nuclear weapons at all costs – despite having signed up to the UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Whilst on the one hand, it may seem a logical idea, the downside is that it was bound to lead to an arms race that would arm the whole world; and there was a growing industry in place that was ready and willing to service this nightmare: the military-industrial complex, which, in the UK, is represented by the Defence and Security Equipment International weapons fair (DSEi) that has recently taken place over several days at the ExCel Centre in Docklands, east London.

The Tablet magazine this week asks: “Why do so many countries in the world, including many that rely on British development aid, need such large armed forces, so expensively equipped? Armaments are for killing people. Who are they intended to kill? More to the point, how many refugees arriving at Europe’s borders will be fleeing armed conflict at home, facilitated by the British arms industry”? The arms trade is a business “on which Britain has become as dependent as any drug addict”. http://www.thetablet.co.uk/

This is a damning indictment on the country that prides itself on being the world’s second-largest arms exporter. However, that is not the way it is seen by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, who said he was proud that the UK was the world’s second biggest defence exporter and stressed that the importance of the arms industry for economic growth was in the national interest.

But it is not in the national interest to rely so much on one sector of industry - just as it proved to be not in the national interest to become the world’s leading financial sector – and then have to spend more money on bailing out the banks than any other country. That is what happens when things get out of balance.

Dr Liam Fox had apparently not heeded the rest of President Eisenhower’ speech: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”. The President then went on to say: “We must take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Here is a call to the citizens of a country to take action for peace and we will hear it echoed by the UN Secretary General, Ban ki Moon’s similar call in his speech to mark UN International Peace Day next Wednesday.

Each year, the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on 21st September. The day was originally established in 1981 by Resolution 36/67 of the UN General Assembly – and this year on its 30th anniversary, the theme of the day is “Peace and Democracy – Make your Voice Heard”

The UN sets out its vision for the International Day of Peace on its website: “In line with today’s theme, something remarkable is happening in the world. Young women and men everywhere are demonstrating the power of solidarity by reaching out and rallying together for the common goal of dignity and human rights and this powerful force brings with it the potential to create a peaceful and democratic future”.

Each year on the International Day of Peace, the UN Secretary General rings the Peace Bell at the UN Headquarters in New York, sending a message that he hopes will resound around the world. This is what he says this year: “Every year on the International Day of Peace, people around the world commit to non-violence and to harmony among all peoples and nations. Peace is our mission, our day-to-day quest.

This year’s theme focuses on the timely issue of peace and democracy. Democracy is a core value of the United Nations.

It is crucial for human rights. It provides channels for resolving differences. It gives hope to the marginalized and power to the people. But democracy does not just happen; it has to be nurtured and defended.

The world needs you to speak out; for social justice and freedom of the press, for a clean environment and women’s empowerment, for the rule of law and the right to a say in one’s own future. This year, young people have been on the frontlines for freedom.

I salute the activists and ordinary people for their courage and determination to build a better future. We at the United Nations will work in common cause to realize our shared aspirations for dignity, security and opportunity for all.

To all those seeking peace, this is your Day, and we are with you.” http://www.un.org/en/events/peaceday

It looks as though it is being left to “activists and ordinary people” to bring about a peaceful world. Certainly the governments are not going to do it.

It is not easy to sell the idea of peace when faced with the fact that war is big business and the arms industry is a favourite place to invest. Nevertheless, thanks to the pressure of protest from ordinary, concerned citizens, many churches and other groups have stopped investing in the arms trade. At the recent DESi arms fair, the Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon, led 200 people in a candle-lit vigil outside the arms fair. Churches across Britain and Ireland are preparing to mark the International Day of Peace with special services and study materials.

There is another dimension to 21st September and that is called “Peace One Day”. This initiative focuses on peace as the cessation of hostilities and war for one day.

‘Peace One Day’ is the brain-child of a young film-maker called Jeremy Gilley who was concerned about the starvation, the destruction and the killing of innocent people that seemed to be always going on somewhere in the world. In 1999, he founded “Peace One Day” to create an annual day – even just one day – without conflict anywhere.

The concept was good but the amount of work needed was daunting. Nevertheless, Jeremy was a man on a mission and he has managed to visit no less than 76 countries over the past twelve years. He spoke to Heads of State, NGOs and influential people around the globe. He even reached the warring parties in Afghanistan.

As part of his campaign, Jeremy has developed a Peace One Day Education package to advance active learning in the areas of peace, non-violence and intercultural cooperation, using Peace One Day as a focus. The goal is to provide free resource material to every school on earth, inspiring a generation to become the driving force behind the vision of a united and sustainable world. At this moment, there are 10,000 educators registered and using Peace One Day education materials in over 175 countries.

Individuals can make a difference. As Jeremy Gilley says: If you want to build a house you start with one brick; if you want to build peace, you start with one day.

If you would like to join the local celebration of Peace One Day on Wednesday 21st September, come to the Peace Pillar in Chapelfield Gardens at 4.30pm for the start of an evening of events.

Photo of drumming for Peace (Norwich Evening News). Peace Camp at the Forum, June 30 2011

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