Traces N.4, April 2003

The Beginning of Peace

While this editorial is going to press, a war whose outcome and consequences are unforeseeable is underway in Iraq. A coalition headed by the United States has decided to respond in this way to the failure of Saddam’s regime to respect the UN resolutions on disarmament.
It is a grave decision, and the Church implored them to the very end not to undertake it.
“ Peace” has been invoked authoritatively by the Pope. Peace has been lauded in many ways, some sincere, others used for polemical political reasons, when not for petty party disputes.
The fact is, it seems that the name of what men want is precisely this: peace. In the Old Testament, too, peace is what God promises to His chosen people. But it is in the very name of peace that America is waging war. And again in the name of peace, the pacifists are protesting against America. Some–even within the Catholic world–have greeted this new pacifist people as the advent of a sort of world superpower.
Confusion is great, and on various levels. Anyone who has a bit of knowledge of geopolitical and economic affairs can find, in the arguments of the various factions, reasons, but also many exaggerations or even colossal lies.
But there is one thing that even someone not expert in geopolitical affairs can notice at this juncture. This is the ambiguous flavor of a peace that, it is thought on both sides, will take form as a way of “putting things in order.” For the United States, it is a matter of creating peace; for certain pacifist leaders, of being left in peace. There is something that both have in common: the idea that man, if he puts his mind to it, can succeed in putting things in order, organizing his life, achieving his desire for peace. The difference lies in the method: those who use war to reach their goals and those who don’t.
And yet, war is not only bombs and invasions. There is a more subtle war (which we all wage) to get ahead, to have a broader stage for showing what we are, to be given more space in the newspaper. There is a potential violence that nests even in daily relationships, even the most ordinary ones. Would the absence or end of a conflict in Iraq restore peace to our lives and those of our people?
There is a scandal that centers on the superciliousness of those who use violence to “fix” the world as well as on those who think that with a few good feelings the world will turn as it should. It is the scandal of God who, making Himself man, said, “Without me, you can do nothing”–not even what we want most. It is a scandal of the truth; that is to say, it is the shock of becoming aware of something true in experience, truer than so many discourses we hear on every hand. This Something is truer, above all, because it creates man as freedom and not as a mechanism. And peace comes from free adherence to a Presence that is greater than man’s capacities, and stronger than evil. Otherwise, even the just desire for peace–if it is not educated to an adequate reason–can be turned into the attempt to impose one’s own world view on others (while those who do not accept it are branded enemies of peace).
In these months of trembling and passion, few have remembered the truth that is rooted in experience. Most have contributed with chatter and slogans that transmit and at times stir up hostility. One of the few, the Pope has not taken sides for or against anybody, but has said in strong words that “only Christ can renew hearts and give hope back to peoples.” For this reason, he has urged all to acknowledge in their own lives that peace is a gift of God, and to assume their own responsibilities as free men. He has reaped, among other things, the ecumenical adherence of Protestants and Orthodox, offering to the world a real example of peace.