OPN peace no war
Wars only end in terrible tragedies and toxic legacies Image Credit: Gulf News

As we hear more disturbing news each day about the ravages of war, I’d like to say a word about a word we don’t use nearly enough anymore.

The word is peace.

I was a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which meant I grew up surrounded by peace signs. Stoked by the Summer of Love counterculture, longhair hippie sit-ins, Vietnam and other protests, that little circle with an upside-down tree was everywhere.

The symbol was on buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts and black-light posters that glowed when you turned the regular lights down low. The word was embroidered on our jeans, dangled from our earrings, emblazoned in cement with rainbow-coloured graffiti. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were asking the world to “Give Peace a Chance.” Marvin Gaye was asking, “What’s going on?” Cat Stevens was singing about the peace train.

Peace was in constant rotation. It was in the air we breathed. No matter how you spelled or pronounced the word, that little symbol was something everyone understood. And believed in.

The circular peace sign was conceived and designed by British textile designer Gerald Holtom in 1958 as a symbol for a Ban the Bomb protest that started in London’s Trafalgar Square

The circular peace sign was conceived and designed by British textile designer Gerald Holtom in 1958 as a symbol for a Ban the Bomb protest that started in London’s Trafalgar Square. You’ve probably seen the semaphore system where years ago people in uniform waved hand-held flags to convey messages.

Holtom used the semaphores for N (two arms down at an acute angle) and D (one arm straight up in the air) to create a circular symbol promoting nuclear disarmament. The signs became pins, and then banners. As the peace marches spread widely, so did that symbol. By the time the United States stepped fully into the war in Vietnam, it was ubiquitous.

We tend to think of “the peace movement” through the narrow lens of the American experience, but there was a period after World War II when massive peace marches happened on a regular basis all over the world, spurred by Cold War fears and the aftermath of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

I have been thinking a lot about how my youngest kid’s generation is processing what’s going on in the world right now. For young people in their 20s, war has been a constant backdrop in their lives, even if they don’t personally know someone who was in uniform in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Obsession with Armageddon

At the same time, an unreal kind of war is always within arm’s reach. You can level a city with an Xbox or PlayStation, then press a button and the streets that were once rubble and shattered glass are again pristine. A player in a video game can kill an opponent on screen and get extra points for head or chest hits, reboot and do it all again after a refrigerator run. And don’t get me started about Hollywood’s obsession with Armageddon.

The ways and means — and words — of war are all around us. We speak of bunker mentalities, outflanking our opponents, SWAT teams and scorched-earth approaches.

But what about the language of peace? What about the concept of building bridges instead of walls, or bringing opposing forces to a shared understanding? Quick, name the catchphrase that’s in frequent use that speaks directly to peacemaking?

If you slapped a peace sign on your car or jacket lapel, most people would see it as a nod to nostalgia. Yet what a hopeful nod. What if we started committing ourselves to elevating and celebrating the peacemakers among us? Not just the diplomats and Nobel Prize winners.

But the principals who get parents to work toward a common cause. The coaches who lead teams with players from different experiences and perspectives. The managers and community volunteers who figure out in this fractured era how to get folks with opposing ideologies to row in the same direction. These are the places where détente in a divided America could begin.

Peace requires a focus on peacemaking. That is an active, constant process that takes effort and will and frequent articulation.

We again need to give peace a chance. And not be afraid to say so out loud. As that adage goes, the words you speak become the house you live in.

Washington Post

Michele L. Norris is a noted American columnist and founding director of The Race Card Project.