REVIEW: THE SECRET PEACE by JESSE RICHARDS
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In his recent book The Secret Peace: Exposing the Positive Trend of World Events (New York: Book and Ladder Press, 2010), Jesse Richards raises many good points, a work which seeks to repaint the telling of world events as something positive and promising rather than negative and foreboding. Mr. Richards brings to light the evidence usually mired in darkness, evidence that suggests we, as a world, are more peaceful and affluent than we ever have been before and, furthermore, that this state of being will sustain itself and compound upon itself so that we are increasingly peaceful and affluent as time goes on. His work reveals an optimism often lost in the hearts of those who work in international politics, and it should give us pause to consider: If, as Richards argues, the world is set on a path toward peace, then how can we make sure we stay on that path?
The Secret Peace asserts that “human imagination, ingenuity, and nobility know no bounds”. It is a correct assertion that is too often forgotten. Let us take a single facet of world peace: nuclear disarmament. People proclaim that nuclear weapons cannot be done away with entirely—that they are as necessary to strategy and politics as food to a starving man. I would counter that three hundred years ago, slaves, in a huge part of the world, were even more necessary to the economic well-being of a slave-using nation than nuclear arms are for strategy today. Nations would say “I will not be the first to jeopardize my economy by taking a moral stance against slavery”, just as nations today might say “I will not be the first to jeopardize my position among the world’s powers by dismantling my nuclear arsenal”. But countries did renounce slavery—all over the world people became the first, and then the second, and then the third—and now slavery consists of illegal human trafficking and labor rings in the peripheral areas of the world. If nuclear weapons can undergo the same process, as many wish it to do, then can the making of war itself undergo a similar process? Can nations begin to accept nonviolent action as the better solution? Mr. Richards assures us that the answer is yes, because there is a change occurring within us as individuals and in our respective societies—it is a change which will ultimately revolutionize the way nations behave with one another and the way humankind interacts with itself.
Media outlets—like individual beings—are more attracted to the dramatic and the emotional than they are to the everyday. They are drawn to traumatic events and so do not expose positive events. Positive events occur every day. Just this weekend I returned from a conference in DC full of people committed to ending genocide around the world, and there have been few moments in my life when I have been so inspired, and no time in my life when I have been so fully surrounded by so many hopeful and determined people. Reporting significant positive events should be just as high a priority as reporting significant negative events, and Jesse Richards reaches this conclusion very early in his book—it is a conclusion we would do well to consider.
For thousands of years people have lived in poverty and in hunger—for the majority of mankind’s existence, in fact, the majority of human beings have survived on the edge of survival. In this particular moment we are faced with some interesting circumstances, as Jesse Richards points out: There are less people in extreme poverty today as a proportion of the world’s population than ever before. Proportionally, there are less deaths by war and less deaths by genocide than during the preceding ages. We hear about atrocities—what we do not hear about is that force which is pushing atrocity off of the stage, the force of world peace that Richards envisions.
It is also true that nonviolence is on the rise. In 1789 even the “loving” Camille Desmoulins could not envision a French Revolution without blood. In that revolution, more than two million French citizens were killed (of a population of only 25-29 million)—and that is not inclusive of the wars with Prussia, Germany, England, and the Napoleonic wars that followed the course of revolution. The American Revolution required a years-long war with the mightiest nation on earth. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 required only a public that demanded change but was committed to nonviolence. Less than one thousand died in that revolution. The Tunisian Revolution was much the same. The current demonstrations in Chile are much the same. The protests in New York City are much the same. It is not that people in the past advocated violence over nonviolence—they did not recognize nonviolence as a viable practice in public and private policy. This has changed very much in the past two hundred years and there is reason to hope that in the following two hundred years the pattern will continue.
The one part of Jesse Richard’s work which should be well-received by anyone intent on changing the world can be found in his Conclusion on pages 342-344. His ten-point plan for mutually promoting peace, development, and justice will resonate with anyone who has worked with humanitarian campaigns in the past. All of his suggestions in this ten-point plan are valid and I urge anyone interested in international policymaking to take them into great consideration. Specifically, his call to reduce arms selling and trafficking on the international stage should be received and implemented immediately—as Mr. Richards says, wars do not begin with people slapping one another on the face. The United States must acknowledge that it is a major player in the world’s wars simply by providing such a huge percentage of the world’s weapons.
These things considered, the skeptic eye will also catch a few questionable things in The Secret Peace and bring them to attention.
It is very dangerous to presume that recent history can anticipate the fate of the long-term future. It is also dangerous to ignore what Mr. Richards does not mention in his book. Jesse Richards suggests that the media is attracted to the traumatic—but this is, in fact, not the simple truth. They are attracted to emotion, but they are businesses and as such they seek profits. They are also heavily engaged with other business and government groups. Many of the world’s worst atrocities are invisible, and many of the world’s most threatening facts remain untold. People do not act on affairs of which they have not even heard, involving places and events they do not know exist. Consider these truths:
+Less than half of Americans know that the deadliest war since World War II (DRC, c. 1998-present) even happened. Many Americans have not even heard of the DRC.
+Many Americans do not consider genocide as something relevant in the modern world—they are unaware of any genocides except for the Holocaust, and a great many are unaware of the Holocaust.
+Whereas Mr. Richards makes the point that nearly 100,000,000 people died of war and genocide in the 20th century, between 2000-2010 just under 10,000,000 have died of war and genocide—which, although a significant and meaningful change in the percentage of deaths due to such causes, is not, in real numbers, any different per year. We should also do well to remember that the 1914-1946 period was one of very unusual levels of violence and atrocity and is historically unique among only a few other such periods in world history.
+ Whereas Mr. Richards makes the point that the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has decreased, and that in recent years even the real number of those in extreme poverty has decreased, the gap between the extreme poor and the extreme wealthy, and the gap between rich/powerful and poor/weak nations, has expanded exponentially. Since 1700 the gap in power and wealth between the richest and the poorest nation on earth has increased by almost 300x (that’s a sum total of 29,900%).
+ Purchasing power parity among the extreme poor is still dismally low. More than half of the humans that have ever been alive are, in fact, alive today—and India, China, and Brazil all have positive demographic momentum to indicate that by 2050 the world’s population may reach levels of around twelve billion (with the highest estimate of the world’s population by 2100 hovering around 20 billion). Struggles over resources have been increasing and are expected to increase in the future. The worlds most well-versed geopolitical and development theorists have all predicted a world returning to power politics and multi-power resource struggles with water being the most valuable and fought-over resource.
+ Whereas Mr. Richards argues that international laws and conventions are a very certain and definitive step toward world peace, international laws and conventions are in fact effectively useless in the face of international aggression. The UN’s dictates and resolutions are continually ignored around the world at no expense or consequence to the belligerents. The opinions of international courts are seldom heard. The most important warrants issued by the ICC have led to no arrests, or, in the case that they do lead to arrest, have taken many long years and the decline in power of the perpetrator. Meanwhile the most powerful players in the world, many of whom are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, remain altogether untouchable, and those courts that do issue warrants for their arrest quickly find themselves the victims of international scrutiny.
+ Whereas Mr. Richards proclaims that war as a viable political solution to international problems is decreasing in popularity, there have been many times in history when war has fallen from popularity and then risen again, and many times in history where the world’s powers have proclaimed eras of peace only to find that they are followed by war. War is not a permanent situation—and neither is peace. To presume that the world can attain world peace in the coming decades is delusional and dangerous and will only lead policymakers to ignore real potential crises around the globe. The world, as it is, can work toward world peace, but it cannot expect to attain that peace in any certain number of decades—if the struggle is to be won, it must first be accepted as a perpetual struggle.
It is heartening to read a work so set on the path of world peace. To believe that world peace is an attainable goal is to make world peace possible—it is something none of us should reject and all of us should embrace. But to presume that world peace is imminent and natural, something coming in this next century as the obvious product of development, is dangerous. If world peace is to ever be a reality then those familiar with world events must be an always-active part of bringing about that peace. Exposing the trend of positive events, as Jesse Richards does in this great undertaking of a work, is a critical step toward the development of world peace. It should be suggested reading for anyone intensely interested in a well-rounded view on such affairs. But as we must increase our vigilance in regards to positive events, we must also increase our vigilance in regards to negative events—and we must realize that they exist together, that in the modern, globalized world, wealth builds itself upon the ruins of poverty, and peace in one place comes at the expense of war in another place. This is the unfortunate but very real situation in which we live.
While we hold The Secret Peace in one hand, we must hold in the other the list of those who have died from war and genocide, the list of those who remain without healthy drinking water, the list of those who remain isolated and disenfranchised because of their politics, ethnicity, gender, or religion, and the list of those whose nations are entirely destroyed without making the headlines of a single major news company in the most powerful nation on earth. We must be prepared for a world in which water is the new oil, as today’s experts predict- a world in which twelve, even twenty billion compete for increasingly scare and always-necessary resources. As we enter the next 90 years of the 21st century we need to hold these all together and recognize that while Mr. Richards is correct in arguing that world peace is attainable, and that it in fact might be nearer to us now as a world than it ever has been before, it is still a fragile and far-off thing—and making the mistake of thinking that peace will just come to us will destroy it at once.