Page 5, 10th October 1986

10th October 1986
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Page 5, 10th October 1986 — When the price of peace is beyond our means
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When the price of peace is beyond our means

Sir Geoffrey Jackson, left, looks at the threat of nuclear war and concludes that "peace at any price" is not the answer to the dangers facing our way of life

AFTER EMMAUS Jesus repeatedly greets his disciples with the blessing "Peace be with you."

We know just what he means; with luck we sometimes even experience it. But the "stuff of real life", the peace that the world gives, is not like that; rather it seems to mean what people, and politicians, want it to mean at the time.

So our workaday "peace" is not an absolute, worth the absolute payment of "any price". Instead "peace at any price" has become a catchphrase, a political slogan, a synonym for pacifism or nuclear disarmament, not even a stock quotation but a mere truism.

The main arena of "peace at any price" today is nuclear disarmament. to our generation nuclear war is a nightmare combining Armageddon with folk-memories of the Somme and the Blitz, horrendously overprinted by the visual record of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention a recent twitching aside of the doomsday curtain at Chernobyl.

The fruits of this particular hybrid tree of knowledge come in two flavours. One induces a .revulsion of pure horror, the other a chill calculation of the odds between defeat and victory.

For a geneiation we have subsisted on equal and countervailing doses of each, with a result known as the balance of terror, the deterrent or the nuclear umbrella. It seems to have worked; we under it are at any rate still alise, if with a chronic sense of impending doom — unlike unenvied millions in less happier lands ravaged meanwhile by mete "conventional" warfare. Yet even for us, safe and sound, the joy of life is clouded by a haunting dread for our children. How much more is the precariousness and grief to which most of our fellow-men in the wider world awaken each day; they need no additional threat of nuclear destruction for the odds of happiness to be stacked against them from birth.

Are we then wrong to tolerate, let alone rely on, this balance of terror as our version of peace? Were we created — and redeemed — even to contemplate destroying atrociously our neighbour and his children, no doubt with ours and ourselves in the process, as well as the whole world of which we are supposed to be the stewards?

Two schools of thought respond, the survivalists and the idealists. Both have always existed, and exist today in updated form.

The survivalist has always bowed to the conqueror, in the hope that his children might in due time return from the waters of Babylon. Not for him the fortress-tomb of a Masada — in today's idiom "sooner red than dead".

Conversely, many of our forefathers were idealists. To them the next world was far more real than this. So they awaited the martyr's stake and crown, sought to stay the devastation of the Palatinate, stood vainly in the path of Sherman's march through Georgia to the sea.

Their equivalent today is the strike-breaking miner whose wife, asked if she forgave him their subsequent ostracism and suffering, replied yes, that her man had stood up for what he believed in. What then do we believe in? What is our equivalent of the "standing-up" point at which "peace at any price" becomes unthinkable and the nuclear horror a tenable option?

My belief is that it coincides with the real threat to a society based consciously or unconsciously on inherited Christian principles which incorporate democracy, social justice, the moral distinction of right from wrong, and all the abstractions which we take for granted.

Another principle new threat, we are told, is "materialism", capitalism at its grossest, Americanisation — a prospect supposedly intolerable to the British.

My own impression of my fellow-countrymen is that on average they are neither aesthete nor ascetic, but easy-going pragmatists. Within reason they will try, and often reject, any

creature-comfort available from anywhere, from the baked beans

of Mr Heinz to the pizzas of Italy and the take-away tandooris of India, from the candy-floss of "Dallas" to the all too solid tower-blocks of Le Corbusier.

But "Dallas" is not the enemy; these are the trivia of materialism. Our real fear, I suspect, is not that of those most vocal against transatlantic imperialism. It is the irrupting paratroop and tank, closely followed by the secret police, and "democratic socialism" Czech, Polish and Afghan-style.

Our island British are, I believe, inherently on guard against invasion and the violation of their political institutions. Having fought off Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler, they now have the daily witness of Eastern Europe and its formerly independent nations, of the immense manpower and armour of the Soviet army, of its mushrooming air and seapower, and of a nuclear arsenal which has evidently out-stripped that of the western allies.

Yet neither side, they somehow believe, will actually use "The Bomb"; nor however, as long as it is there, will the Soviet Union risk provoking its use by an irresistible conventional Blitzkrieg.

The odds are fearsome. Britain is only prepared to live with them because the alternative of an Onvellian future, on the evidence already the lot of near neighbours, is even more intolerable to her than the gamble.

Most of us at some time reach a climacteric in our life when an inward voice says "enough is enough". My dissident miner's wife was echoed recently by an aged and honourable Field Marshal, who reminded us that "war is a fearful thing, but not so dearful that we should sacrifice everything to avoid it".

He was quoting Polybius from the Greece of long ago, who must have seen many men die atrociously from the sword; and still today a slow death from a blood-poisoned machetewound in Central America is no less agonising to the victim of either side than the aftermath of the gamma-ray.

All these analogies smack suspiciously of Ayrault, Grotius and the Just War — which in turn leads us on the internal war against tyranny, to and to liberation theology.

Thus for "peace" read "social justice", and we have the equivalent formula "social justice at any price".

It evidently alarms Pope John Paul — and Cardinal Ratzinger even more so. Elements of the Catholic Church have been converted to it in varying degrees.

In particular, after centuries of social complacency it has predisposed many of the Latin American clergy towards that "armed struggle" for which the Colombian Father Camilo Torres took up his rifle.

In doing so he laid down his priesthood and his life, though whether as a warrior or as a terrorist is still debated.

As he demonstrates, the ultimate "any price" of both terrorism and war is death. Keynes, in probably our century's most cynical aphorism, commented that "in the long run we're all dead".

True — but the aim is that our children and grandchildren should live, and in a world worth the living, where evil is not taught as good. In two world wars young men died for that end.

Today it is a reasonable certainly that neither of the two potential contenders, the United States and Soviet super-powers would wish o,dare spontaneously to launch a surprise nuclear assault inviting nuclear reprisal; it will only come as a riposte to a major conventional attack or threat.

Of the nuclear powers neither the United States nor France can be conceived as launching such a conventional war of aggression and conquest; certain recent "hiccups" by both may perhaps be paraphrased a la Elliot, and condoned even by the censorious, as "doing the wrong thing for the right reason".

As for Britain, she invades nobody these days, pace some Hibernian rhetoric.

So we are left with the USSR, which is militarily and ideologically quite capable of a conventional armoured and -mass-infantry thrust across western Europe to the Atlantic.

Her founding father, and her continuing articles of faith, stipulate the eventual application to the capitalist world of what has been established elsewhere as the Brezhnev doctrine.

Despite occasional reassuring voices and gestures, Soviet aspirations and policy remain expansionist, messianic and unchanged. Only "the Deterrent" shields us from some hawkish military aberration.

Yet despair is the deadly sin,

and we must hope that, behind all the dialectic, evolution and providence are nevertheless at work, and that somehow Holy Russia survives; after all, in our own time and place we regularly see Marxists become moderates, even millionaires.

Equally, the day may come when the Soviet empire wearies of and formally abjures its mission to overtake, overrun and overpower the West. When indeed we shall be safe to welcome "peace at any price", at a going-rate exclusive of "The Bomb-.

Similarly as Latin America outgrows its colonial taxation and land-tenure systems, and its taste for the caudillo and the colonel, the priest of the liberation will be able to seek social justice and peace without paying the atrocious price of brother's blood staining his consecrated hand.

Strangely then the "peace at any price" of the pacifist, nuclear or "conventional", is the mirror-image of "the armed struggle whatever the cost" of the Terrorist.

The pacifist disarms in the illusion that his neighbour will thereby be incapable of doing him mortal wrong. The terrorist will not accept that whatever he does to his neighbour can be wrong at all; "there is no such thing as an innocent bystander".

Both, on an ultimate authority, are wrong. It is the strong man guarding his house, as St Luke conveys, who will know the peace of this world. Defending the right, and resisting the wrong, he will also know that other peace, which is beyond any price.

Next week:a Mission Sunday special feature, edited by Mgr Mark Swaby.




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