As we approach the New Year, hope for Peace on Earth, and wish one another cheer and goodwill, it is fair to damn our terrible condition.
Conflict is endemic to our species. The poet Petrarch wrote: "Five great enemies to peace inhabit within us: avarice, ambition, envy, anger and pride. If those enemies were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace."
Avarice, ambition, envy, anger, pride: Shakespeare made villains of them all. They reappear every 30 minutes on all news television. Indeed, they are at the root of Sept. 11 and the War on Terror, Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Mumbai, Beslan, Georgia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Burma, Tibet -- a list proceeding ad infinitum.
For the past five years, I've taught a strategy seminar in the University of Texas' Plan 2 undergraduate honors program. I sometimes kid the students and tell then that the course title ought to be "Big Plans." We do consider a few rather large-scale planning problems, like Alexander the Great tackling the Persian Empire, Hannibal challenging Rome and the Mongols conducting operations from East Asia to Central Europe.
Without exception, one of the most difficult assignments comes very early in the semester: I have the students write a paper answering the question, "What Is Peace?"
I've yet to get a definitive answer, but without exception each class has produced deeply thoughtful and provocative analyses.
The moral and philosophical facets of the paper are obvious, but there is also a practical angle. When you make a plan for anything -- much less a war plan, or a plan for creating peace -- you either explicitly or implicitly have a goal. If peace is the goal, in order to achieve it shouldn't you have at least a glimpse of what it is or might be?
One young man -- after demurring with, "It is tempting for the cynic to describe peace as merely a time between clashes" (a phrase reminiscent of the classic, "Peace is the brief timeout between wars") -- subsequently insisted he could find no better goals that "will give us our ultimate tranquility" than Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms." Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. "Taken together, I believe these freedoms could establish an existence of peace and prosperity for all humankind." Fear, however, would "destroy any Peace ..."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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