All he is saying is give peace (and peace studies) a chance

Veteran 'journo-academic' calls for more jaw-jaw and less war-war. Matthew Reisz reports

August 30, 2012

"There's a cultural and academic bias against peace studies as a bit soft and self-indulgent, as not dealing with the real world," says John Gittings, a self-described "journo-academic" who is now a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

This was evident, he argues, in the television and radio coverage of the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although a platform was given to anti-war campaigners, pro-war politicians and war historians, "you didn't hear from the peace historians".

But Gittings points out that peace studies has been a "vast expanding enterprise" since the 1970s, with the University of Bradford's department of peace studies leading the way - "despite Mrs Thatcher's attempts to close it down".

He says that a similar attitude to Thatcher's is apparent when one considers the books that get published and the subjects that get taught.

Recalling a visit to a bookshop, Gittings remembers counting "220 shelves of books on war and warfare, with only a few books on peace scattered across 20 shelves".

He says: "You can find five or six editions of books by Machiavelli - The Prince and The Art of War - but it's much harder to find Erasmus' Education of a Christian Prince, although he's also offering his advice on statecraft, including a whole section on 'the arts of peace'.

"I'd like to see them taught together. It's much more fruitful if you study them both. If he'd been taught about Erasmus as well as Machiavelli when he went to school, even George W. Bush might have had a different outlook! Insights from the so-called 'realist' school of international relations need to be balanced by the great names in peace studies."

There is another way

It is precisely because he believes that there is an inspiring but neglected "narrative of peace in our history, which parallels the narrative of war" that Gittings devoted about seven years to his most recent book, The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Iliad to Iraq.

The tome represents the culmination of a career that started at Soas, where he learned Chinese, and then a degree in Oriental studies at the University of Oxford.

Gittings worked as a researcher at the foreign policy institute Chatham House in the early 1960s. He challenged the common contemporary view that China was "inherently expansionist" and campaigned against the Vietnam War.

He went on to teach at what was then the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster) before joining The Guardian as a China specialist and foreign leader writer. He worked at the broadsheet from 1983 to 2003.

The Glorious Art of Peace starts with ancient Greece and China precisely because Gittings realises that "they appear to be such unpromising subjects for my enquiry, and I wanted to show the potential for real peace even in the Iliad and the period of the warring states".

He also considers early Christianity, but his narrative begins to take proper shape in the age of the humanists, "because from there you can trace the growth of a peace-oriented internationalist outlook that leads to the peace societies of the 19th century, the League of Nations and then the United Nations".

In some ways it is an inevitably dispiriting story, with hopes of world peace frequently dashed and moments of near annihilation such as the Cuban missile crisis.

Gittings himself also clearly remains haunted by the moment at the end of the Cold War when "opportunities were lost for reforming the UN and putting international relations on a new and peaceful basis".

Yet he remains keen to see a move towards "supra-national arbitration" and greater "popular awareness and activism" coming together in "a unified world campaign that embraces the issues of peace, development and justice".

He also believes that successive waves of writers about peace still offer us valuable resources.

"We need to make a proper cost-benefit analysis of war," he explains, "which in the long term almost always outweighs the cost of a peaceful settlement, so you've got to find a negotiated solution. How much compromise are you prepared to make? Are you prepared to put the military alternative on the back burner while you give negotiations a chance?

"Erasmus says that 'hardly any peace is so bad that it isn't preferable to the most justifiable war'.With the possible exception of the Second World War, I'd go along with that."

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