Vail Daily column: Peace on Earth: Working toward a world without war
Brace yourself. The season of nonstop holiday happiness is upon us. Especially here in my old home town, where the Christmas spirit borders on a way of life, we are surrounded by a fever-pitch of Christmas cheer at every turn.
Among the glowing lights and mistletoe, there is one phrase among the decorations that has particularly caught my eye this year. It’s that old idea we see so much of in December and fairly rarely any other time: “Peace on Earth.”
These hopeful words appear so silly sometimes, so naive and childish. We see them written on our aunt’s needlework creations or scrawled in cursive across the front of a Hallmark card. If we stop and notice them at all, we do so with a kind of dreamy childishness — the same way we think about reindeer that fly through the air and trains that carry children to the North Pole. We might guess that we have a better chance of sharing a cup of hot cocoa with Rudolf, waited upon by Mrs. Claus, than we ever have at witnessing world peace.
But a recent series of events has changed my opinion on all that. I have been part of a group that organized a Forum on the topic of peace. Hosted by the One Earth Future Foundation, a conflict prevention organization based in Broomfield (within a stone’s throw of Vail Resorts headquarters, in fact), the Forum brought together some of the world’s foremost minds to seriously ask and try to answer this question: “Is peace possible in the 21st century?”
If we take a minute, and look at what world peace actually means, we might find that it’s not so crazy an idea after all. In fact, the world is getting more peaceful all the time, an idea highlighted by Forum attendees Steven Pinker, author of the book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” and Joshua Goldstein, author of “Winning the War on War.”
Pinker and Goldstein are among many who take a big-picture view of peace and warfare. They point out that the chance any person has of dying by war-related violence has been steadily declining throughout the course of human history. Tribal warfare, they argue, was nine times more deadly than the genocide and war of the 20th century. Wars between developed countries have virtually vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the people they did even a few decades ago.
Could it be that we are winning the war against war?
And William Ury, who also gathered for the event, talks about a “quiet revolution” that’s been ongoing in international diplomacy (and even in our daily lives) in the 35 years since he and his colleagues wrote the seminal book “Getting to Yes.” By taking a preventative approach to conflict, much in the way we take a preventative approach to medicine, we can foresee conflicts on the horizon, and use tried-and-true negotiation tactics to veer away from armed conflict and find peaceful solutions to the inevitable arguments that will always arise, quite naturally, as part of the human condition.
And consider the contributions of Ambassador Charles Stith, who argues that a great portion of armed conflict comes when groups of marginalized people seek justice for their unfair treatment. He suggests that we can identify these injustices early, and look for non-violent means to balance the scales. These ideas are echoed by Sanam Anderlini, and Colorado’s own Swanee Hunt, who support the idea of more women in positions of leadership in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Like so many of my generation, I have always considered world peace to be an unfortunate but well-meaning folly of the hippy generation, a surviving remnant of an impractical, misguided and probably drug-induced hallucination. Short of that, the term has merely served as one of the many empty platitudes that collectively make up the nomenclature of holiday cheer.
Not anymore. In the past few months of working with One Earth Future, I have seen that there is a serious side to the peace movement, one that has a proven track record of success and a practical, sensible vision for the future. If we continue to research, discover and foresee the root causes of armed conflict, then we can intervene early and raise the chance that the conflict is resolved via negotiation rather than bloodshed. Over time, this long road can, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Forum attendees, lead us to a world where no nation is at war with another and no civil conflict has compelled its citizens to take up arms against one other.
In this holiday season, I can think of nothing more heartwarming than that.
Tom Boyd is the former editor of the Vail Trail, and is now a freelance writer living in Denver. His work appears occasionally in the Denver Post among other publications. To learn more about the new peace movement visit http://oneearthfuture.org/research/blogs.