What Are the Prospects for Peace on Earth?

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As the nature of war has changed with the upsurge of stateless terrorism, so has the nature of peace. Paul Lacey, the Presiding Clerk of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that works for international peace, discusses peace on earth with Andrea Seabrook.

ANDRÉA SEABROOK, host:

Peace on Earth. This age of news, filled with conflict and war, makes peace seem a more distant goal than ever. For over a dozen years, NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr assessed the state of peace on Earth for this program by consulting the National Defense Council Foundation. Their official conflict list gave account of wars and systematic violence around the world; and so a sense where there was peace as well.

But the defense think tank stopped compiling the list a few years ago, because, it says on its Web site, quote, "terrorists organizations disregard boundaries; hence, solely counting state-to-state conflicts, or internal state conflicts, leaves the total count incomplete and inaccurate."

That leaves us with the question, if war has become indescribable, what is peace? This year, we posed this question to Paul Lacey, the presiding clerk of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that works for international peace.

Paul Lacey is in the studios of WMUB in Oxford, Ohio.

Hi, Paul.

Mr. PAUL LACEY (American Friends Service Committee): Hi. How are you?

SEABROOK: Good, thank you. Can you give us a sense of where there is peace in the world?

Mr. LACEY: If Daniel Schorr can't answer that question, I'm not sure I can. I would say that there are places in the world where violence is less, where the balance of social justice is greater, leading, in my judgment, to the possibility of peace. There are places where active hostility seems to be fairly limited. Someone told me this week that in Africa, for example, about one third of the countries are not engaged in war. About a third are moving in the direction of greater stability, and about a third in active hostilities.

That's one way, I suppose, to think about how you would distinguish roughly peace from war. It seems to me, however, those are the far extremes of what you want to talk about. In peacemaking, in particular, is whether it is it is possible for societies and peoples to move toward greater stability, trust, greater social and political justice, so that the conditions for peace are greater.

SEABROOK: What is peace?

Prof. LACEY: The word is vibrant precisely because it has so many possibilities. There is a personal peace. You and I, I think, both would know people who seem to be especially powerful examples of steadiness of purpose, of clarity, of life, of goodness in the way they deal with other people. I would think of them as peaceable, and even as peacemakers.

If we start talking about institutions, particularly nations, it would seem to me that it will always be a somewhat relative thing. But we know what warfare is. We know the extreme of that; if you're killing people, you are not at peace. If you say that you're trying to find ways non-violently to achieve goals, including social justice, it seems to me you're moving in the direction of peace.

As you put the question, I was thinking of a sentence. I think it's from Tacitus, the Roman historian, talking about the Roman Legions. He said the legions created a desert and called it peace. Now, that's one kind of peace. You can kill everybody off and then you and your friends say this is peace. If what we want, however, is the vibrancy of human society, if we want people growing and changing in the direction of greater care for one another, greater possibility in life for themselves and for their children, that's moving toward peace.

It's one of the reasons I think that in the American Friends Service Committee people talk about peace-building. It's a very curious kind of notion, but a good one, it seems to me, that peace is a dynamic, peace is something that is built day by day by day. It's also something then that can break down day by day. If you have the Roman Legion idea of peace, there's nothing left. If you have peace at the cost of oppression, then it's seems to me there's something wrong with using that word. It just means the absence of a particular kind of intense violence.

SEABROOK: Do you see a reason, Paul Lacey, to be hopeful for world peace?

Prof. LACEY: I think, as a Christian myself, I am obliged always to live in hope. It's the gift, it seems to me, that the Divine has given us. That doesn't mean that I don't have very long stretches of time where I think to myself, yes, this is an obligation but it's uphill work.

We had, for many years, the head of the Friends Committee on national legislation, Raymond Wilson, who used to like to say towards the end of his life that he had been working for peace for 50 years and there is less peace then than when he started. And then he would always add, this is no time to quit. That kind of jaunty affirmation seems to me to be what one hopes for, as a way of sustaining not just the longing for peace, but the determination to be a peace-builder.

SEABROOK: Paul Lacey is the presiding clerk of the American Friends Services Committee, and professor emeritus at Erlam College in Richmond, Indiana. He joined me from station WMUB in Oxford, Ohio.

Thank you, Paul Lacey.

Prof. LACEY: Thanks so very much for inviting me.

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