Friday, September 4, 2015

Peace Comes of Age - To What End?

The anniversary of the definitive end of the Second World War, when Japan formally surrendered 70 years ago this week on September 2, 1945 (see AP photo) seems to have come and gone with little or no fanfare (except perhaps in China). But back in August 1966, when the war was a more recent memory for many, I can well recall reading an article by British historian A.J.P. Taylor in The NY Times Magazine entitled “Peace Comes of Age; 21 years after World War I, World War II was already 2 months old; now, 21 years after World War II-- Peace Comes of Age.” (I couldn't find the text of the article on the The NY Times  site, but I was able at least to find its complete title!)

"Coming of Age" at that time still meant 21. Hence 1966 was when the post-World War II peace was said to have at last come of age in contrast to the post-World War I peace which never quite made it to 21. Both post-war experiences of peace were, of course, conflicted. The Cold War was still raging in 1966, and a series of smaller armed conflicts had occurred or were yet to occur in various regions of the world. But - in my opinion, largely thanks to the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons - not only had there not been a nuclear war between the two opposing superpowers, but no conventional war had broken out between them. Absent the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons, I personally have always been convinced that the US and the USSR would  almost certainly have gone to war - a conventional, land war in Europe which would likely have equalled or exceeded the European disaster that had been World War II. And like World War II it would surely have devastated other continents as well.

In 1966, the dominant values and worldviews of Western political elites and policy makers were still recognizably rooted in 1945. By then, Western Europe's post-war recovery was fairly complete, a prosperity which would make possible new internal challenges, the social and cultural "revolution" of the later 1960s and after. But it would take some time before the inherited post-1945 outlook would completely give way. It would take the unexpected end of the Cold War and the surprising success of the so-called European project (itself a post-war reaction to the experience of two world wars) to change that.

But there is, of course, another kind of coming of age. Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong; Most of them are toil and sorrow; they pass quickly, and we are gone (Psalm 90:10). If coming of age at 21 heralds the era of adult fulfillment for which the previous years had been preparing, coming of age at 70 heralds the end of that era. And so it seems to be with the post-World War II European "peace." 

The fractious over-extended Europe of today, stifled by the hubris of its anti-democratic EU institutions unmoored from their Christian cultural roots, seems poised to turn its back - to the extent it hasn't already done so - on the aspirations and accomplishments of the post-world War II "peace," as ancient conflicts within states (Belgium, Spain, the UK) and regions (the Balkans, the Ukraine) and the challenge of the historical "other" (Islam) reassert themselves with a force and power few would have predicted when peace was just turning 21. 

The post-war peace has indeed come of age, but to what end?

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