The peace racket

‘If you want peace, prepare for war,” counseled the Roman general Flavius Vegetius Renatus more than 1,600 years ago, echoing the sage advice given nine centuries earlier by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. But in a film I saw recently at Oslo’s Nobel Peace Center, this ancient wisdom was turned on its head: “If you want peace,” it said, “prepare for peace.”

This purports to be wise counsel, a motto for the millennium. In reality, it’s wishful thinking that doesn’t follow logically from the history of war, the real lesson of which is the one that Sun Tzu and Vegetius taught: Conflict happens, power matters, and it’s better to be strong than to be weak. Human history has demonstrated repeatedly that you’re safer if your enemies know you’ll stand up for yourself than if you’re proudly outspoken about your defenselessness or your unwillingness to fight. Yet this truth is denied not only by the Nobel Peace Center film but by the fast-growing, troubling movement that the center symbolizes and promotes.

I’m not talking here about a bunch of naive Quakers or idealistic high school students, but about a movement of savvy, ambitious professionals that is already comfortably ensconced at the United Nations, in the European Union and in many nongovernmental organizations. The peace racket, as I’ve come to think of it, embraces scores of “peace institutes” and “peace centers” in the U.S. and Europe, plus several hundred peace studies programs at universities such as UC Berkeley and Cornell.

What’s more, this movement is also waging an aggressive, under-the-media-radar campaign for a Cabinet-level “Peace Department” in the United States. Sponsored by Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (along with more than 60 co-sponsors), HR 808 would authorize a secretary of Peace to “establish a Peace Academy,” to “develop a peace education curriculum” for elementary and secondary schools, and to provide “grants for peace studies departments” at campuses around the country. If passed, the measure would catapult the peace studies movement into a position of extraordinary national, even international, influence.

All this sounds lovely, of course. Decent people prefer peace to war, life to death, nonviolence to violence. But they also prefer freedom to tyranny -- and the peace studies movement, all too often, promotes a mentality that plays directly into the hands of despots.

The founding father of the global peace movement is a 77-year-old Norwegian professor, Johan Galtung, who established the International Peace Research Institute in 1959. Invariably portrayed in the media as a charismatic and (these days) grandfatherly champion of decency, Galtung is in fact nothing of the sort. He’s called the U.S. a “killer country,” accused it of “neo-fascist state terrorism,” and gleefully prophesied that it will soon follow Britain “into the graveyard of empires.” In the 1970s, he wrote admiringly of Mao Tse-tung’s China, and his consistently leftist, anti-Western tune has not changed. Recently he called for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee in Iraq -- to address not the crimes or atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein and his murderous Baathists, but those he attributes to the United States!

The people running today’s peace studies programs at American universities give a good sense of the movement’s illiberal inclinations. Brandeis University’s peace studies chairman has justified suicide bombings as “ways of inflicting revenge on an enemy that seems unable or unwilling to respond to rational pleas for discussion and justice.” The director of Purdue University’s program is the author of the book “International Relations in a World of Imperialism and Class Struggle.” And the University of Maine’s program director believes that “humans have been out of balance for centuries” and that “a unique opportunity of this new century is to engage in the creation of balance and harmony between yin and yang, masculine and feminine energies.”

America’s leading peace racket institution is probably the University of Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies -- endowed by and named for the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, the ultimate symbol of evil corporate America. (It was the Kroc Institute, by the way, that in 2004 invited Islamist scholar Tariq Ramadan to join its faculty, only to see him denied a U.S. visa on grounds that he had defended terrorism.)

What’s taught in peace studies departments around the country generally remains faithful to Galtung’s inspiration. Many professors emphasize that the world’s great evil is capitalism -- because it leads to imperialism, which in turn leads to war. And many students acquire a zero-sum picture of the world economy: If some countries and people are poor, it’s because others are rich. They’re taught that American wealth derives from exploitation and that Americans, accordingly, are responsible for world poverty.

As for America’s response to terrorism, David Barash and Charles Webel tidily sum up the view of many peace studies professors in “Peace and Conflict Studies,” their widely used 2002 textbook: “A peace-oriented perspective condemns not only terrorist attacks but also any violent response to them.” How, then, are democracies supposed to respond to aggression? Should we open an instant dialogue? Should we make endless concessions? Should we apologize? Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 capitulation to Hitler at Munich taught -- or should have taught -- that appeasement just puts off a final reckoning, giving an enemy time to gain strength. But the foundation of the peace racket’s success lies in forgetting this lesson. What its adherents learn is the opposite: If you want to ensure peace, appease tyranny -- and there will be no more war.

That’s the message in a nutshell -- and students find themselves graded largely on their willingness to echo it. Take the case of Brett Mock, who wrote in Front Page magazine about a peace studies class he took in 2004 at Ball State University, which he called “indoctrination rather than education” and which he said was “designed entirely to de-legitimize the use of the military in the defense of our country.” To get full credit, Mock reported, students had to “meditate at the Peace Studies center,” “attend Interfaith Fellowship meetings” or join PeaceWorkers -- a group for which the teacher, George Wolfe, served as faculty advisor.

Mock is the exception -- a student who raises questions. More typical are the students whose glowing testimonials many programs have posted online. In them, one encounters essentially the same story over and over: the privileged upbringing; the curiosity about other cultures; the visit to the Third World, where the poverty shocks, even transforms, the student; and, finally, the readiness to swallow the professors’ explanation for it all -- namely, that it’s America’s fault.

George Orwell would have understood the attraction of well-off young people to the peace racket. “Turn-the-other-cheek pacifism,” he observed in 1941, “only flourishes among the more prosperous classes, or among workers who have in some way escaped from their own class. . . . To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.”

If so many young Americans have grown up insulated from the realities that Vegetius and Sun Tzu elucidated centuries ago, and are therefore easy marks for the peace racket, it’s thanks to the success of the very things the peace racket despises -- American capitalism and American military preparedness.

As for the peace racket’s recommendations, if democracies consistently followed them, they’d eventually reap the kind of peace found today in Havana or Pyongyang.

Bruce Bawer is author of “When Europe Slept.” A longer version of this article appears in the summer issue of City Journal.