City Journal

Bruce Bawer
The Peace Racket
An anti-Western movement touts dictators, advocates appeasement—and gains momentum.
Summer 2007

Selected Responses:

Sent by Kelley Dupuis on 08-21-2007:

It seems like the older I get, the more deja vu I experience. A "Peace Department" in the United States? Check it out, children. Way back in 1971, with Vietnam dividing the country more virulently than Iraq does now, then-senator Vance Hartke (D, of course) wrote an article for Playboy magazine advocating precisely that.

Sent by Steven Fine on 08-20-2007:

Any time I hear "peace" or "justice" in an organization's name, I'm on my guard. I wish you could have also talked about one of those groups, the International Peace Academy, and its chairperson Rita Hauser. Its connection to the UN and Hauser's background (straddling, like the UN, the left and center) would make for an interesting article. But there are so many other such groups. Thanks for coining the term "peace racket." I hope it sticks.

If you want peace, prepare for war.” Thus counseled Roman general Flavius Vegetius Renatus over 1,600 years ago. Nine centuries before that, Sun Tzu offered essentially the same advice, and it’s to him that Vegetius’s line is attributed at the beginning of a film that I saw recently at Oslo’s Nobel Peace Center. Yet the film cites this ancient wisdom only to reject it. After serving up a perverse potted history of the cold war, the thrust of which is that the peace movement brought down the Berlin Wall, the movie ends with words that turn Vegetius’s insight on its head: “If you want peace, prepare for peace.”

This purports to be wise counsel, a motto for the millennium. In reality, it’s wishful thinking that doesn’t follow logically from the history of the cold war, or of any war. For the cold war’s real lesson is the same one that Sun Tzu and Vegetius taught: conflict happens; power matters. It’s better to be strong than to be weak; you’re safer if others know that you’re ready to stand up for yourself than if you’re proudly outspoken about your defenselessness or your unwillingness to fight. There’s nothing mysterious about this truth. Yet it’s denied not only by the Peace Center film but also by the fast-growing, troubling movement that the center symbolizes and promotes.

Call it the Peace Racket.

We need to make two points about this movement at the outset. First, it’s opposed to every value that the West stands for—liberty, free markets, individualism—and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values. Second, we’re talking not about a bunch of naive Quakers but about a movement of savvy, ambitious professionals that is already comfortably ensconced at the United Nations, in the European Union, and in many nongovernmental organizations. It is also waging an aggressive, under-the-media-radar campaign for a cabinet-level Peace Department in the United States. Sponsored by Ohio Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich (along with more than 60 cosponsors), House Resolution 808 would authorize a Secretary of Peace to “establish a Peace Academy,” “develop a peace education curriculum” for elementary and secondary schools, and provide “grants for peace studies departments” at campuses around the country. If passed, the measure would catapult the peace studies movement into a position of extraordinary national, even international, influence.

The Peace Racket’s boundaries aren’t easy to define. It embraces scores of “peace institutes” and “peace centers” in the U.S. and Europe, plus several hundred university peace studies programs. As Ian Harris, Larry Fisk, and Carol Rank point out in a sympathetic overview of these programs, it’s hard to say exactly how many exist—partly because they often go by other labels, such as “security studies” and “human rights education”; partly because many “professors who infuse peace material into courses do not offer special courses with the title peace in them”; and finally because “several small liberal arts colleges offer an introductory course requirement to all incoming students which infuses peace and justice themes.” Many primary and secondary schools also teach peace studies in some form.

Peace studies initiatives may train students to be social workers, to work in churches or community health organizations, or to resolve family quarrels and neighborhood disputes. At the movement’s heart, though, are programs whose purported emphasis is on international relations. Their founding father is a 77-year-old Norwegian professor, Johan Galtung, who established the International Peace Research Institute in 1959 and the Journal of Peace Research five years later. Invariably portrayed in the media as a charismatic and (these days) grandfatherly champion of decency, Galtung is in fact a lifelong enemy of freedom. In 1973, he thundered that “our time’s grotesque reality” was—no, not the Gulag or the Cultural Revolution, but rather the West’s “structural fascism.” He’s called America a “killer country,” accused it of “neo-fascist state terrorism,” and gleefully prophesied that it will soon follow Britain “into the graveyard of empires.”

No fan of Britain either, Galtung has faulted “Anglo-Americans” for trying to “stop the wind from blowing.” If the U.S. and the U.K. oppose a dangerous development, in his view, we’re causing trouble—Milošević, Saddam, and Osama are just the way the wind is blowing. Galtung’s kind of thinking leads inexorably to the conclusion that one should never challenge any tyrant. Fittingly, he urged Hungarians not to resist the Soviet Army in 1956, and his views on World War II suggest that he’d have preferred it if the Allies had allowed Hitler to finish off the Jews and invade Britain.

Though Galtung has opined that the annihilation of Washington, D.C., would be a fair punishment for America’s arrogant view of itself as “a model for everyone else,” he’s long held up certain countries as worthy of emulation—among them Stalin’s USSR, whose economy, he predicted in 1953, would soon overtake the West’s. He’s also a fan of Castro’s Cuba, which he praised in 1972 for “break[ing] free of imperialism’s iron grip.” At least you can’t accuse Galtung of hiding his prejudices. In 1973, explaining world politics in a children’s newspaper, he described the U.S. and Western Europe as “rich, Western, Christian countries” that make war to secure materials and markets: “Such an economic system is called capitalism, and when it’s spread in this way to other countries it’s called imperialism.” In 1974, he sneered at the West’s fixation on “persecuted elite personages” such as Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov. Thirty years later, he compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany for bombing Kosovo and invading Afghanistan and Iraq. For Galtung, a war that liberates is no better than one that enslaves.

His all-time favorite nation? China during the Cultural Revolution. Visiting his Xanadu, Galtung concluded that the Chinese loved life under Mao: after all, they were all “nice and smiling.” While “repressive in a certain liberal sense,” he wrote, Mao’s China was “endlessly liberating when seen from many other perspectives that liberal theory has never understood.” Why, China showed that “the whole theory about what an ‘open society’ is must be rewritten, probably also the theory of ‘democracy’—and it will take a long time before the West will be willing to view China as a master teacher in such subjects.”

Nor has Galtung changed his tune over the decades. Recently he gave a lecture that was a smorgasbord of wild accusations about America’s refusing to negotiate with Saddam, America’s secret plans to make war in Azerbaijan, Nazis in the State Department, the CIA’s responsibility for 6 million covert murders, and so on. Galtung called for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee in Iraq—to treat America’s crimes, not the Baathists’.

Galtung’s use of the word “peace” to legitimize totalitarianism is an old Communist tradition. In August 1939, when the Nazis and Soviets signed their nonaggression pact, the same Western Stalinists who had been calling for war against Germany did an about-face and began to praise peace. (After Hitler invaded Russia, the Stalinists reversed themselves again, demanding that the West help Stalin crush the Third Reich.) The peace talk, in short, was really about sympathizing with Communism, not peace. And it continued after the war, when Stalin’s Western supporters whitewashed his monstrous regime and denounced anti-Communists as warmongering crypto-fascists. “Peace conferences” and “friendship committees” drew hordes of liberal dupes, who didn’t grasp that their new “friends” were not ordinary Russians but the jailers of ordinary Russians—and that the committees were about not “friendship” but deception, exploitation, and espionage.

The people running today’s peace studies programs give a good idea of the movement’s illiberal, anti-American inclinations. The director of Purdue’s program is coeditor of Marxism Today, a collection of essays extolling socialism; Brandeis’s peace studies chairman has justified suicide bombings; the program director at the University of Missouri authorized a mass e-mail urging students and faculty to boycott classes to protest the Iraq invasion; and the University of Maine’s program director believes that “humans have been out of balance for centuries” and that “a unique opportunity of this new century is to engage in the creation of balance and harmony between yin and yang, masculine and feminine energies.” (Such New Age babble often mixes with the Marxism in peace studies jargon.)

What these people teach remains faithful to Galtung’s anti-Western inspiration. First and foremost, they emphasize that the world’s great evil is capitalism—because it leads to imperialism, which in turn leads to war. The account of capitalism in David Barash and Charles Webel’s widely used 2002 textbook Peace and Conflict Studies leans heavily on Lenin, who “maintained that only revolution—not reform—could undo capitalism’s tendency toward imperialism and thence to war,” and on Galtung, who helpfully revised Lenin’s theories to account for America’s “indirect” imperialism. Students acquire a zero-sum picture of the world economy: if some countries and people are poor, it’s because others are rich. They’re taught that American wealth derives entirely from exploitation and that Americans, accordingly, are responsible for world poverty.

If the image of tenured professors pushing such anticapitalist nonsense on privileged suburban kids sounds like a classic case of liberals’ throwing stones at their own houses, get a load of this: America’s leading Peace Racket institution is probably the University of Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies—endowed by and named for the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, the ultimate symbol of evil corporate America. It was the Kroc Institute, by the way, that in 2004 invited Islamist scholar Tariq Ramadan to join its faculty, only to see him denied a U.S. visa on the grounds that he had defended terrorism.

Peace studies students also discover how to think in terms of “deep culture.” How to prevent war between, say, the U.S. and Saddam’s Iraq? Answer: examine each country’s deep culture—its key psychosocial traits, good and bad—to understand its motives. Americans, according to this bestiary, are warlike and money-obsessed; Iraqis are intensely religious and proud. Not surprisingly, the Peace Racket’s summations of deep cultures skew against the West. The deep-culture approach also avoids calling tyrants or terrorists “evil”—for behind every atrocity, in this view, lies a legitimate grievance, which the peacemaker should locate so that all parties can meet at the negotiating table as moral equals. SUNY Binghamton, for instance, offers a peace studies course that seeks to “arrive at an understanding of contemporary violence in its ideological, cultural, and structural dimensions in a bid to move away from ‘evil,’ ‘inhuman,’ and ‘uncivilized’ as analytical categories.”

For the Peace Racket, to kill innocents in cold blood is to buy the right to dialogue, negotiation, concessions—and power. So students learn to identify “insurgent” or “militant” groups with the populations they purport to represent. A few years ago, a peace organization called Transcend equated the demands of the Basque terrorist group ETA with “the desires of the Basque people”—as if a “people” were a monolithic group for whom a band of murderous thugs could presume to speak. The complaints that Transcend made about the Spanish government’s “blockade positions”—its refusal to cave to terrorist demands—and the Spanish media’s lack of “objectivity”—their refusal to take a middle position between Spanish society and ETA terrorists—are standard Peace Racket fare. Similarly, during Saddam’s dictatorship, “peace scholars” wrote as if Iraq were equivalent to Saddam and the Baath party, entirely removing from the picture the Shiites and Kurds whom Saddam’s regime subjugated, tortured, and slaughtered.

The recipes for peace that flow from such thinking seem designed not only to buttress oppression but to create more of it. For if democracies consistently followed the Peace Racket’s recommendations, what they’d eventually reap would be the kind of peace found today in Havana or Pyongyang.

The Peace Racket maintains that the Western world’s profound moral culpability, arising from its history of colonialism and economic exploitation, deprives it of any right to judge non-Western countries or individuals. Further, the non-West has suffered so much from exploitation that whatever offenses it commits are legitimate attempts to recapture dignity, obtain justice, and exact revenge. Have Third World terrorists taken Americans hostage? Don’t call the hostages innocent victims. After all, as Americans, they’re complicit in a system that has long inflicted “structural violence” (or “structural terrorism”) upon the Third World poor. Donald Rothberg of San Francisco’s Saybrook Institute explains: “In using the term ‘structural violence,’ we identify phenomena as violent that are not usually seen as violent. For example, Western economic domination.”

It is this mind-set that leads peace professors to accuse the U.S. of “state terrorism,” to call George W. Bush “the world’s worst terrorist,” and even to characterize those murdered in the Twin Towers as oppressors who, by working at investment banks and brokerage houses, were ultimately responsible for their own deaths. Barash and Webel, for instance, write sympathetically of “frustrated, impoverished, infuriated people . . . who view the United States as a terrorist country” and for whom “attacks on American civilians were justified” because one shouldn’t distinguish “between a ‘terrorist state’ and the citizens who aid and abet that state.” They also approvingly quote Osama bin Laden’s claim that for many “disempowered” people, “Americans are the worst terrorists in the world”—thereby inviting students to consider Osama a legitimate spokesperson for the “disempowered.” Speaking at a memorial concert on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, George Wolfe of Ball State University’s peace studies program suggested that we “reflect on what we as Americans may have done or not done, to invoke such extreme hatred.” The Kroc Institute’s David Cortright agrees: “We must ask ourselves . . . what the United States has done to incur such wrath.”

In short, it’s America that is the wellspring of the world’s problems. In the peace studies world, America’s role as the beacon of opportunity for generations of immigrants is mocked, its defense of freedom in World War II and the cold war is reinterpreted to its discredit, and every major postwar atrocity (the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan) is ignored, minimized, or—as with 9/11—blamed on the U.S. itself.

One peace studies motif holds that the U.S. intentionally preserves its enemies to justify military expenses. According to a 2000 article by Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, for instance, the Pentagon deplored the prospect of peace between the Koreas because it “would erase the most menacing of our putative ‘rogue state’ adversaries” and thus “imperil . . . future military appropriations.” (For Klare, North Korea is only “putatively” a rogue state.) The director of Cornell’s peace studies program, Matthew Evangelista, blames the cold war on the U.S. Defense Department and claims that it ended only because a good-hearted, newly enlightened Gorbachev “heeded the advice of transnational [peace] activists.” You might think that no one could fall for such nonsense. But keep in mind that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and that students starting college in 2007 arrived in the world a year later. They don’t remember the cold war—and are ripe targets for disinformation.

As for America’s response to terrorism, Barash and Webel tidily sum up the view of many peace studies professors: “A peace-oriented perspective condemns not only terrorist attacks but also any violent response to them.” How should democracies respond to aggression? Hold dialogue. Make concessions. Apologize. Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 capitulation to Hitler at Munich taught—or should have taught—that appeasement just puts off a final reckoning, giving an enemy time to gain strength. The foundation of the Peace Racket’s success lies in forgetting this lesson. Peace studies students discover that the lesson of World War II is the evil of war itself and the need to prevent it by all possible means—which, of course, is exactly what Chamberlain thought he was doing in Munich. What they learn, in short, is the opposite of the war’s real lesson.

Warblogger Frank Martin described his visit to the military cemetery at Arnhem, in the Netherlands, where a teenage guide said that the Allied soldiers “were fighting for bridges; how silly that they would all fight for something like that.” Martin was outraged: “I tried to explain that they weren’t fighting for bridges, but for his and his families’ freedom.” That teenager articulated precisely the kind of thinking that peace professors seek to instill in their students—that freedom is at best an overvalued asset that can hinder peacemaking, and at worst a lie, and that those who harp on it are either American propagandists or dupes who’ve fallen for the propaganda. In March, Yusra Moshtat, an associate of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, and Jan Oberg, director of the foundation, wrote that “words like democracy and freedom are deceptive, cover-ups or Unspeak.” And in a 1997 speech at a Texas peace foundation, Oscar Arias, ex-president of Costa Rica and founder of his own peace foundation, described the American preoccupation with freedom versus tyranny as “obsolete,” “oversimplified,” and above all “dangerous,” because it could lead to war. In other words, if you want to ensure peace, worry less about freedom. Appease tyranny, accept it, embrace it—and there’ll be no more war.

That’s the Peace Racket’s message in a nutshell—and students find themselves graded largely on their willingness to echo it. For while the peace professor argues that terrorist positions deserve respect at the negotiating table, he seldom tolerates alternative views in the classroom. Real education exposes students to a range of ideas and trains them to think critically about all orthodoxies. Peace studies, as a rule, rejects questioning of its own guiding ideology.

Take the case of Brett Mock, who writes in FrontPage Magazine that a peace studies class he’d taken in 2004 at Ball State University—“indoctrination rather than education,” as he puts it—had been “designed entirely to delegitimize the use of the military in the defense of our country.” The teacher, George Wolfe, “would not allow any serious study of the reasons for the use of force in response to an attack,” and students were expected to “parrot . . . back views we did not agree with.” To get full credit, moreover, Mock reports, students had to “meditate at the Peace Studies center,” “attend Interfaith Fellowship meetings,” or join Peace Workers—a group that Wolfe founded and that, according to Sara Dogan of Students for Academic Freedom, “is part of a coalition of radical groups that includes the Muslim Students Association . . . and the Young Communist League.” Kyle Ellis, another Ball State student, added that “Wolfe has required students to attend a screening of the antiwar propaganda film Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the War in Iraq, without material critical of the film and representing the other side.”

Then there’s Andrew Saraf, who in 2006 objected publicly to the one-sidedness of a peace studies course taught at his Bethesda high school by Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy. “The ‘class,’ ” Saraf complained, “is headed by an individual with a political agenda, who wants to teach students the ‘right’ way of thinking by giving them facts that are skewed in one direction.” McCarthy shrugged off the criticism, having long ago admitted his course’s bias: “Over the years, I’ve had suggestions from other teachers to offer what they call ‘balance’ in my courses, that I should give students ‘the other side.’ I’m never sure exactly what that means. After assigning students to read Gandhi I should have them also read Carl von Clausewitz? After Martin Luther King’s essay against the Vietnam War, Colin Powell’s memoir favoring the Persian Gulf War? After Justice William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall’s views opposing the death penalty, George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein’s favoring it? After a woman’s account of her using a nonviolent defense against a rapist, the thwarted rapist’s side?” (Note, by the way, the facile juxtaposition of Bush and Saddam.)

Mock and Saraf are the exceptions—students who raise questions. One can begin to form a picture of the typical peace studies student by reading the testimonials by students and graduates that many of these programs have posted online. Essentially the same story occurs over and over in these accounts: the privileged upbringing; the curiosity about other cultures; the visit to the Third World, where the poverty shocks, even transforms, the student (“I . . . would never be the same after experiencing what I did in Honduras”); and, finally, the readiness to swallow the peace professors’ explanation for it all—namely, that it’s America’s fault—and to work for revolutionary change. Many students make it clear that they’re ashamed to be American; one of them, listing her aspirations, writes, “I envision myself American, not needing to be embarrassed of it.” They view themselves instead as “global citizens.”

The more one considers oneself a global citizen, of course, the less one considers oneself an American citizen whose loyalty is to the Constitution and its freedoms. Each new global citizen, in fact, transfers his loyalty to the Peace Racket. No wonder these students often sound like cultists: “I have pledged my passion, dedication, and undying energy to the World Peace Program and the ongoing fight for a more peaceful world for all people.” They may think that they’ve figured out the world (“Global Militarism and Human Survival . . . has allowed me to analyze how the United States’ military agenda denies indigenous rights and crushes people’s hopes for social justice all over the world”), but all they’re doing is regurgitating ideological clichés.

Reading these personal accounts, I remembered being 17. I’d never been outside North America, but I’d paid attention in history class and, being curious about the world, had read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Babi Yar, 1984, John Gunther’s Inside series, several books about the USSR, and much else. I had an uncle who’d been in a Nazi POW camp, a Polish-speaking grandmother who felt blessed to be an American citizen and not a Soviet vassal, and a Cuban schoolmate whose father, a journalist, Castro had tortured and blinded. I knew what totalitarianism was. The young people who get taken in by the Peace Racket, though, seem not to have had much of a clue about anything before visiting Haiti or Ghana or wherever. And their peace studies classes and international adventures don’t exactly wise them up. A peace studies student at McGill University, recounting her internship with a “Cuban NGO” (as if there really were such a thing!), refers enthusiastically to her participation in “the largest demonstration in Cuban history.” She doesn’t elaborate, but the reference is clearly to a government-organized protest against the U.S. trade embargo. This perilously naive young woman has no idea that she was the tool of a dictatorship.

For Canadian Davis Aurini, who in a May 2007 e-mail described himself as “sorely disappointed” by his peace studies experience, his naively socialist classmates were at least as problematic as the professors. One prof consistently ridiculed Western “science and knowledge”: every time he quoted a Western writer, he would mockingly add, “So he told me,” then clap his hands, then repeat, “So he tooooold me!” and clap his hands again. “He thought he was some kind of native spiritualist,” explained Aurini. The classes were “nothing but a disjointed ramble against anything remotely military or Western. And the students loved it.”

George Orwell would have understood the attraction of privileged young people to the Peace Racket. “Turn-the-other-cheek pacifism,” he observed in 1941, “only flourishes among the more prosperous classes, or among workers who have in some way escaped from their own class. The real working class . . . are never really pacifist, because their life teaches them something different. To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.” If so many young Americans have grown up insulated from the realities that Vegetius and Sun Tzu elucidated centuries ago, and are therefore easy marks for the Peace Racket, it’s thanks to the success of the very things the Peace Racket despises above all—American capitalism and American military preparedness.

What’s alarming is that these students don’t plan to spend their lives on some remote mountainside in Nepal contemplating peace, harmony, and human oneness. They want to remake our world. They plan to become politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats, journalists, lawyers, teachers, activists. They’ll bring to these positions all the mangled history and misbegotten ideology that their professors have handed down to them. Their careers will advance; the Peace Racket’s influence will spread. And as it does, it will weaken freedom’s foundations.

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