The Personal Column: Peace & Love

IssueOctober 2015 - November 2015
Feature by Jeff Cloves

On a whim, I googled ‘peace quotes’. Three things immediately struck me:

  1. The quotes are overwhelmingly from men
  2. Many of them are from world leaders, generals, and politicians
  3. There’s a black hole where principled conscientious objectors – and even deserters – ought to be heard

So, how about this quote from that noted war criminal Henry Kissinger for example: ‘The Vietnam war required us to emphasise the national interest rather than abstract principles’. And what about this gem? ‘It is an act of insanity and national humiliation to have a law prohibiting the President from ordering assassination’ (statement at a national security council meeting, 1975).

There’s much talk currently about people losing their trust in leaders in particular and politicians in general – blimey, is it any wonder? And, as for assassination by drones, the debate has hardly started – outside the pages of PN that is.

Kissinger also said – I suspect with approval rather than irony– ‘power is the ultimate aphrodisiac’ (1971). Meantime, for your interest dear readers here is Google’s dry intro to its Kissinger entry: ‘Henry Alfred Kissinger May 27, 1923, is an American diplomat and political scientist. He served as National Security Advisor and later concurrently as Secretary of State in the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. For his actions in negotiating the ceasefire in Vietnam (which was ultimately never actualised), Kissinger received the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize under controversial circumstances, with two members of the committee resigning in protest. After his term, his advice has still been sought by many subsequent U.S. presidents and other world leaders’.

It’s been estimated that anywhere between 1½–3m Vietnamese people were killed during the Vietnam War. As for me, I’ve long since discarded any credence I ever attached to Nobel Peace Prize awards. They have about as much distinction as our long-discredited honours system with its indiscriminate decoration of chancers, shysters, and media-appointed ‘national treasures’.

As to why Google includes so few peace quotes from women, your guess is as good as mine. However, some have nonviolently forced their way in, and Vera Brittain appears several times: ‘The pacifist’s task today is to find a method of helping and healing which provides a revolutionary constructive substitute for war’ (The Rebel Passion, 1964).

Amen to that I say.

All the expected names – some deservedly so, some not – are there and their words are mostly wise and inspirational: Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, Einstein, Mandela, Schweitzer, Muhammad Ali, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix et al and of course that international treasure – and almost token woman in this case – mother Teresa.

So, there’s another black hole where women ought to be and you wonder where the many compilers of these entries have been all their lives. Not reading PN, that’s for sure.

I found an unknown – to me that is – gem of a quote from Benjamin Franklin which speaks directly to my heart. Franklin (1706-1790) was one of the ‘founding fathers’ who drafted the Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States. He was also a scientist, inventor, writer and (unfortunately for my argument) a politician.

However, he said this: ‘There never was a good war or a bad peace’. I’ve no idea to whom and in what context he said this but I should like to see his words stamped on the foreheads of every politician in the known world.

It’s now a couple of months since I went up from Stroud to join the anti-austerity march and thought about these wonderful words from William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ as I sat in our coach:

In my exchanges every Land
Shall walk, & mine in every Land.
Mutual shall build Jerusalem
Heart in heart & hand in hand.

On the march, banners declared mutual support for the NHS, opposed capitalism, and consistently declared their desire for ‘welfare not warfare’. I wish now I’d thought of making a banner proclaiming ‘Peace is the ultimate aphrodisiac’.

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