THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: MERE STRENGTH IS NOT ENOUGH

I could stand to lose a few pounds.

So I signed up for the “WEIGHT NO MORE” program at the YMCA in Honesdale, and started working out on a regular basis.  (Maybe you’ve seen the stats that are being published weekly in one of the local papers.)  I’m hanging in there – but even if I don’t win the final prize, I can already tell the difference.  (For one thing, I’m able to shovel a lot more snow!)

In the weight room, I see a bunch of guys who have devoted themselves to building up their muscles – and they are truly impressive, both in their dedication and in the results they’ve achieved.  Watching them, though, prompted me to think about the meaning of “strength” – and its relationship to peace.

You’ve probably seen the bumpersticker: “PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH.”  Ever since the days of Reagan, it’s been a favorite slogan of strong-defense conservatives – folks who never saw a weapons system they didn’t like, but who wouldn’t want you to think that they’re warmongers or anything like that.  The phrase is used not only to justify military expenditures, but also to denigrate the efforts of those who think that peace can be achieved by negotiation and compromise, without recourse to armed force.

Mere strength, however, does not mean an individual human is truly “fit” or “healthy,” and it is also insufficient for a nation to be merely “strong” to be at peace, or to create peace in the world.  If mere strength were all it took, wouldn’t the United States, possessor of the “most powerful army ever created,” have done so already? But we see a world that is as far from the ideal of universal peace as ever – even if the possibility of a universal nuclear conflagration seems to have ebbed for the time being (as evidenced by the recent adjustment of the “Doomsday Clock” by the folks at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) – and our nation itself is not exactly tranquil internally.

Basic fitness is said to consist of five main physical components – strength, agility, flexibility, endurance, and resilience – each of which in turn has several related concepts:

  • “Strength,” strictly speaking, refers to the amount of force that muscles can exert, while “power” combines strength with other crucial qualities, such as speed, precision, and accuracy.
  • The idea of “agility” involves balance, coordination, and perceptual ability, as well as the ability to react quickly.
  • “Flexibility” is not just an extended range of motion, but also adaptability to changing circumstances.
  • “Endurance” means not only stamina – the ability to maintain performance over time – but also the ability to withstand external environmental stresses, and to bear up under pressure.
  • “Resilience” is a measure how quickly one can “bounce back” or recover from a shock, illness, or injury – or attack.

All of these are necessary qualities for a person that wants to be healthy, or for a nation that wishes to know and maintain peace. It is not enough simply to be strong – to be effective, after all, one must be able to control and focus one’s strength.  And beyond these physical attributes, one also needs certain internal qualities, among them keen perceptiveness, wise judgment, and calm centeredness – in other words, psychological health as well as physical health.

So think about what it means for a nation to be agile – resilient – or centered.  Consider what it means for a nation to exercise judgment – or to be flexible – or to endure.

Think about how far we are from health – or peace – and what it might take to get us there.

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One response to “THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: MERE STRENGTH IS NOT ENOUGH

  1. Skip, I remember reading a study that found that Americans and Russians have some of the most belligerent attitudes towards other countries in the world. The finding made sense to me: both countries have spent decades stoking their own self-image as the world’s good cop who took down Hitler. Both countries also have huge socioeconomic inequality.

    In America, the richest 1% own over 40% of the wealth, and the top 20% owns 85% of the wealth. So we can picture the US as a guy whose arms and neck are bursting with veiny muscles, but with little chicken legs that can barely hold his frame. He probably feels insecure about the imbalance, but his ability to smash smaller guys with a single punch makes it easier to pretend that he’s in perfect shape.

    In other words, militarism is an easy way for people to feel that they’re a part of something big and glorious – even when, or especially when, they don’t share in the benefits.

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