Peace is the essence of human existence; it is the freedom to pursue a dream; it is also the ability to express individuality. Peace is the opportunity to relate with others in understanding, good will and cooperation. It is a cornerstone of people’s survival and triumph as natural species.
Ask a child in elementary school or an old person in a convalescence home, they will all recite eloquently about the necessity and virtue of peace. If peace is such an essential of people’s existence, why is it not the central theme of social or political dialogue? Why does an adult male, on the average, think about financial looting once every few minutes, according to some anti-graft agencies, but seldom contemplate about peace. Why are there ‘n’ times more porn web sites than web sites dedicated to promoting peace in the internet?
Why is peace not the central theme of all religious sermons? Why is religion used to balkanize communities to perpetuate suspicion and incite violence? Why is peace not a central pillar of our political agenda instead of just a hollow political slogan? Why do political leaders brush aside peace and herald war at mere perceived danger or gain? Why are masses of people herded to support destructive wars provoked by dim-wit political leaders?
If peace is so much essential for our collective well being and yet so much marginalized, what is the role of you and me to make peace the focus of our consciousness? How can we promote peace to alleviate the suffering of millions around the world who are suffering from the lack of it?
It is silly to pretend to answer this question without thinking about the lessons of history. Obviously, the costs of peace, throughout history, have varied greatly. A cursory examination of history shows that they depend entirely on the historical circumstances and which side of a conflict a country is on.
When countries have no particular cause to fight, as was the case with the U.S. and Britain in the 20th century, they often make treaties to avoid an undesirable war, and then the cost was low indeed. We wish all countries were like this and never had any cause to fight, but sadly they too often do. Suppose your country is the victim of an aggressor, and someone asks, “What is the cost of peace?” Then the question is equivalent to “What is the cost of surrender?” because that’s the only way to achieve peace.
But even when things are not so one-sided, peace is not always puppy dogs and roses. When countries are ideological, religious, or ethnic foes, when there is a struggle to determine whether a certain ideology, religion, or nationality will hold sway in an area–as in Korea and Vietnam, the religious wars in Europe following the Reformation, and the Balkans forever; then the costs of peace are often dear.
Whichever side decides to make peace has an unwanted ideology or religion imposed on it by the other side, or comes to be ruled by a different (often, hated) ethnic group. Such costs are intolerable for some, particularly when it comes to religion, because religion is among the things that people care most about; throughout history, people simply couldn’t tolerate worshipping in a way contrary to their beliefs. And the costs of making peace with certain ideologies, such as those of North Korea or the Nazis, are horrifically evil for many of their victims.
Similarly, when an aggressor is expanding or defending an empire as with Alexander, the Mongols, Napoleon or empire-building throughout history; the cost of peace for their victims is the loss of sovereignty and national pride, of a thing that many countries have fought for, called “freedom.”
Sometimes peace has also meant cultural destruction, the loss of customs, languages, and religion. It has also quite often meant slavery for the loser, but of course that depends on the winner. If you favor peace with an empire-builder and you don’t want to be made into a slave, you wouldn’t want your conquerors to be like, say, ancient Egyptians or Greeks, or Nazis if you are a Slave. For some people, the price of peace is death; the Nazis and the Jews are not the only example.
In such a case I say it’s better to fight back. In fact, you probably have a moral duty to fight back. There are other more specific causes of war and hence other particular costs of peace. One of the main causes of the U.S. Civil War was the refusal of the South to give up the practice of slavery.
If Abe Lincoln and the North had been pacifists, the South would have gone on for probably many years being supported by slavery. Perhaps just as bad, as Lincoln expressed in the Gettysburg Address, the Union would have been lost and hence the best representative of a newer, juster kind of government would have demonstrated, to tyrants and their subjects everywhere, an inability to govern.
Those costs would have been very high indeed, and that is why Abe is celebrated, rather than reviled, for rejecting peace in 1861. He literally and un-ironically made the world safe for democracy.
Another special cause for war and cost of peace lately, is the cost of living with terrorism. If the U.S., Europe, and Israel simply made peace with countries and actors who engaged in terrorism, my modest guess is that they would very likely get a lot more of terrorism. I leave it to you to decide whether anti-terrorist wars and maneuvers are more costly than the acts of terrorism that would crop up in their absence.
Considering that the very worst terrorists would like nothing so much as to get their hands on nukes or other WMDs, we have to weigh the possibility of a mushroom cloud over New York, London, or Tel Aviv as the cost of peace. We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that terrorists would stop fighting if we did.
They are fighting the West because they love Allah and hate the West, not because the West is trying to stop them. (Admittedly, the West might be doing other things, like nation-building, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed nation-building might not be more valuable than peace. But it is perverse not to notice that the reason the U.S., Britain, and other such countries occasionally do nation-building precisely in the interests of peace.)
War is hell, and if there is no occasion for it, we have a strong reason not to start it. But the costs of peace are sometimes higher than the costs of war, at least, in the opinion of peace-loving people around the world and throughout history. What would be nice, but which seems likely never to occur, is that all causes of war cease to exist.
If we all shared the same ideology and religion, that would help; but if we are realistic, we will admit that that is very unlikely. (Will everyone just please switch to my non-religion and eminently reasonable ideology? Then we will all get along.) If ethnicity no longer mattered, that would help; but except maybe for some Westerners, ethnicity will go on mattering for everyone, simply because ethnicity is a big part of the human condition, of who we are, even if it seems “invisible” to some deluded people.
We care about our ethnicity, at least if ethnicity includes culture, and we value it; we do not want a global monoculture. If there were one single world empire, or one super-superpower as under Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, and Pax Americana but having even more influence than those did or do, or if there were an effective one-world government; Pax Earth then empire-building would be over. (Maybe for a while) But, to judge from history, this no doubt would mean the intolerable oppression, or humiliation, or loss of freedom, etc., for many of the single-sovereign’s subjects.
Throughout this discussion I have assumed that the questioner was asking what the cost was of one side stopping fighting and making peace, at whatever cost is set by the other side. If we are asked to imagine the cost of both sides giving up and making peace, the costs depend on whatever was going on before the proposed war, and what the war would change. Certainly, there are cases in which leaving things in the “status quo ante” is preferable to war. But there are other cases, I think, in which the “status quo ante” is far worse than a war that leads to a more just peace. Just remember that there is a reason that some people have chanted, “No justice, no peace!”, never mind that some of the same people might in other contexts chant, “Make love, not war!”
Most importantly, absent a single world power holding sway over all, there is no way to force a peace on both sides. Thus, as much as idealists might wish it were otherwise, the question can really only be, “What is the cost of our giving up and making peace with those who want to fight us, and then acceding to their terms or tolerating whatever it is they want to dish out?” After all, a question like “What is the cost of peace?” occurs only to peace-loving people, not enthusiastically empire-expanding aggressors. Cheers!