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Imagining peace at Christmas


Imagine Peace I have been re-reading the memoirs of a traveller immediately after the Second World War. He described the bombed and destroyed peasant villages, and the people starving. More of them were dead by war than died in the Holocaust. These people were Europeans, Westerners.

How then, two generations on, can Westerners' imagination be so entertained by war, in film, dystopic future-fiction and electronic games? The plane-bombings of 9/11 were not really 'unimaginable'. Our entertainment has been imagining and enjoying such horrors for years.

Yet since all action that is not response of instinct or habit begins first in the imagination, how can peace-making be imagined instead?

There are three problems about imagining peace. It is regarded as neuter, the absence of war. 'Peace would be boring.' The second problem is that presenting what is good to the public is harder than presenting evil. It requires first class art, acting and production, because second-rate appears 'sentimental'. The third problem is that 'between the dream and the action falls the shadow'.

This Christmas, let us imagine peace as lively and never-satiating.

Imagination is the ability to see more than what is in front of our eyes. Applied imagination is the ability to imagine what can be done about it, cutting through the shadow. It has been human beings' tool for progress. Imagining peace is imagining practical actions for peace, for the idea must have incarnation. Imagination connects the present with past and future.

The past reveals the historical facts about how other wars have ended. It shows also how quickly we change our perception of who the Enemy is: Native Americans, English, 'blacks', Germans, Russians, now Islam ... History show empires destroying themselves with hubris, and bleeding to death in vainglorious expeditions.

To imagine the present, reminders of what is being done now, sometimes in our name, include horrible lists of over 76 countries wracked with rubble, slaughtered innocents, 20 million refugees, the waste of the world's resources by war, terrorism and revenge, and those who profit from this waste. Indexes of National Shame could calculate the destructive activities presently included in Indexes of Gross Domestic Product.

Applied imagination can see possible futures including consequences of what we do now in wars where strength bombs the weak, and what dragon-seed is growing from more spilt blood and rubble. Consider the alternatives. Artists give us our visions of the future ... what can 'mature adults' enjoy for entertainment? They can imagine how to achieve freedom from want and fear, and what jobs are needed to replace jobs in armaments and other waste-making. Peace museums can complement war museums, to show youth what peace has been, and still might be.

On an anniversary of September 11, US President George W. Bush attended a church service with a reading about the blessedness of repentance, social justice, mercy and peace-making. If the preacher had continued on a few verses, he would have been telling the President and people to love their enemies and do good to those that hate them.

What might then be the response? To 'win hearts and minds' in another way than in Vietnam with Agent Orange and napalm, and bombing in Afghanistan. The great military resources of the world could more energetically turn to repairing the ravages of natural and man-made disasters, as nature makes her own side-swipes at our follies. The Clearly Futile Missile Defence Shield project could be diverted to make jobs and stimulate the economy by research and action to make the world a better place.

The Consumer Society now accelerating into the Devouring Society could become the User Society instead. The economic goal for all could become to have a 'reasonable sufficiency'. Imagine the prosperity of the world not depending, as it does now, upon the richest country of them all continuing to consume ever more.

Such small steps would be long steps away from war and its causes, because they are imaginative actions, not words. 'Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?' One biblical answer to this still-tormenting question is 'Where there is no vision, the people perish'. Where there is no imagination, or when imagination is obsessed by bottom lines and bottom thoughts, the people perish. We can lift up our eyes.

Val YuleVal Yule is a writer on social issues and researcher on imagination and literacy. In the 1970s she was schools psychologist for disadvantaged Catholic schools with the Commonwealth Disadvantaged Schools Program.




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Existing comments

Val Yule has put into words the thoughts I have had for the past 30 or more years. The trouble is that we live in a "Democracy" and that makes everything OK. Do we need Autocracies to put the world right? No, we need to alter our goals and aspirations. Greed is the weapon used by big business and until we can counter that nothing will avail.

Monica Szalla | 20 December 2007  

Thank you Val for your clarion call to imagine peace. We need to get it moving. Let's applaud the idea and not immediately evaluate why it can't be done, as happens 80 per cent of the time. Imagine first and start with little things - we CAN!

Christine Wood | 20 December 2007  

A very challenging statement! However, it is also a very good idea, that Christians everywhere have think about.

Theo Dopheide | 21 December 2007  

Theo, perhaps I am wrong but I am puzzled as to why you seem to be saying only Christians should think about peace? With this mindset you are limiting your imagination and continuing the 'us and them' philosophical mentalities that brought about the Christian Crusades in the Holy Lands and Eastern Europe, the persecution of Jews and minorities throughout Western history, the Christian acceptance of slavery and the arrogance of the European Holy Roman Empire mentality that saw non-Christians as heathen and uncivilised and their lands and resources ripe for the taking and of course conversion to the 'one true faith'. Christians have never had a monopoly on good and ethical thoughts.

Eleonora | 22 December 2007  

Thank you Val. A ‘good news’ reminder - imagination in the service of peacemaking can be a personal endeavor as in creative arts therapy, a family activity in giving thanks and a way forward on the wider social level.

VIV MOUNTAIN | 23 December 2007  

Provoking thought about why we can see the results of certain actions, but still take them, or fail to take them.

Lenore Crocker | 10 January 2008  

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