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Peace as a vocation

By Zhe Kong

· Human Rights,Community Assistance

How did peace become a vocation?

Whenever people ask about my profession, my answer is “peace practitioner”.Then their eyes get wide, like they could never believe that peace can be a vocation. Many of them actually assume that soldiers are peace practitioners, because they can keep peace by eliminating enemy.

You would not feel the sarcasm if you know the famous Latin adage “Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war)” was proposed over 1,000 years ago. For the long history of mankind, we live in the peace between wars.

Witnessing the atrocities of war, some religious groups, such as Quakers, start to devote to peace practices through reflection on violence, but the numbers are limited. Not until the end of World War II did the whole world start to think about how to keep and build peace. "The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated", said Justice Robert Jackson when delivering the opening statement to the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945.

Justice Jackson at Nuremberg Tribunal.

The great powers created the United Nations and a security framework to prevent future wars. Never has an all-out global war broken out since then, but violent conflicts still haunt numerous nations and communities. For them, the wrongs are being repeated constantly. Some conflicts are caused by historical feud. For instance, the civil conflict between ethnic groups in Myanmar has been ongoing for near 70 years, where the feud can retrospect to the 19th century or even further.

As more and more studies on peace are conducted by scholars, the concept of negative peace and positive peace become widely acknowledged. Negative peace is simply cease of violence. It does not solve the root causes of conflicts and is not sustainable. Positive peace needs to consider needs and dignity of all stakeholders in order to create sustainable peace. Positive peace is based on understanding common roots of problems, and values, and respecting diversity, dignity and identity.

Root cause is often compared to the larger part of iceberg under water.

Peace scholars and practitioners have identified a number of root causes, including political violence, human rights, social justice, welfare, development, and poverty. A proliferation of inter-governmental agencies and international NGOs, from the UN, European Union, and World Bank to International Crisis Group, International Alert, and others, began to draw on such findings and initiated many international or national programs.

International/national level peace building

Most peace-building activities in the international/national level is conducted by governmental organizations like the UN. But still, there are a few NGOs working on the same level as well. Compared with governmental actors, NGOs are more flexible and neutral, and can more conveniently engaging conflicting parties. One instance is American Friends Service Committee. As an American peace NGO, it has been working on promoting friendship between America and China since 1920s, and played an important role in the establishment of diplomatic relation between the two countries. It worked in a time of McCarthyism when governmental communication is nearly impossible. Some NGOs work on a national level. Center for Peace and Conflict Studies is an international NGO based in Cambodia. It worked in national peace process in Philippine and Myanmar to address the conflict between government and armed groups, and made significant progress.

Note: this is the first section of cover article "Peace as a vocation" for Change Magazine August 2017 volume. Want to know more how to promote peacebuilding in the grassroots level? Read our second section here:

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