Greetings, blog-botherers! Having crawled out of my burrow after the Great Christmas Hibernation, I wish you a Very Peaceful 2013.
If you have been watching the news recently, and seen the reports of 60,000 deaths in Syria, and the terrible gang-rape in Delhi, you probably just scoffed at that. Seems an odd thing to say, doesn't it, when so many bad things are happening?
I was thinking about this over the holidays, while staying at my parents. This phrase 'wishing you a Peaceful New Year' was printed inside some of the cards they had been sent.
One thing about staying at your parents is that you find,
and browse through, stuff you haven't seen for years. In this case,
books and leaflets from the 1980s, when I was a teenager. Being a
tedious, right-on child, I started reading the papers aged about 13.
I lived in a small country town, and I suppose, in some way, was
desperate to know about the world.
I remember clearly the impression I formed, back then, of how the world worked. It was quite simple: anyone asking for their rights or freedoms was asking for a kicking.
Eastern Europe was still under communism. Wars boiled all over the place: Central America, Africa, the middle east. Whenever
people tried to fight for a bit of basic fairness or independence, they were
gunned down with the blessing of the relevant superpower. In the UK, you could watch on the news
as strikers got trampled by police horses. Football violence; and
Rocky and Top Gun in the cinema. An undertone of violence pervaded
everything: politics, sport, culture.
You could be forgiven for thinking that in 2012, little had changed.
However, when you actually look at the details, there has, in fact, been a
startling outbreak of peace. During my life,
there have been wars in: South-East Asia,
Central America, Peru,
Columbia, Southern Africa, Northern Ireland, Iran-Iraq, Kurdistan,
Lebanon, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo,
Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Algeria, the Balkans, Russia/USSR, Nepal, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.
Of these, only three are still live: Afghanistan, Syria and Congo.
Plus Mali (a new one). Unless you have the misfortune to live in one
of these four countries, there is more peace and less war in the
world than at any time I've been alive. There are, apparently, around
196* countries in the world, and about 192** of them more or less are at
This is something seriously amazing. Even 25 years ago, if you
told any politically interested person that there would, by 2012,
only be 4 extant wars on the planet, they would have laughed in your
I say all this, not because I live in la-la land where everything's
fluffy, but because I think we are encouraged to be pessimistic. We
are encouraged by the media to see the outrages: the rapes, the
massacres, the stupid prejudiced remarks by the politicians; the
increasing gap between rich and poor. There is a reason for this. It
discourages us from asking for change. When we point at our leaders
and suggest they sort out a problem (say, for the sake of argument,
stopping bank corruption, halting discrimination against women, or
making the trains run on time) they shrug and look at us as if we're
insane. These problems are intractable, they suggest, how on earth
could we possibly expect anything from them? As long as we believe
this, they get away with it.
To be quite clear, I don't equate peace with a simple absence of
war. That's just the first criteria. Real peace is when everyone is a
valued part of society, and can make as much of their life as their
abilities and wishes allow them. It includes things like food,
education, respect, and freedom from fear. All over the world, even
in my own country, people still have to fight for these things. Sometimes they die fighting for these things.
I am a citizen of a wealthy, peaceful western democracy. Even I do not feel that I always enjoy the kind of peace I hope for. I would like it, if, by 2014, we all have to fight a little less and have more of the real kind of peace, as supposed to the simple, official absence of war. But please don't underestimate the opportunities offered even by that.
So anyway, here, in the fullest sense of the meaning, is wishing you a peaceful new year.
* This figure varies depending on whether you consider places like Hawaii or Scotland as countries or just part of a larger entity.
** 190 if you discount Palestine and Egypt, which while not at war are experiencing ongoing violence.