On September 21, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of Peace. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a message to mark the occasion. Appropriately juxtaposed in the newspapers next to that of the Secretary General’s was the message of our Community Development Minister, Winston Peters. The theme of this year’s message is Education for Peace.
Ban’s message targeted the international community, reiterated its belief in non-violence, and called for a global ceasefire. As expected, the minister’s message focused on the national community and the government’s programme to curtail violence.
Though the UN chief and the minister are working under different rubrics—international and domestic affairs—their goals are similar: world peace. Nations at peace are less likely to cause turbulence in the international environment. The line between domestic and international affairs is so thin that it is virtually nonexistent.
This wafer-thin line between national and international affairs is exhibited in Christian and non-Christian houses of worship. During the service there is usually a call for prayers for our leaders and also a call for peace in hotspots.
Today those spots are in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria. Everyone wants peace because the consequences of war are deleterious. Not only do young soldiers pay with their lives on the front lines, but the nature of war is such that civilians are in jeopardy. They are among the casualties stemming from the scourge of war—disease, starvation, massacres, bombings, terrorism, and genocide. Our young scholar, Ravindra Ramrattan, was a victim to the long tentacles of war.
Wars and violence are financial burden to nations: homes, hospitals, universities, and other infrastructure are destroyed, while refugees abound. The social and political outcome is enormous as civil liberties are eroded, and the growth of corporate power and profiteering increase.
Despite the horrible aftermath, wars and violence continue unabated. There were 15 million to 65 million casualties in World War I. In World War II, casualties numbered between 40 million and 72 million; in the Vietnam war, the casualties were 800,000 to three million; and in the Korean War, 400,000 to four and a half million.
The death toll continues to mount in conflicts throughout the world.
The UN divides them into two categories—those numbering above 1,000 deaths a year, and those below 1,000.
Organisations have been created to assist nations from going into combat and to resolve their conflicts through diplomacy. The latest, the United Nations, was born in 1945 “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. However, wars have been waged during its existence.
The protracted nature of the Vietnam, Korean and the Iran-Iraq wars are evidence. But the United Nations’ 193 members do not always see eye to eye on their national interests and that organisation’s structure may have outlived the immediate post-World War II era. However, the United Nations cannot be saddled with the blame. In fact, if there were no United Nations, it would have to be created.
The current president of the General Assembly, who happens to be from Antigua and Barbuda, has just laid out the daunting agenda that confronts the world body: reports of wars, grinding poverty and malnutrition, gender violence, the adverse effects of climate change and loss of valuable biodiversity. Incidentally, much of the violence stems from ethnic and religious conflicts.
Like international organisations, religious leaders lend their weight and influence against the use of force and violence. Just like well-meaning international bodies armed with their diplomatic skills, prayers seem to be ineffectual. Ironically, many wars, for example, the Crusades and the Thirty Years War, have had their genesis in religious conflict. Unfortunately, religious extremists are at the centre of many conflicts today.
The theme for this year’s International Day of Peace is Education for Peace. Fifty-seven million children are still denied an education and they have to be educated beyond the three Rs. Issues such as mutual respect and the peaceful resolution of conflicts should be an integral part of their academic curriculum.
International organisations, religious institutions and education are all in the quiver to attack war and violence. But those who support the aggression theory state that man’s pugnacity has survived from his animal’s roots and there will always be wars. Despite the barriers obstructing the path to peace, men and women from all geographic areas will continue to struggle for that nirvana: peace, pax, la paix and la paz regardless of language. No wonder there are peace symbols in several cultures.
• Basil Ince is a retired professor
of political science.