Peace is not security

By Mary Patterson

We watched in awe as the white truck in front of us flew up in the air, twisted upside down and crashed on the driver’s cab. He had been speeding and hit a Corvette head on, drove up the Corvette like a ramp and was flung to the other side of the road. Amazed, we watched the driver crawl out unharmed. Years of safety tests, tests with seatbelts, tests with metals, experiments involving chemicals to fill the airbag- saved his life. His safety was a right of sorts, born out of consumer reports, government regulations, and money paid into the car companies.

The truck driver’s safety was acquired only at the cost of money and ingenuity; it was not at the cost of another citizen’s safety. Historically, in this country there has been a balance between personal safety and personal liberty. It is illegal to booby trap our homes; we can’t turn our yards into land mine fields. We can’t place razors beneath our car radios. We can’t fill our sidewalks with thumbtacks. In adhering to these laws we do give up some of our rights to security. Also, those we deem dangerous cannot just be thrown into jail without cause. They must be proven guilty of a crime in a court of law.

Growing in our country is the sense that safety is a virtue, a right that can be achieved at the cost of another . James Dobson of Focus on the Family spoke of Iran, “… it feels like somebody ought to be standing up and saying, ‘We are being threatened and we are going to meet this with force — what ever’s necessary.’” This is a clear request to meet mere verbal threats with brutal physical force.

The Bush Doctrine states that we have the right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike, if we feel a country is dangerous. The war with Iraq was a pre-emptive strike against a regime deemed entirely dangerous to our well-being (later those fears proved erroneous). Suddenly, Americans were frightened and felt justified in trading another human’s safety for their own. My Chemistry students were emailing me with questions of horrific biological attacks, scenarios whereby they believed entire cities would be wiped out. When confronted with the enormous cost of the war in lives and casualties, I often hear people say, “At least George Bush kept us safe,” confirming their belief that personal feelings of safety may morally come at the expense of another person’s life.

Conservative web blogger Joel Rosenberg and founder of the Joshua Fund writes, “Please continue praying for real peace — not just the absence of conflict but the presence of true justice and true security on both sides of the fence.”

Peace IS the absence of conflict. “Securing peace” does not mean securing safety, because peace involves risk. Peace requires that we adhere to the personal rights of others, even those we may intuitively feel are dangerous. If Israel wants peace, the citizens will have to learn to live with a measure of fear. If we want to close Guantanomo Bay, we may have to allow some prisoners to come to Kansas before their trials. Peace means exposing ourselves to risk so that all liberties may be maintained. It is not easy. It can be frightening. And it means that I put the well being of a stranger, possibly an enemy, as equal to my own.

As lovers of peace we must first clearly define peace. Peace means that no one is being killed, harmed, or kidnapped. Peace is not acquired through war. Peace is not justice. Peace is not security. Peace means that we are living side by side without bombing each other and it comes at some expense. This word has been eschewed and twisted and its costs not well-defined. “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace,” said George W. Bush.

Kidnappings are increasing in Iraq. I have a friend whose nephew was kidnapped just this month from his school, a 10 year old boy held 7 days without food, beaten. They demanded $100,000 for his release. His father sold his factory for $30,000. The family dropped the cash at a designated spot and 2 hours later the boy was released, a complete psychological mess. In America, we do not have to live with that level of danger. Our ease of life and feelings of security have come at the expense of another who must now live in constant fear.

Our security means their insecurity. That is not peace, it is not an ethical balance of liberties, it is not a fair sharing of the dangers inherent to mutual trust. President Obama must clearly define the priority of peace in this administration; otherwise his statesmanship will be bogged down in the murky rhetoric of “security.” “Will he keep us safe?” should not be our initial question. Rather,“Will he make peace a priority?” is a question more pertinent to our American values. Are we willing to pay the cost of peace?


1 Comment »

  1. Kristina Pearson said

    Thank you so much for writing this. The real peace you’re talking about takes great courage and resolve–a conscious decision to live with sanity rather than the insanity that fear for the self creates.

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