This is a beautiful post by Will Gudeman, who I met over on zaadz. He has first hand experience in some intense spots on the globe, and his thoughtful reflections on those experiences bear sharing. This is from a discussion board entitled Peace Through Commerce. Thanks, Will, for letting me post this!
What is Peace? It is more than the absence of War.
I have had some interesting experiences that provide for me the answer to this question.
I am a Gulf War veteran, and I was also sent to Somalia and Rwanda during the troubling year of 1994. As a U.S. Marine, I was sent to these places, fully loaded and combat ready with a pocket full of grenades and 5.56 mm bullets, with different orders but all revolving around the same thing; war. I have seen the shit of war, and I continually break down as I read about the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also of the not-so-media-friendly wars that are going on all over the world all the time.
I am also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from East Timor. Briefly, East Timor achieved independence on 20 May 2002 after a 24-year illegal occupation by Indonesia. Noam Chomsky calls the Timorese plight the last genocide of the 20th Century because 1/3 of the population was either killed or they “disappeared.” The violence ended there in 1999, and I arrived on that tropical island in early 2003.
It was in East Timor that I saw the aftermath of war; the destroyed villages, the mass gravesites, the scars from machete slashes and cigarette burns and the missing limbs and deformed bodies. More importantly, I saw what grief is really about as I discovered that every person I met had lost more than one family member. Most didn’t know what happened to their loved ones, and they’re still missing today though it is safe to assume that they were tortured and murdered by Indonesian troops and then thrown over the cliffs to let the ocean cover the crimes up for them.
War does much more to the people who live in the midst of one than all outsiders can possibly imagine. For me personally, there is no such thing as a just war, nor is there any justification for armed conflict. Generations of families are destroyed, farmlands and water systems become wasted, and the hopes and dreams of a country are shattered for decades and centuries. And it is all too easy for those who have never witnessed war and its aftermath to dismiss these effects.
But it was also in East Timor that I learned of another facet of Peace, and that Peace is indeed more than an absence of war.
I lived in a village of about 1,400 people. There was sporadic electricity and it was an exciting day when it came on because we were without it 95% of the time. I had water piped to my house via bamboo from a natural spring 10 kilometers up the mountain, but too many times after a typhoon (and several hit the island a year) or even after a “mild” storm, the bamboo piping was destroyed and in need of replacement and repair. That meant that half the people in my village had no water for several days until the water transport system could be restored, and I had to walk 2 km to the nearest well to bathe and take water back to my Timorese family so that we could cook (most households had to do the same). Hours upon hours were taken up by providing for the very basics of life.
Food was another issue. We all loved when someone got married and, unfortunately, when someone died because several cows and pigs and goats were slaughtered for consumption. That was the only meat that we ate and the rest of the time we were condemned to eating only what was in season; six straight months of papaya leaves gets old very fast, not to mention the 20 pounds that I lost during my time there due to not getting the proper nutritional balance.
I can offer so many more stories like these that demonstrate the difficulties of poverty. Ask any Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and they can share similar stories.
Poverty represents a tremendous lack of Peace. The word “peace” itself means nothing to someone who needs to spend hours a day fetching water just so their family can eat a meal that lacks the basic, yet necessary, vitamins and minerals. Peace cannot be achieved in a country, a region, or a continent that is condemned to poverty. And there’s a correlation here; wars tend to occur in the poverty-stricken places of the world.
Peace is the absence of war, yes, but it must also be the absence of poverty.
To me, it seems obvious that economic activity – jobs in poor countries – does foster peace. Poverty is perhaps the worst thing in this earth-world of ours to experience, and there are a couple billion people living in poverty and suffering in ways that wealthier countries’ citizens cannot even begin to fathom. Sadly, poverty is a way of life for these people. Sadly, having no income is a way of life for these people.
To reduce poverty necessarily means to
promote peace, and this can be done – indeed, it is being done by many
righteous people and businesses and nonprofits all over the world – and
it needs to be promoted and spread.
This is how I feel about Peace Through Commerce. This is how I know the world can be better for all people, not just a few. An income allows for people to move out of poverty, and only then can they begin to think about concepts like peace and realize what it truly means and to strive for it further. An income means jobs, and jobs mean open and free and fair commercial activity that crosses borders and ignores no one.