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“It’s Vital to Talk About Peace”

Dr. Peter N. Stearns, provost emeritus and professor of world history at George Mason University, meets with youth after his lecture at the SGI-USA Washington, D.C., Culture Center, June 9. Photo by ROB HENDRY.


Dr. Peter N. Stearns discusses lessons from history to build a culture of peace.

by Mary Ishimoto Morris
Special to the Tribune

Washington, D.C., June 9–Can lessons from history help build a culture of peace today? This question was the essence of a hope-filled dialogue on building peace that bloomed at the SGI-USA Washington, D.C., Buddhist Center, located in the heart of the nation’s capital.

Dr. Peter N. Stearns, provost emeritus and professor of world history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, spoke on the topic “Using Lessons From History to Build a Culture of Peace Today” as part of the SGI-USA Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series.

The series was initiated in 2007 at the behest of former U.N. Undersecretary-General Anwarul K. Chowdhury, who championed the concept of a culture of peace at the United Nations. Lecturers focus on one or more of the eight action areas defined by the 1999 United Nations Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace.

Dr. Stearns is a writer and editor of over 135 books and founder of the Journal of Social History. He edited the new book Peacebuilding Through Dialogue: Education, Human Transformation, and Conflict Resolution, published by George Mason University Press in collaboration with the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a foreword by SGI President Ikeda. This collection of essays by leading multidisciplinary scholar-practitioners examines the many dimensions of dialogue in the service of peace.

Gloria Mensah, a mental health professional, said Dr. Stearns reminded the audience how easily we forget how detrimental war has been and how painful and scary war truly is. “If we’re not constantly thinking and talking about the implications of war, we can’t change it,” she said. “When people see war as normal, then peace becomes irrelevant.”

With lighthearted wit and warmth, Dr. Stearns opened his remarks with what he calls “The Ikeda Effect,” the value of one-to-one dialogue in building peace, then took his rapt audience through an expansive overview of 11,000 years of complex human history and its zones of working together and conflict, beginning with the hunters and gatherers, when there were only 10 million people in the world.

Some lessons of history he noted included: “When you’re trying to settle a major war, don’t exclude the defeated party”; “Don’t blame whole peoples for war”; and “When an aggressive power threatens expansion, if you don’t stand up to him immediately, worse will follow.”

From the new book he edited for the Ikeda Center, he cited interesting examples of dialogic approaches that deserve fuller exploration, which have been effective not in the headlines, but beneath the surface, in which small conflicts were resolved peacefully before they became bigger conflagrations.

Dr. Stearns told the audience that a serious study of the history of peace exists, and that a greater awareness of this sort of history deserves introduction into mainstream survey courses and as part of peace education. “That may be the most important thing I leave with you today,” he said. “It’s vital to talk about peace. Peace will not happen unless we think about it.”

With openminded respectfulness, Dr. Stearns addressed a wide range of questions from the audience including the weaponization of social media, the effect of climate change on the struggle for peace and the effectiveness of nonviolence movements.

Dr. Stearns said the biggest danger is to not remember the past, and he expressed his hope that society will use occasions such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to create a climate of constructive dialogue in which people can recognize their common humanity. After receiving enthusiastic appreciative applause, Dr. Sterns continued his vibrant dialogue with a group of youth.

Bob Tansey, a retired U.S. diplomat, called the talk tremendously insightful and said he looks forward to reading and sharing the book. “Dr. Stearns gave us various concepts to grab on to as Buddhists who profess that we are dedicated to peace, ideas like human revolution to be an actor for peace and being a known person in your community reaching out to neighbors,” he said.

Gloria Mensah, a mental health professional, said Dr. Stearns reminded the audience how easily we forget how detrimental war has been and how painful and scary war truly is.

“If we’re not constantly thinking and talking about the implications of war, we can’t change it,” she said. “When people see war as normal, then peace becomes irrelevant. I thought that was really important.”

This lecture, which was open to the public, was the first in a series of events springing from the new book, designed to promote rich dialogue and transformative learning essential to building peace.

Peacebuilding Through Dialogue: Education, Human Transformation, and Conflict Resolution is available for $35 in paperback or ebook through the University of Virginia Press at www.upress.virginia.edu/title/5366. WT