Is peace worth dying or suffering for? What do we know about what has been written?

What is the meaning of “peace”? It seems there are at least two concepts: a) peace as freedom from disturbance (synonyms would be tranquility, calm, quiet, silence, inner peace, freedom from fear, and balance), or b) peace as the absence of war (synonyms would be law and order, harmony, accord, amity, nonaggression, nonviolence, and the absence of conflict). Both are desirable, but what is “risk”? Again, there are different types: a) risks to property, investments, or wealth, b) risks of personal reputation, goodwill, happiness, or tranquility, or c) risk of one’s own life or personal safety or that of a loved one.

My professional career area involved safety and risk analysis.  I routinely looked at risks associated with nuclear power, chemical spills, pollution, storage of liquid natural gas, bridge failures, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Often it was useful to compare the risks of these issues to everyday risks that most people don’t even think about but are often far more likely to occur.   Most people tend to fixate about risks that are extremely unlikely to happen, while voluntarily subjecting themselves to situations far more dangerous.

Let’s consider how much risk we are willing to take for the concept of world peace? First consider the ultimate penalty of risk, just how frequently do people die per 100,000 population due to activities in which they often voluntarily participate:[1], [2]

  • Base Jumping      1,700
  • Grand Prix Racing      1,000
  • Hang Gliding          179
  • Riding in a car          150
  • Motorbike Racing          100
  • Childbirth            24
  • Riding in a motor vehicle         16.3
  • Canoeing          10
  • Scuba diving          3
  • American football          2
  • Sky Diving          1
  • Bungee Jumping 2
  • Skiing 08
  • War (per conflict, 2000)*         5

On the other hand, the existence of peace is more than the absence of death or actual war. A dictatorship can impose a strict regime in which there is no overt conflict, but life is miserable.   Since 2007 the Institute for Economics and Peace headquartered in Sydney, Australia has published a Global Peace Index (GPI) that measures the relative position of a nations’ Peacefulness.   The GPI examines some 23 measures of peace, but 17 measures examine indications of internal peace and level of militarization and not conflict deaths within or outside the nation’s boundaries.[1], [2]   Sadly, the United States ranks 121st out of 163 nations ranked with only a “medium” level state of peace.[3]

Who then are the peace activists and martyrs prepared to risk speaking out for peace?[1] These individuals proactively have advocated diplomatic and non-military resolution of conflict through nonviolent means and methods. Although many have not suffered physically for their views, others have been humiliated, incarcerated, tortured, and died for their beliefs. Consider the following sample of peace martyrs:

  • 399     BC Socrates, the “gadfly of Athens”, died for persistent criticism and fact checking of the Athenian establishment,
  • 1865   Abraham Lincoln died for opposing racism,
  • 1943   Hans and Sophie Scholl died for opposing Nazism,
  • 1948   Mahatma Gandhi died for trying to spread communal harmony,
  • 1963   Medgar Evers died for leadership in the Civil Rights Movement,
  • 1968   Martin Luther King died for advocating nonviolence and peace among men,
  • 2008   Obora Toshiyuki, Onishi Nobuhrio and Takada Sachimi were jailed for advocating the continuation of the Japanese pacifist constitution written in 1947.

Given the example of these heroic peace martyrs, why are we so often reluctant to stand up for principles of peace?[1] Other than the obvious fear of pain and death, perhaps it is because,

  • We over-estimate the probability of something going wrong,
  • We exaggerate the consequences of what might happen if it does go wrong,
  • We under estimate our ability to handle the consequences of risk, and
  • We discount or deny the cost of inaction and sticking with the status quo.

But perhaps the biggest risk in life is not taking one. Taking risks can be beneficial, and we can expect:

  • To learn and grow from risks,
  • To overcome our fear of failure,
  • To create a worthy heritage for others,
  • To be an example to others, and
  • In the end, No Regrets.

When the “roll is called up yonder”, who would you rather stand beside? The peace activists and peace martyrs noted above or dictators like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Robert Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, Poi Pot, Bashar al-Assad, Idi Amin, Kim Il-sung, Francisco Franco, etc. who destroyed peace.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/06/18/take-a-risk-the-odds-are-better-than-you-think/#477be3fc45c2

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_peace_activists

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Peace_Index

[2] http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2018/06/Global-Peace-Index-2018-2.pdf

[3] The US GPI score at 2.3 out of 5.0 ranks just above those in the “low” level state of peace, i.e. above Myanmar but below Armenia. Very low peacefulness is found in Russia (154) scores 3.16, North Korea (150) scores 2.95, and China (112) scores 2.243.   Iceland, New Zealand, and Austria (1, 2, and 3) score 1.096, 1.192, and 1.274, respectively.

[1] https://www.tetongravity.com/story/news/your-chances-of-dying-ranked-by-sport-and-activity

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf

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