I'd like to buy the world a Coke...

"What the world wants today" is both that elusive peace, and a Coke, as the commercial famously puts it. Buying a Coke is one form of peace, I guess; but how else do we define it?

War, in the name of peace...

The thought is bewildering, paradoxical, and also quite present in our world, both now and in the past--even if it has been defined differently throughout time. Recently, Patrick Cox mused over the meaning of the word "peace" in his podcast, The World in Words (which I've cited several times before--great listening), starting with President Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In itself, this oratory does a number on the definition of the easily-rattled-off but elusive-to-conceive word.

Here's a segment from President Obama's speech:

"We must begin by acknowledging a hard truth: we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations, acting individually or on concert, will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: 'Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem, it merely creates new and more complicated ones.' As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive, in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King; but as a head of state, sworn to protect and defend my nation, and I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake, evil does exist in the world."

Maybe it's a side-effect of my historiographical debates class, where we examine the words of great orators of the past, and where we're reading and arguing weekly about Hegelian and Marxist views of history as an up-hill march towards perfect societies, but President Obama's speech incited several things in my mind: as Patrick Cox says in the podcast, these things, phrases like "evil exists," and "morally justified use of force," are all things we have heard before in political speeches. Joseph Stalin defended force and violence many times, as a means of improving the Soviet state; Mao Zedong incited suspicion and approved violence amongst his Red Guard youth devotees. These are keywords used by politicians that justify a nation's actions, and also ensure that the people are enthralled and uplifted by the leader's response to evil. This means of inspiration, that we are improving, that we see our goal in sight and so violence is justified, appears throughout political oratory, and indeed nearly every leader in every country in the post-Enlightenment modern world harks back to the idea that we are improving, moving towards something better. Classic, and proven to be effective.

The remarkable thing about this speech, which makes it quite unique among political addresses, is that he is accepting the peace prize; he is not rallying his countrymen, but is speaking to a large crowd of educated people, many of them not Americans. But the President readily admits that he is no Martin Luther King, Jr., nor can he defend a nation using only the practices of history's peacekeepers. His speech certainly adds another meaning to the word peace, Cox argues, making it "a bit more slippery" than it had been. Obama: "So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace." Pause, and consider.

One may write the whole thing off to being a political speech written to speak to both sides, the peacekeeping America and the two-wars America, and indeed the sentiments somehow seek to provide both at once. And that is not such a terrible thing, for nothing exists in a vacuum and nation-states tend to be bundles of juxtapositions.

So how do we define peace, within ongoing global disunity and war? What is its nature? Does it in fact, contain war, as has been argued? "The word 'peace' is either taken as a given or used very lightly," said Dennis Ross, a U. S. diplomat and author. Can you have a commitment to peace but never come through, or in fact, consistently perform opposite to such peaceful notions? And on a larger scale, is progress the ability to reduce both good and bad in the world?

Listen to the entire discussion and hear the speech in the World in Words podcast #79 (the peace discussion begins around 11:30 minutes in). Then tell me what you think.