Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Dead End Quest for Peace

Peace, peace. Everyone wants peace. Or so we would like to think. Chamberlain and a sizable portion of the English electorate were certain that Hitler wanted peace and all that was needed was for everyone to sit down around a table, make some compromises (at someone else's expense if possible) and everyone could go back to buying their biscuits, playing cricket and generally enjoying life. What did not occur to them was the possibility that Hitler did not want peace. What did not occur to them was that by constantly talking about peace, they were only bridging the gap to war with their own naivete and conspicuous weakness.

A year into Obama's first term dedicated to multilateralism and soft power, the world is more unstable than ever. Iran is openly pursuing nuclear weapons and regional domination. North Korea is firing on South Korean ships. The Chavez Marxist axis in Latin America has become more ambitious. Russia is amping up the rhetoric against the Ukraine and George again, and building up its arsenal. And even Obama's staunchest apologists and defenders cannot think of a single tangible thing that he has accomplished in all his visits to virtually every major country on the globe.

But that is because peace is a paradox. To have peace, you must be prepared for war. You may speak softly, but you must carry a big stick. And like happiness, the worst possible way to go about finding peace, is by going out and looking for it. Because to pursue peace is to deliver a signal of weakness that all but invites war. Peace is produced not through goodwill, those with whom goodwill is easy to achieve are not likely targets for war, but through deterrence. War is deterred the same way that crime is deterred, through vigilance and strength.

To let go of that strength and relax your vigilance brings not peace, but instability and eventually war. This understanding of human affairs is reflexively rejected by those who assume that "we" are the real problem. That "we" are the reason why there is war. "We" are the reason why the enemy does not trust us. "We" are what stands in the way peace, love and understanding with the whole world. And if the peace initiatives fail, clearly "we" are the ones to blame and must try harder to break through and reach an understanding. And if "we" are lucky, we may wake up from this form of madness before the tanks of the people we worked so hard to achieve peace with roll into Poland.

Because there is nothing quite so pathetic as the leaders of a free nation crawling before tyrants and thugs in search of peace, beating their own breasts and offering more and more concessions in trade for false promises and falser hope.

Consider Israel's outreach program of shipping their films to film festivals, which is ironic when you consider that the average Israeli film is just as Anti-Israeli, as the average American movie is Anti-American. Israeli consulates are still flogging The Band's Visit. The Band's Visit is one of those charming movies that every liberalized country makes sooner or later, and in the words of film critic Roger Ebert showcases a vision of; "Arabs and Israelis, that shows them both as only ordinary people with ordinary hopes, lives and disappointments. It has also shown us two souls with rare beauty".

The Band's Visit was meant to promote Jewish-Arab and Israeli-Egyptian co-existence. The movie however was banned in Egypt, where any actual talk of co-existence with Israel is virtually a criminal offense. Which made it all the more absurd for the movie to depict an Egyptian band visiting Israel, when Egyptian writers, musicians and filmmakers are effectively barred from visiting Israel at risk of being expelled from their respective guilds. The few who have like playwright Ali Salem who faced ostracism, expulsion from the Union of Egyptian Writers and police interrogations for merely visiting Israel, have paid a high price for promoting "normalization" with Israel.

That is the "peace" that exists between Israel and Egypt, 30 years after Camp Sinai. That is the only peace that will ever exist between Israel and Egypt, for the simple reason that it is a peace based on three wars in which Israel demonstrated that it would not allow itself to be conquered by Egypt. That is of course the only way to stop a war, to demonstrate that it will not succeed.

Had England and France backed down Nazi Germany in the Rhineland, there likely would have been no WW2. Had the United States put its soldiers where its boycott was in Asia, there would have been no Pearl Harbor. Had the Allied troops in Russia intervened more directly against the Bolsheviks, there would have been no Cold War. And the list goes on and on. There are far more modern cases where a raised fist would have stopped a devastating war, then when a handshake or a hug would have done the same thing. And some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century could have been prevented not by diplomacy, but by preventing the diplomacy itself which more often than not has accommodated conquest and genocide.

But naturally the people who made The Band's Visit and their cultural ilk have learned absolutely nothing from their actual experience in Egypt, or understood belatedly that their enemies are not interested in seeing them as fellow human beings with ordinary hopes, lives and disappointments. To paraphrase Cassius, they insist that the fault lies not in their enemies, but in themselves. Or in those intolerant people around them who insist that their country must be vigilant and strong, instead of a pushover for the sort of people who burn books when they cannot burn the writers themselves.

While peace is a wonderful thing, it is part of a balance. There cannot be peace all the time, because humans  are not peaceful creatures. As long as there is greed, hate and the will to power-- there will be war. And for as long as there is war, peace can only be obtained through a strong hand, rather than a bended knee. Peace requires war, as day requires night and summer requires winter. It is part of a natural balance that is sustained by the willingness to maintain that balance. To be willing to have peace when war is over, and to be willing to fight when peace can no longer avail.

To quest for peace is as pointless as questing for constant summer or constant day. To so is to ignore the natural balance of human affairs, and to bring on war anyway... only a war on increasingly unfavorable terms. For though men may cry peace, peace-- but there is no peace. Only preemptive surrender.


  1. Beautiful!

    Right on the mark.

    Even the most guilt-complex prone person or nation must eventually come to the realization that his/her/it's enemy is at fault and fight back.

  2. Excellent essay! The classicist Donald Kagan in his lectures on the Peloponnesian wars (available free at itunes!) traces this division back to the Greeks. There were those who thought the best way to avoid war was through diplomacy, signing agreements, etc. There were others who believed war could only be averted through strength. Humanity never seems to learn.
    Keep up the good work

  3. Morry Rotenberg26/11/09

    Sultan, you are the greatest! It is amazing to me that our political leadership is as ignorant of history as the electorate is. Why does virtually every generation have to re-learn the lessons already taught to prior ones?

  4. Because the reasons we make those same mistakes is embedded in us. People can't learn from their mistakes until they change the reasons those mistakes keep being made.

  5. Another excellent column Mr. Knish. Spot on.

  6. Brilliant analysis, as always.

  7. sammish27/11/09

    Great theme and topic. Peace...

    You are right, everybody seem to want peace.. or more specifically their own kind of peace which mean put down or crush to bits any enemy and call the aftermath peace finally... well

    I am not sure who said that the Middle East peace is a mirage. A diplomatic peace means a contract between two belligerent enemies who decide to become friends and interdependent. He suggested that there should not be a peace treaty but rather a divorce document between the Palrabs and Israel.

    I could not disagree with that idea... it make more sense now than then....

  8. It depends on the people you are facing. And that's the difficult part, to understand which kind of people you are dealing with. If you have people who genuinely want to be your friend, you may use diplomacy with them, but if you face people who are your enemies, just waiting for un opportunity to defeat you and take what is yours, with those you use deterrence. The difficulty is to understand who is who, because the enemies usually disguise themselves. But you have place for both, diplomacy and deterrence, depending on the cases.

  9. Most of the people who are open to diplomacy are not war risks either, and vice versa

  10. Diplomacy implies goodwill from both sides and since you cannot get it from an enemy, diplomacy becomes worthless. Only deterrence works then and as long as they are afraid they will not be hostile.

  11. Anthony8/1/10


    A very interesting analysis, but what's your plan to secure Israel's future as a democratic Jewish state?

    Unfortunately your article seems to simply repeat the phrase "To have peace, you must be prepared for war." over and over, with the help of a thesaurus. That's very nice rhetoric, but what's your solution?

    Israel have shown quite a lot of firepower lately, has it brought peace for their citizens yet?

    What's your plan, Daniel?

  12. it's not about showing off the firepower or using it to bomb empty buildings as a show of force, but actually destroying the enemy

    when terrorists from egyptian gaza were penetrating Israel and murdering Israelis, Israel didn't put a stop to it with a show of force, but by putting boots on the ground to trace back the terrorists to their location and destroying the villages they were based out of