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From the International column in the November 2000 Perspectives

Orienting the 20th Century toward Peace: International Conference of the Peace History Society and the Peace History Commission

E. Charles Chatfield, November 2000

Meeting at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, members of the Peace History Society and the Peace History Commission explored historic efforts to orient the 20th century to peace. Panels considered the historic process of naming Nobel Peace Prize laureates, disarmament drives since 1945, the contributions of women to peace practice and theory, peace traditions and institutions in specific cultures, and the relevance of emerging global processes to peace in the 21st century.

Commenting on a century of Nobel Peace Prizes, a panel of researchers illuminated the roles of Nobel Committee members and their advisers, the importance of international campaigns for specific prizewinners, and the varying relevance of Norwegian politics and foreign policy to committee decisions. In selecting the Norwegian Storting to designate the Peace Prize committee, Nobel's will offended the political and patriotic sensibilities of the king, court, and many conservatives in Sweden. In any case, the award has been a barometer of attitudes toward peacemaking. For example, the prizes were mostly given to Western white males, although in more recent times they have been globalized with an increase in the number of women laureates. Also an emphasis upon the conditions of justice and equality as conditions of peace has evolved, along with a concern for human rights, as illustrated by the work of longtime committee chair Aase Lionaes.

The discussion raised the question of whether or not the Norwegian Nobel Committee should have begun its work by defining "peace." As it did not do so, successive committees have been able, it was observed, to adapt their criteria to changing circumstances and understandings.

A session on arms control and disarmament since 1945 was linked to the Nobel panel by the demonstration that prize awards have corresponded to changes in the Nobel Committee's attitude toward nuclear weapons issues. From initial indifference, it shifted to growing concern and, in the eighties and nineties, a strong stand for nuclear disarmament.

There was also growing sympathy for nuclear disarmament among some leaders of the Eastern bloc. Like the Western German Social Democratic Party (SPD), East German Socialist Unity Party (SED) leader Erich Honecker was deeply disturbed by the nuclearization of the two Germanies through NATO's double track decision of 1979 and the Soviet installation of SS-20 missiles. Consequently, in the early eighties, the SED and the SPD groped for some way to defuse nuclear threats from East and West, only to be discouraged in Moscow and Washington.

Looking at the nuclear weapons issue in NATO nations, panel organizer Lawrence Wittner challenged the conventional notion that the West defeated the Soviet Union through a major nuclear weapons buildup. In fact, he argued, Western leaders retreated from their ambitious nuclear plans under pressure from nuclear disarmament movements and public opinion. They unilaterally scrapped some nuclear weapons systems and phased out others through arms control and disarmament agreements. The Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991 in the context of a diminished and dwindling NATO nuclear arsenal.

A session organized by Sandi E. Cooper reviewed gender in relation to peace efforts and peace research. It included three studies of national women's peace campaigns. In 1935 the Swedish section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) cooperated with a general WILPF program to foment women's opposition to war. The Swedish women specifically urged their compatriots to refuse the use of gas masks or to seek shelter in the case of air attack. But the WILPF was unable to coordinate an international program of action, and the radical Swedish thrust dissipated.

More recently, feminism and pacifism have waned as priorities in the German Green Party since it entered the federal government. This was explained as a result of both the fact that feminism and pacifism have entered the mainstream of German political culture, and that the Greens have moderated their most controversial positions the more they have operated within the framework of government. A study on left-wing feminism and peace in the United States during the early Cold War and McCarthy era concluded that the culture of anticommunism wrecked the broadly liberal Congress of American Women and purged it from the feminist memory. By contrast, the Women's Strike for Peace flourished in the sixties with a single-issue, non-ideological agenda.

Eleanor Roosevelt's achievement in drawing up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be appreciated in light of her humanitarian vision of freedom and her worldview, which surfaced explicitly in the 1925 campaign for a World Court. It is the more striking against the backdrop of U.S. failure to ratify the full declaration, to pay its UN and UNESCO dues, and to ratify World Court jurisdiction over war crimes.

This session concluded with a comprehensive survey of the literature on gender, peace, and conflict research. Whereas it had been asserted early that women were different and inferior, and accordingly unfit for public life, it was subsequently argued that women were not different and should be included. Later, women's alleged differences from men were held to suit them better for conflict resolution. Most recently the trend is toward the view that "women's and men's roles are socially constructed to be different." In any case, there can be no empirical test of relationships between gender and peace and no equality of opportunity without the equal participation of women in decision making and conflict resolution.

A session on culture and peace in the 20th century explored several indices of the existence of cultures of peace. The concept of nonviolence in Russia was traced from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn, for example, with a lapse from the early thirties to the death of Stalin. Subsequently human rights and peace movements in Russia carried two related peace traditions: one, represented by Andrei Sakharov, was grounded in rational humanism while the other was epitomized by Solzhenitsyn's spiritual commitment to absolute nonviolence. Another study assessed the Japanese experience of peace education through such means as the teaching of history, the popularization of pacifist biography, peace museums, and peace education. It is particularly important to deal with disparities among the textbooks of various nations and to construct a view of each society as historically both victim and perpetrator of violence.

Two studies focused on official institutions in relation to a peace orientation. Historically, constructing an "intellectually independent" United States Institute of Peace meant contesting established institutions and beliefs about security. The most telling argument for the USIP was that it could broaden the nation's foreign policy repertoire in conflict, with potential budget savings in military defense—conflict negotiation was viewed reluctantly as a necessary caveat of power politics. By contrast, Article IX of the Japanese Constitution (renouncing war as a sovereign right and prohibiting military forces with war-making potential) was formed in the expectation that a world federation would guarantee national security: Japan's long retention of Article IX is evidence of a persistent culture of peace within that society. Moreover, much of the pressure to revise the article stems from a desire to support UN peacekeeping missions, thus helping to transfer national security to a collective agency.

In the final session of the conference, the focus shifted from the 20th to the 21st century, from historical narrative to analytical models drawn from other disciplines, and from peace organizations as constituent elements of culture to transnational systems and processes. For example, analyses of UN peacekeeping missions have made it clear that cultural self-consciousness is required by a peacekeeping force that is faced with a series of "cultural inversions" and psychological role reversals. Successful negotiation involves self-conscious acculturalization of the peacekeeper's identity.

Research conducted in war zones reveals extranational, "shadow systems" of unofficial exchange across boundaries that sustain both warfare and civil societies. They work both "through and around" state institutions. As yet little studied and not well conceptualized, they are linked to every global issue, from development and human rights to war and peace that faces the 21st century. Another transnational system, the Internet and World Wide Web, has the potential to extend older forms of colonial control over territory, trade, and technology to the control of information. It is a process of socialization that is "not amenable to any of the metanarratives of modernity, including grand narratives of peace and peacemaking." Like shadow systems of exchange and the cultural component in peacekeeping, identity-forming communication systems—whether they reinforce an imperial system of culture or cultural anarchism—will challenge efforts to orient the 21st century to peace.

—E. Charles Chatfield is the Hirt Professor Emeritus at Wittenberg University.