Review: Why Peace

Why Peace
Marc Guttman, ed.

Why Peace is a comprehensive collection of essays focused on the seemingly obvious, but often ignored need for peace. By offering a balance of both personal, human experience with staggering facts, histories, and rational analysis, a compelling, holistic argument for the cessation of systemic violence emerges indisputable.

One of the most powerful qualities of Why Peace is its meticulous focus on how its contributing authors arrived at their individual convictions. Spanning time periods and geography, the book offers glimpses into the suffering of innocent children and families.

In recalling his interviews with victims of the covert U.S. bombing of Laos in the 1970s, Fred Branfman remembers one farmer who explained: “they dropped eight napalm bombs, the fire from which burned all my things, 15 buildings along with our possessions inside, as well as maiming our animals.”

Of the hundreds Branfman interviewed decades ago, few even knew who was dropping the bombs that killed their children. In another example of personal experience, Mark Braverman, an American Jew and former supporter of Israel, chronicles his growth. After years of blindly defending Israel, he demonstrates his understanding of the violence and manipulation by the Israeli government against the people of Palestine. These small snippets are but two examples of the individual tragedies of war and the destruction of the poor and innocent for the profit and control of the wealthy and corrupt.

These human perspectives transcend nationalism, which is often, as explained thoroughly in the book, a great motivator for war. It is impossible not to absorb a desire for peace when reading about expectant mothers in Iraq who clambered to birth their babies before the impending US invasion of their country in 2003. Recollections of a North Korean gulag, a place where citizens could be imprisoned for folding a picture of Kim Jong Il in the wrong direction, only serve to reinforce the truth that runaway governments cause violent pain and suffering. From Colombia to Ethiopia, Sudan to Bhutan, the costs of war and oppression are universal and easily demonstrated through solitary experience.

The personal paths of the authors, from soldiers who “served” in Iraq and saw the realities of occupation, to activists interviewing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, are vital to the relatability of Why Peace. However, such personal journeys are not enough to argue a rational case. This foundation is provided throughout the book with hard data, history, and facts that build an academic presentation of why peace is preferable to force and violence. These help to illuminate the real motivations for war, making obvious the corruption and superfluousness of armed aggression.

A detailed history and analysis of the weapons company, Lockheed Martin, demonstrates how powerful the drive for profitable war truly is; using the revolving door in Washington, top officials from Lockheed have helped craft American foreign policy, planning the Iraq War and selling the government weapons to implement it. On the State Department and the Middle East, we learn the power of “contracts,” as the supposed diplomatic agency spends its budget on military armament and infinite security. Lew Rockwell parallels the rise of central banking and inflation with the rise of a century of total war, explaining the crooked impetus for state violence.  An analysis of “justice” in Afghanistan reveals that Afghanis accused of association with terrorist forces, often by rival members of the community without evidence,  usually receive little more than a ceremonial hearing before facing prison sentences. One argument by Harry Browne, published in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, provides hindsight to the decade of war that would follow the Bush administration’s calculated overreaction to the tragedy. He argued that “what’s overlooked in the support for unleashing the military, the FBI, the CIA, and other crime-fighting or war-making agencies is simply this: The government that’s supposed to win the War on Terrorism is the same one that’s been waging the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Crime, and the War on Illiteracy. Perhaps we should pay more attention to its track record.”  Such varied perspectives on the folly, deception, and cruelty of war answer the question, “why peace?”

In the midst of both personal experience and rational argument, the philosophy of peace espoused in the book becomes clear: that aggression is inferior to persuasion, that all human life should be valued equally, and that the destruction of war and governmental force does far more harm than good. No matter what excuses are made — safety, national pride, or spreading democracy — Why Peace offers meaningful rebuttals to prove that the use of force begets a reaction of force and that the only real result can be human suffering and conflict.

While the book is at many points, disheartening, it is impossible not to feel a sense of optimism. If so many soldiers, once trained to hate and to murder, can now look back on their deeds with regret and clear-headedness toward the system that inspired them to serve it — if activists who have seen children murdered and mother’s mourning that loss — can manage to see a glimmer of hope for peace, there is a chance. Within the book are many suggestions of paths to peace, from reducing military influence to providing resources for victims of war. However, there is more positivity than this. In “A History of Force,” James L. Payne explains the reality that the use of force is in fact declining. While so much explanation of the horrors of war within the pages is discouraging, the broader trend indicates that humans are increasingly interacting peacefully — not the other way around. This offers inspiration to those already advocating for peace and the reassurance that peace is inevitable.

At times the background stories of soldiers, ex-CIA agents and activists raised to believe that America is an almighty force for good (and their awakenings to the contrary) can be excessive. The detailed analyses of how American aggression inspires counter-aggression, as well as the need  to reduce such military adventurism does in truth, become repetitive. However, the unique stories told by each author help to create a captivating argument for peace that bears not only the realities of war, but the possibilities and inevitability of a better future.

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