David Cortright Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, 376pp.)

David Cortright;  Director of Policy Studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies;  and an activist especially on nuclear arms issues;  has set out a clear and up-to-date history of the ideas and movements that make up the colors on the peace pallet.

Sometimes Alone and Sometimes in Combinations.

Peacemaking has always been an art rather than a science.  As with painting;  there is a pallet with a range of colors;  and it is up to the artist to know how to combine these colors;  sometimes in pure form;  and at other times mixed together to paint a picture;  sometimes of a peaceful field;  and at other times a scene of revolt. 

As with colors in art;  there are a limited number of ideas which can be used;  sometimes alone and sometimes in combinations.  Likewise;  there are a limited number of people in the peace brigades;  and they are usually found in different campaigns;  often the same people in different uniforms. Open conflicts provide us with test cases of how ideas concerning peace;  and conflict resolution can be put together;  and we see how the peace brigades will form themselves to meet the challenge.

The Hague Legal Spirit.

David Cortright gives us a good overview of the development of the 19th century peace societies.  They were born in the USA and England from the success of collective action against slavery;  and the slave trade.  If the age-old institution of slavery could be abolished by a combination of law, religious concern;  and changing public opinion; could not war be abolished in the same way?  Religious-motivated action;  work to influence public opinion; and legal restraints on war have continued to be the chief colors of the peace pallet.

The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 were milestones in the development of world law;  of faith in the power of mandatory arbitration;  and for the need of world courts.  The Hague legal spirit was most prominently displayed slightly later by President Woodrow Wilson;  who had long espoused arbitration;  the strengthening of international law and multilateral cooperation.

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The League of Nations and the United Nations are the embodiment of the Wilsonian vision. As H.G. Wells wrote in The Shape of Things to Come  “For a brief interval Wilson stood alone for humankind…in that brief interval there was a very extraordinary and significant wave of response to him throughout the earth.”

You might to be interesting to read H.G. Wells: The Open Conspiracy for Peace.

“Father Figure”

Wilson remains the ‘father figure’ of peace through law;  and multilateral governmental action just as Mahatma Gandhi does for non-violent action.  As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus;  above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.” Peace efforts require images for a complex set of ideas;  and Wilson and Gandhi provide that image of the heroes of peace.

Wilson and Gandhi represent the two steady sources of inspiration for peace workers — those working for the rule of law;  and human rights and those working to translate religious insights into political action.  

“Duty to Protect”.

Today;  as the conflicts in Yemen;  and Syria-Iraq-ISIS grow in intensity and spill over to influence Turkey;   we face many of the same issues that faced peace workers in the conflicts of former Yugoslavia: what are the sources of legitimate government;  and when does a government cease to be legitimate? Is there really a ‘duty to protect’;  and when does this duty become only a cover for power politics as usual?.  How do peace workers act in “far away places”  in which both legal and moral issues are not clear.

You might to be interesting to read Yemen and World Law: Building from Current Violations.

Peace remains a painting in process; the colors are often the same, the shapes painted change. David Cortright has given us a good history, but there are no ‘how to’ guides for action.

Rene Wadlow; President, Association of World Citizens

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