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Peace is a state of harmony, the absence of hostility. This term is applied to describe a cessation of or lapse in violent international conflict; in this international context, peace is the opposite of war. Peace can also describe a relationship between any parties characterized by respect, justice, and goodwill.
More generally, peace can pertain to an individual relative to her or his environment, as peaceful can describe calm, serenity, and silence. This latter understanding of peace can also pertain to an individual's sense of himself or herself, as to be "at peace" with one's self would indicate the same serenity, calm, and equilibrium within oneself.
Understandings of Peace
Peace as the absence of violence
Today, peace is often understood as the absence of war between two or more state-organized armies. Nonetheless, the concept of peace also applies to the state of people within their respective geopolitical entities, as civil war, state-sponsored genocide, terrorism, and other violence are all threats to peace on an intranational level. Since World War II, wars among states have become less common, while violent internal conflicts have become a more central concern. Present day Sudan, for example, is the site of widespread suffering and violence, despite its not being engaged in war with another sovereign state. Peace, in this context, is understood as the absence of violence among groups, whether part of a state apparatus or not.
This conception of peace as a mere absence of overt violence, however, is still challenged by some as incomplete. Influential peace researcher Johan Galtung has described this former conception of peace as "negative peace", suggesting that underlying points of conflict must themselves be resolved in order for true peace to exist.
Peace as the presence of justice
Mahatma Gandhi suggested that if an oppressive society lacks violence, the society is nonetheless not peaceful, because of the injustice of the oppression. Gandhi articulated a vision of peace in which justice is an inherent and necessary aspect; that peace requires not only the absence of violence but also the presence of justice. Galtung described this peace, peace with justice, as "positive peace," because hostility and further violence could no longer flourish in this environment.
During the 1950s and 60s, when Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement carried out various non-violent activities aimed at ending segregation and racial persecution in America, they understood peace as more than just the absence of violence. They observed that while there was not open combat between blacks and whites, there was an unjust system in place in which the government deprived African Americans of equal rights. While some opponents criticized the activists for "disturbing the peace", Martin Luther King observed that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."
Galtung coined the term structural violence to refer to such situations, which although not violent on the surface, harbour systematic oppression and injustice.
Peace and development
One concept that often complements peace studies is development. In much development discourse, it is assumed that economic, cultural, and political development will take "underdeveloped" nations and peoples out of poverty, thus helping bring about a more peaceful world. As such, many international development agencies carry out projects funded by the governments of industrialized countries such as the United States, Japan, and Norway, designed to "modernize" poor countries.
Many environmentalists believe that protecting the environment is a form of peacemaking. This perspective posits that to destroy natural habitats, or to disturb long-standing equilibrium among any and all living things, may be perceived as a form of violence. This perception centers its conception of peace on the natural world; this view may regard peace as relative to the world or relative to all living creatures, rather than relative to humanity exclusively.
Following Wolfgang Dietrich, Wolfgang Sützl, and the Innsbruck School of Peace Studies, some "peace thinkers" have abandoned any single and all-encompassing definition of peace. Rather, they promote the idea of many peaces. They argue that since no singular, correct definition of peace can exist, peace should be perceived as a plurality.
For example, in the Great Lakes region of Africa, the word for peace is kindoki, which refers to a harmonious balance between human beings, the rest of the natural world, and the cosmos. This vision is a much broader view of peace than a mere "absence of war" or even a "presence of justice" standard.
These thinkers also critique the idea of peace as a hopeful or eventual end. They recognize that peace does not necessarily have to be something humans might achieve "some day." They contend that peace exists in the present, we can create and expand it in small ways in our everyday lives, and peace changes constantly. This view makes peace permeable and imperfect rather than static and utopian.
Such a view is influenced by postmodernism.
Apocalyptic vision of world peace
In its most apocalyptic sense, peace denotes a state of complete and final harmony, an end to conflict not only within the human race but between humanity and the natural world.
This vision anticipates peace in the future, during one's lifetime or in an afterlife, often as initiated by God or some higher power, or even as achievable by human effort exclusively. Common to these conceptions of peace is that peace is an end, a goal that, once realized, will be universally comprehended and exalted.
One meaning of peace refers to inner peace: a state of mind, body and perhaps soul, a peace within ourselves. People that experience inner peace say that the feeling is not dependent on time, people, place, or any external object or situation, asserting that an individual may experience inner peace even in the midst of war.
Some people believe peace can help them avoid self-consciousness, such as hippies of the 1960s. An affirmative definition for the concept of peace is, as worded by Sevi Regis: "the state or condition of restfulness, harmony, balance, equilibrium, longevity, justice, resolution, timelessness, contentment, freedom, and fulfillment, either individually or simultaneously present, in such a way that it overcomes, demolishes, banishes, and/or replaces everything that opposes it."
Peace and quiet
Peace can also mean a state of quiet or tranquility — an absence of disturbance or agitation. Many people find the natural world to be peaceful in this way.
Nonviolence and pacifism
There is a wide spectrum of views about whether, or when, violence and war are necessary or justifiable. Mahatma Gandhi's conception of peace was not as an end, but as a means: "There is no way to peace; peace is the way." By envisioning peace as a process, and as self-fulfilling, Gandhi's moral philosophy circumvents some of the traditional hypocracies of historical nonviolent moral doctrine. Judeo-Christian tradition, for instance, which bluntly declares " Thou shalt not kill", has nonetheless found itself amenable to compromise over the centuries.
An extreme form of nonviolence is that of Jainism, which goes to great lengths to avoid harming any living creatures, including insects. Pacifists, such as Christian anarchists, perceive any incarnation of violence as self-perpetuating. Other groups take a wide variety of stances, many maintaining a Just War theory.
Historical examples and counter examples
Allied propaganda billed the Great War in Europe as the "war to end all wars." Although the Allies won the war, the resulting "peace" Treaty of Versailles only set the stage for the even bloodier World War II. Before the Allied victory, the Bolsheviks promised the Russian people "peace, land, and bread." Although Vladimir Lenin ended the disastrous war against the Central Powers, the ensuing civil war resulted in a loss of over a million people. These failures illustrate the problems of using war in an effort to attain peace.
Proponents of the democratic peace theory argue that strong empirical evidence exists that democracies never or rarely make war against each other. An increasing number of nations have become democratic since the industrial revolution, and thus, they claim world peace may become possible if this trend continues. However, critics have disputed this, for example arguing that this could be explained by a number of other factors related to the wealth, power, and stability of nations that tend to become democracies, ranging from increased reliance on global trade to Mutually Assured Destruction.
Since 1945 the world has only seen 26 days without war.
Although history is rife with conflict, some peoples, regions and nations have enjoyed periods of peace that have lasted generations. The following are some examples:
- Sweden (1814–present). Sweden is the present-day nation state with the longest history of continuous peace. Since its 1814 invasion of Norway, the Swedish kingdom has not engaged in war.
- Switzerland (1848–present). A hard stance on neutrality has given Switzerland fame as a country for its long-lasting peace.
- Costa Rica (1949–present). Following a 44-day civil war in 1944, in 1949, Costa Rica abolished its army. Since then, its history has been peaceful, especially relative to those of neighboring Central American states. This has earned the country the nickname, "Switzerland of the Americas."
- Pennsylvania (1682–1754). The colony of Pennsylvania enjoyed 72 years of peace, maintaining no army or militia and fighting no wars. Under the proprietorship of William Penn (1644–1718), a member of the Religious Society of Friends, the colony earned a reputation for religious and personal freedom, as well as for respectful dealings with Native Americans. Although somewhat a utopian experiment, the colony was not a utopia, marred with slavery, indentureship and class conflict. In addition, William Penn's heirs dealt less fairly with the Native Americans, especially in the Walking Purchase of 1737. Nevertheless, the colonial experience of Pennsylvania bears study as an example of a peaceful society.
- Amish (1693–present). A sect of Anabaptists or Mennonites of predominantly Swiss/German descent, the Amish practice a peaceful lifestyle that includes religious devotion, resistance to technological advancement, and nonresistance. They rarely defend themselves physically or even in court; in war time, they take conscientious objector status. Today over 150,000 Amish live in close-knit communities in 47 states in the United States, as well as Canada and Belize.
Challenges to peace
Since the earliest recorded history, there has been war. War can be seen as a natural progression from inherent human aggressiveness. Wars, riots and revolutions are perpetuated through the divisive Politics and Propaganda of Fear. However it is also true that human beings also exhibit generosity and altruism. So peace can also be seen as an extension of human behaviour based on evolution of human knowledge, wisdom, compassion and Insight. The basic unasked question in any human culture or civilization is who or what should hold the power or authority to make choices in terms of individual or group behavior. Collective human behaviour can be guided or manipulated by lower instincts based on fear of physical survival, jealousy, greed for power, hatred and such or higher instincts like love, gratitude, nspiration, appreciation and altruism. Ultimately the war and violence outside is a reflection of unresolved inner conflicts within the individual and collective human heart, psyche and mind.
Sometimes peace and justice may be viewed as contradictions in practical terms. If one believes that the only way to prevent injustice and create justice is by force, then one believes that justice requires hostilities, which precludes peace. Similarly, the clash of political interests has often been identified as a justification of war. The desire for power and advantage puts groups in opposition. This opposition naturally escalates as one side, and then the other, tries to gain advantages, sometimes culminating in violence and war. This effect is also seen in religious and ethnic groups. These groups see themselves as being oppressed and violence and war have often been rationalized as justified in defense of a culture or religion.
International Creed for Peace
The International Creed for Peace, created by Chika Sylva-Olejeme and the International Peace Institute, sets forth an agenda and moral code for the advancement of peace for all humans and nations. The creed suggests that based on realisation that independence, freedom and justice is inherent to all, peace is achieved when people fulfill their duty to choose, live and respect others.
Nobel Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually to notable peacemakers and visionaries who have overcome violence, conflict or oppression through their moral leadership, those who have "done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations". The prize has often met with controversy, as it is occasionally awarded to people who have formerly sponsored war and violence but who have, through exceptional concessions, helped achieve peace.