Wednesday, 28 July 2010

war & peace

is it just me, or are there a whole lot more war dramas and programmes on tv than their used to be? i've avoided pretty much all of them, i think.

it's not that i don't like war stuff per se - i watched stuff like the manchurian candidate (denzel washington version), enemy at the gates and other stuff i'm sure, that i thought were good. but what concerns me is that there are so many more stories being told about war than there are stories about peace.

i'm also concerned that many of the war stories are told in a way that don't glamorise war as such, but glamorise aspects of it. i'm finding it difficult to word this the right way. it's not a bad thing thing to show stories of courage under fire, and of people committing noble acts in absolutely awful situations. but unless those stories also show the horror and suffering of war, the impact on civilians not just from loss of life but also loss of infrastructure, and the severe trauma on combat personnel, i'm afraid that those stories tend to make war sound a little bit like a good thing, a noble thing even.

tie this in with the increasingly jingoistic nature of anzac day, and it becomes a development that i'm a little uncomfortable with. i've often said that if we spent as much on peace as we do on war, then the world would be an infinitely better place. but it would also be helpful if we could have more stories about peace, and if we could celebrate those stories a lot more. i'm thinking about stories that show tense situations solved by negotiation and compromise. i'm pretty sure those can be pretty intense and interesting viewing - i'm thinking for example of those hostage-type dramas where a kick-ass negotiating team saves the day.

the thing is that unless we have a greater focus on peace and celebrate peace, we're less likely to achieve it. in order for that to happen, peace making needs to become a part of our popular culture. it needs to be a greater part of our public discourse. it should be part of a public holiday where we spend time sharing stories about and commemorating peace and peace-keeping initiatives.

fortunately, there are other people in the country who think like i do, and who have been actively doing something about it. the aotearoa nz peace & conflict studies centre trust (yes, quite a mouthful) have successful in setting up the national peace & conflict centre at otago university. their july 2010 newsletter isn't online yet, but you can read previous newsletters here. they're currently looking for "an experienced fundraiser to help us generate
more support from individuals, businesses, and charitable trusts". another initiative is:

... a workshop on Peace Education in New Zealand early childhood, primary and secondary schools on the 29th and 30th October in Dunedin. The aim is to bring together teachers, providers, and the Ministry of Education to discuss what has happened in the field of Peace Education in NZ, what is happening now, and what needs to happen.

all good stuff. i'd also love to see nz on air and the film commission providing specified funding for film and programme makers to develop peace-related material - documentary or fiction. and wouldn't it be nice if we actually had a ministry of peace with funding equal to that of the ministry of defence. ah well, dreams are free.


Andrei said...

Tell me this how do you think barbarians such as those in the video would respond to overtures from the aotearoa nz peace & conflict studies centre trust or the national peace & conflict centre?

Just count your blessings you live on a couple of insignificant islands at the bottom of the planet surround by thousands of kilometers of ocean to protect you from the depredations of the forces of darkeness.

A Nonny Moose said...

Gosh, how lucky we are that we have people like Andrei to tell us that we don't have to worry about war. I guess I'll just curl up in my little hole and not care about the rest of the world out there...

actually... no, that's part of how you create insular racism.

I believe that anyone who tells you that peace is unobtainable has a vested interest in continuing it. War is an industry.

As for your article sg, I see a lot of war docos on the History (which I don't watch - I don't like the overly nostaligic feel). It feels like a large percentage of that channel is taken up with it, as if the last 50-100 years is the only relevant history for our society.

I see a lot of older men in my family/circle of friends very avidly watching these shows, and talk as if today's world doesn't have the heroes or relevancy that war gives to men. Its like if you're not physically fighting for something, then you're not trying/fighting or contributing to the world.

There are so many different ways you can fight, and words are one of them.

stargazer said...

and andrei wins the totally-missing-the-point award for the week. i fail to see which part of my post said "stop every single war this current minute".

thanx for your considered response aNM. i felt that way about the recent prime documentary on WW2, which i didn't watch for pretty much that reason. while i'd like to be up with the history, there is that fear of nostalgia coming through that i'm just not interested in.

Anonymous said...

I'm watching a lot of war shows at the moment with my son. It's a good trigger for a discussion about recent history (what my parents and grandparetns lived through).

I don't think programmes like "WWII In Colour" glamorise war. A lot of the programmes are about tactics gone wrong, the misplaced egos of commanding officers, poor planning that led to higher than necesary casualties, and yes, civilian casualties are covered, although not the *focus* of the episodes.

I don't think there is a problem with programmes like this per se, it's how you approach them and why you are watching them. Do you view them as human tragedy or as the good old glorious days?

BTW - also watching "I, Claudius" on DVD. No war scenes (yet) but talk of various wars. A poorer depiction of history for it, I think.

stargazer said...

thanx anon, i can see your point and agree that it depends on how the topic is treated and what people are taking from it. but that doesn't address the issue of balance, of ensuring that we have a proportionate number of programmes about peace & the tactics of achieving peace.

Hugh said...

I don't know of a single historian who watches the History Channel. It's often nicknamed 'The Nazi Channel' precisely because of the monomaniacal focus on WW2 (especially the Anglo-American experience of WW2 - you rarely see anything about the Soviet side).

I agree that if only we spent the resources on peace that we do on war the world would be an infinitely better place (not least for the lack of money to spend on war) and I would actually go further than you, Stargazer, and say we should stop all wars currently occurring (no idea how to do it, I just don't believe there are any 'good wars'). But the problem is that it's hard to see how to spend money 'on peace'.

Centres like the Otago one can do a good job - I myself am fond of the works of SIPRI (Stockholm Intl Peace Research Institute) but I don't think billions of dollars of peace research would stop as much war as billions of dollars on tanks and guns would start.

stargazer said...

but you wouldn't spend it just on research hugh. you'd spend it on education (both adult & child), on film, tv & other media, on bringing people together at all levels ie governmental as well as exchange trips for ordinary people, on peace talks, on aid to solve some of the humanitarian problems that lead to conflict, and on a hundred other ideas that are in my mind but i don't have time to put down just now.

Hugh said...

Stargazer are you aware of this idea?

US-specific, but I don't see why the principles wouldn't work outside the American context.

stargazer said...

no, i hadn't heard of that at all, and it brought tears to my eyes just reading through it. i see the canadians have been trying for something similar.

do you know of any other country in the world that has been successful with this? because if there isn't, then that is a pretty sad indictment on the human race that not one single group of us has managed to convince our government to set up something like this.

Hugh said...

No, I don't know of anywhere else. And I don't think the US department has much chance of ever actually being set up. I suppose one might argue that the portfolio of the Minister of Disarmament here in NZ (and elsewhere) is somewhat analogous but there's no department to go with it.

The Peace Department proposal is actually, I feel, a bit problematic, not least because those advocating it seem to be unsure whether the opposite of 'peace' is 'war' or 'violence'. (For instance, promoting battered women's rights or animal rights, while worthy, won't stop international wars)

Personally I think that tearing down war-making institutions is the more urgent need than creating peace-encouraging ones - I feel that peace is really just an absence of violence. Here in NZ dissolving the armed forces and police, and ending ANZAC day celebrations, would go a hell of a long way towards meeting the sorts of goals that the Peace Department proposal is trying to create. A Ministry of Peace (or whatever) even if lavishly funded risks being as isolated as the Ministry of Women's Affairs is now.

stargazer said...

i'm sure that the peace department proposal could easily be set up without dismantling the army & police.

and i completely disagree with you about peace just being an absence of violence. it's can be much more: a positive movement towards conflict resolution through negotiation and compromise, and the building of mutual understanding. no point in dismantling the war machinery without setting up the structures and attitudes that will replace it.

of course a ministry would be isolated if the government of the day wasn't committed to it, and had it there just because they were too scared of the backlash that dismantling it would generate. which is why continual public awareness & pressure are important.

Hugh said...

Well I agree that negotiation and compromise are the way to settle disputes outside of violence, I guess I just feel they are the natural state of human beings - that without the necessary mechanisms to blow stuff and people up, we would default to them.

But further discussing our differences on this issue would probably qualify as a derail so I'll leave it at that.

McFlock said...

I love that one of the Founding Fathers was essentially a Fabian Socialist - the Tea Party folk obviously haven't heard about that one :)

@Hugh - personally, I go the other way. My belief is that even without guns or knives, some jerks will still try to hit other people with sticks and stones (not the majority, by any means, but some folk are just plain jerks). But then I've spent one too many nights controlling drunk people :)

The concept of a dedicated Peace Department is fascinating, especially in training peacekeepers. Military units aren't police, and they're often not even adequate peacekeepers (especially when being used by their government as a revenue source from the UN, e.g. Fiji or some African states). Having a dedicated peacekeeping profession would be an interesting idea, as well as intertwining it with "let's get what we want without blowing them up" policy options.

As an aside, being a bit of a history geek I like watching the History Channel - and spotting clues that the stock footage they're using has nothing to do with the narration (e.g. wrong uniforms, wrong terrain features, wrong aircraft, wrong vehicles, wrong weapons. Depending on the production company the same archive footage gets recycled repeatedly). And then there are the outrageous historical revisions - Tonkin was an unprovoked attack on US ships which led to Johnson escalating US involvement, South Vietnam was a democratic government, and similar revisions for other periods.
All good for a laugh, but not exactly "educational".