by Austin Bay
It was February 1990, three months after the Berlin Wall crackedand the Cold War began to melt. Following my lecture, she approached me inthe school hallway. Despite the crowsfeet around her eyes, a tattling detailthat pegged her on the high side of 40, she had decked herself in theperennially adolescent costume of a 1960s hippie: bandanna in the frizzedhair, faded blue jeans, and a pearl-button shirt best described as vaguelyNavaho and LSD.
She smiled self-consciously, then raised a scold's finger: "Youwrite books about war, right? With the end of the Cold War and so manypeople waging peace, I guess you'll have to find another subject, eh?"
I wasn't sure what rough beast I might represent in her garbledversion of the universe, though I felt certain soldier, male and Republicanwould appear on her list of indictments. With two kids at home, I didn'thave a spare six hours to catalog the conflicts lurking in what she believedto be a looming era of global bliss, so I kept my reply brief and Texan:"Well ma'am, it's quite a hazardous form of peace."
Color her a living caricature of trendy leftist politics and amiddle-aged woman in desperate need of a fashion consultant. Yup, those arethe right Crayolas. Note that within six months, Saddam Hussein invadedKuwait; within 18 months, Yugoslavia began to crack; within two years, theSoviet Union shattered and released the seeds of a dozen wars. Three yearslater, Islamist terrorists bombed the World Trade Center.
Still, in this time of year when we pray to the Prince of Peace,hope for Peace on Earth, and wish one another cheer and goodwill, it is fairto damn our world's terrible condition.
The numbers appall: In its annual assessment of conflicts, TheNational Defense Council Foundation identified 59 wars in 2001. My countdiffers, perhaps because I spend so much time watching Africa and CentralAsia. Depending on how one parses the combat, there are at thismoment between 110 and 130 armed conflicts (a euphemism for warsgrand and petty, but always deadly) plaguing the globe.
Several historical studies have attempted to determine how manyyears of peace have occurred in humankind's 5,000 years of recorded history."The results vary from a few hundred to a few dozen years of peace," saysnoted military historian and editor of StrategyPage.com James F. Dunnigan,"but these exercises always depend on how one defines peace. I would saythere have been no years in man's recorded history where there has been nowar."
Why is conflict so endemic to our species? The poet Petrarchwrote: "Five great enemies to peace inhabit within us: avarice, ambition,envy, anger and pride. If those enemies were to be banished, we shouldinfallibly enjoy perpetual peace." Avarice, ambition, envy, anger, pride:Shakespeare made villains of them all. They reappear every 30 minutes on allnews television. Indeed, they are at the root of Sept. 11, Afghanistan,Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, ad infinitum.
George C. Marshall, a statesman of impeccable credentials asboth warrior and peacemaker, observed: "If man does find the solution forworld peace, it will be the most revolutionary reversal of his record wehave ever known."
Yes, the 1990s began with the Cold War pulling a slow fade, butin its wake the world discovered a thousand simmering ethnic and historicalconflicts, with a dozen little Hitlers stoking these small infernos. Thisnew millennium begins with religious absolutists spewing 10th centuryrhetoric while seeking modern weapons of mass destruction, their violentschemes leaving thousands murdered. As for our own unperfected democracy,countless micro-conflicts -- from drive-by slayings to gang brawls --continue without respite.
What is to be done? The eagle on our national seal casts eyestoward the talons that clutch branches symbolizing peace; the other footclasps arrows. May God bless our hopes for a world without war. But giventhe strange mix of heaven and hell that we are, may we pray for the wisdomto prepare for both the worst and the best.