Give Peace A Chance — And A Name
Now that Congress has failed - once again - to call a halt to Bush's Blunder in Iraq, conventional wisdom attributes the inaction to political stalemate and the arcane rules of the U.S. Senate. We reassure ourselves, moreover, that everyone wants peace: It's just that reasonable people disagree over how best to obtain it.
But here is a disturbing thought: Maybe this isn't true. Maybe lots of people, deep in their hearts, like war. Maybe peace is boring.
This may also help explain why the Bush administration has done such a miserable job of "winning the peace" in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as opposed to its earlier and far more enthusiastic waging of wars in both countries.
Maybe our leaders just aren't very interested in peace. More troublesome yet: Insofar as those in power find violence especially compelling, they aren't that different from the rest of us.
It is said that the Inuit have about a dozen words for "snow" (distinguishing between blowing snow, drifted, wet, powder, icy, etc.), and that among the Bedouin, there are more than a hundred words for "camel" (ornery, pregnant, easy-to-ride, male or female, and so forth).
Similarly, in English - and most other languages - there are numerous terms referring to specific wars. We distinguish between the Vietnam War, Korean War, World Wars I and II, etc., but have only one word for "peace."
It's as though wars are so important and so interesting that we pick them out for special attention, like a gourmet selecting a rum-soaked raisin from a cake, whereas peace consists merely of a tedious, familiar, homo-geneous matrix, not even worth naming.
Although the peace that obtained, say, between World Wars I and II was quite different from that between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, we don't even have a word for either. Unlike wars, we don't usually speak of "peaces."
Maybe when - or if - peace becomes as important to English-speaking people as snow is to the Inuit or camels are to the Bedouin, we'll distinguish as carefully among the different varieties of peace as we now do when it comes to wars.
To be sure, most people give lip service to peace, but my point is that perhaps at some level, they haven't really desired it as wholeheartedly as they claim.
The upshot of all this? The current administration can and should be criticized for being much better at destroying countries than rebuilding them, and - worse yet - for being more eager to do the former than the latter.
"Nature ... ," said Katherine Hepburn's character in "The African Queen," "is what we were put on Earth to rise above."
It may be asking too much for Bush et al. to rise above the "natural" human tendency to affirm the virtues of peace while secretly adoring war. But that is precisely what we must demand that they, and our elected members of Congress, do.
David P. Barash is professor of psychology at the University of Washington.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company