Peace Day quietly came & went

Dove peace

Dove peace (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In case you missed it, the International Day of Peace was celebrated recently. Its official date was September 21, and the word is there were “festivals, concerts, a global Peace Wave with moments of silence at noon in every time zone, and much more.” But I think the word wasn’t spoken very loudly.

In 1981, when Peace Day was unanimously and officially established by the United Nations, there were plenty of signs it might not easily gain traction. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated — which brought us that “peace through strength” business, demonstrated by bombing Libya and selling arms to Iran for the Contras. President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in Egypt and a few months later Israel annexed the Golan Heights. It’s been pretty much downhill ever since.

Still, Peace Day ought to have its day. In areas where it does get celebrated there’s a lot of dancing in the streets, lighting of candles in windows and — most peaceful of all if you ask me — moments of silence. It’s hard to commit violence when you’re keeping quiet. Or, for that matter, if you’re dancing in the streets instead of blowing up things.

I think we shouldn’t give up on Peace Day. We now have the word from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying he has some interest in peace, and our President Obama saying the U.S. would like peace, and maybe Iranian-American relations would be a good place to start. Mr. Obama admitted right off that Peace Day wasn’t always historically possible. “The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable” before the U.N. came into being, were his exact words.

In his address to the U.N. (quoted above) Mr. Obama zipped through an extensive list of warlike actions and circumstances in which the U.S. as well as just about every other country on earth has hardly seemed bent on achieving peace of any sort. But I do like his closing paragraph:

“I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on,” our president said.  Essentially, the side that maintains freedom and equality for all. “That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope.  And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.”

So let’s hear it for Peace Day. Even if it’s not yet quite gotten its day.

The Peace prize & the 20th Century

While applauding Mr. Obama, I’m among those who wish the Nobel folks had waited. I do hope peace might actually, some day, happen in the world, but given last century’s record, things are chancy at best.

My father, born in 1897, used to talk a lot about world peace. His father, born just after the end of the Civil War, lost two of his five sons to World War I, but he took comfort in the certainty that peace would abound from then on. He died in the mid-1930s, presumably not looking very closely at Germany.

My father was an eternal, though not unrealistic, optimist. The afternoon we learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed we gathered around the Philco radio to listen to Mr. Roosevelt, and my father talked about what a terrible thing war was. But for a few years we had that one, the last ‘good’ war. There was optimism after it ended but not much peace, because we plunged right into the Cold War.

In 1953 my father — Earl Moreland was his name, he was a good guy — was president of the Virginia United Nations Association and brought Eleanor Roosevelt to Richmond to speak on — world peace. It was a plum for my fresh-out-of-college first PR job and a memorable time for me, since I got to pick up Mrs. Roosevelt at the quonset hut that passed for Richmond’s airport at the time and watch that singular lady in action. She was eloquent and reservedly hopeful. For a while in the 1950s peace seemed dimly possible, if you could look beyond SEATO and the Geneva Accords and a few issues with Communism, and ignore (as many of us did) the plight of the Palestinians.

Then came Vietnam. If that war seemed endless, which it was, at least after we made our ungraceful exit there was another tiny hope that somehow there might be a little peace… as long as you ignored the North/South Vietnam problems and weren’t looking at Israel and Palestine.

My father was a big fan of Anwar Sadat. When Jimmy Carter managed that little sit-down with Mr. Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David, I was visiting my father at his home a hundred or so miles south. This time we hunkered in front of the little living room TV set, and I remember my father saying “By George! I think we could see peace over there one day.” Well, we did hope. Of course, by then it was getting close to time to start looking at Afghanistan, a country many Americans (certainly including this one) thought of more as a storybook land than a real place where one bunch of people have been fighting with another bunch of people since time immemorial.

The rest is (more recent) history. It will be evident that this space is not the History Channel, but more precisely one woman’s view of the 20th century and the peace in our time that didn’t exactly happen. American Nobel peace laureates Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, George Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry Kissinger — MLK, definitely a peacemaking sort but Henry Kissinger? — and Jimmy Carter didn’t formulate much 20th century peaceable wisdom for their 21st century follower.

Barack Obama is a believer, in hope, and peace, and possibilities. I wish him well.