Peace Is the Opposite of War
Some years ago, around Christmas time, I was on a bus in Paris, passing a church near the Invalides. The only seasonal decoration was an illuminated sign above the entrance of the church saying Paix (Peace). A child behind me read out the letters, correctly pronounced the word, and asked the elderly lady she was with, probably her grandmother, what the word meant. “It’s when people don’t fight, they’re nice to each other, no one is hurt,” responded the grandmother. Perplexed, the child asked for more explanations. “Peace is the opposite of war,” was the answer. “Oh,” said the child, satisfied. Despite her age–five or six–this pampered little Parisian knew the meaning of “war,” but “peace” had to be defined. Too much TV, too many iterations of the word “war” in grown-up discussions around her? Whatever the reason, her ignorance of “peace,” a state we all aspire to and should all be blessed enough to live in was striking.
The state may hardly exist but a think tank tracks it nonetheless, the Institute for Economics and Peace, and even produces out an annual index. The 2016 report is just out (http://www.visionofhumanity.org/#/page/our-gpi-findings). See it and weep. But first, one remark. The home page of the IEP bears the following statement, “the world’s leading think tank dedicated to developing metrics to analyze peace and quantify its economic benefits.” So, much like the Parisian child who could only understand peace as opposed to war, we humans living today can understand the importance of the concept not per se but only through the impact it has on economics. I suppose expecting otherwise is not realistic.
So, what does the 2016 report tell us? In today’s world, ten countries, ten,—Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Mauritius, Panama, Qatar, Switzerland, Uruguay and Vietnam—out of the 196 existing nations, are completely free from conflict, whether internal or external to their borders.
Should we be sad that this is all humanity has achieved after thousands of years of existence and what we generally think of as progress—plodding, to be sure, often derailed, but still progress toward a less violent world than when we first appeared and started staking our territories and the millenia that followed? Should we be grateful that in this terrifying day and age—out-of-control ideologies parading as religious faith, terrorism, local conflicts, major deflagrations, violence toward the poor, the meek and disenfranchised–there are still ten islands of peace and stability?
In this report that made my heart sink as it would anyone’s, two points still stand out.
One. According to IEP’s founder Steve Killelea, “if we took the Middle East out of the index over the last decade – and last year – the world would have become more peaceful. It really highlights the impact the Middle East is having on the world.”
Two. The IEP noticed a clear trend where the more peaceful countries improved further while the less peaceful countries got even worse – producing what they called greater “peace inequality” across the world.
Food for thought, yes. Food for action? Maybe, but where to start?