Where Are the Monuments To Peace?

Honoring peacemakers alongside warriors would make Memorial Day complete.

Posted May 23, 2012

Here in Washington, we honor the powerful by erecting monuments to them. You can’t miss the memorials on even a casual stroll around town, monuments to leaders, conquerors, warriors and visionaries: Washington, Lincoln, Simón Bolívar, and FDR. You’ll even see monuments for ordinary citizens, as long as they are, or were, soldiers. We have identified these as heroes who are vital to our past and inspirational for our future. But what about the peacemakers? Don’t we need them, too?

Soldiers enjoy an elaborate system designed to honor and support them, and to reassure them of the nobility of the mission they may be asked to die for. They wear their uniforms proudly, as indeed they should, enhanced by caps and medals, spit and polish, orchestras, pomp and salutes. A nation relies upon people who are prepared to stand up in its defense. We do need them and owe them our appreciation. 

But what about the peacemakers? They wear suits and ties, not uniforms and medals.  In our minds they often wear the faceless image of the bureaucrat. They do not face the terrifying drama of combat directly. Rather, theirs is a quiet heroism of patience, wisdom and perseverance. Whether they work on a large international canvas or in the vignette of a local community, they tend to work quietly. They avoid fanfare, working instead with humility and compromise, traits and techniques that honor the group. 

We imagine soldiers living in the now, in explosive living color, but when we think of peacemakers (if we ever think of them at all), we see them as gray, vague and indistinct. Perhaps that’s because all they have in the present is hard, grinding, unromantic work ... inspired by visions of a future that sometimes only they can see. 

Why do we speak of peace, and overlook the peacemakers? Peace is a wish so deep in the human soul, and so elusive in human history that perhaps we pray for it in the way we pray for rain. We hope our farms will be blessed with rain; we hope our world will be blessed with peace.  We know we can’t do much to make it rain.  Perhaps we secretly believe we can’t do much about peace, either. Maybe that’s why peace has no monument.

If that’s the case, we need a new way of thinking. Warriors and peacemakers need each other. When good soldiers succeed they make room for peace. When good peacemakers succeed, soldiers don’t have to die. But it is so much easier to understand the warrior’s challenge than the peacemaker’s.

When George Mitchell wrote a book about his experiences brokering peace in Northern Ireland, it was much harder to follow than a war movie ... not to mention less dramatic. He wrote about his struggles – perhaps he’d have had better luck calling them “battles”? He told of his disappointments and satisfactions — should he have called them “defeats” and “victories?” If he had not told the tale, would anyone else have bothered? There was no parade for him and his staff (regiment?) when they returned home.

We need to understand peacemakers before we can give them the honor and glory they deserve. We can start by recognizing who they are. The army of peacemakers is large and complex; too large to even attempt to name. It includes diplomats and the Foreign Service, and other groups, secular and religious. It includes people doing nameless good works in our own communities. Some work with the media; others work on strengthening democracy or mediating conflict. Still others work on counter-terrorism, or preventing disaster, or rebuilding when prevention fails. 

Washington, D.C. has no monument to peace. Maybe its absence is a statement; the way a topic too-carefully avoided in psychotherapy announces its significance in silence.

Do we believe that peace will either grace our horizon or not, like rain? Or perhaps we believe that triumph in war automatically brings peace? The warriors have their job; the peacemakers have theirs. Surely it is time to recognize them both. It’s time to build a monument to peace.