Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Carving a line of sight backward and forward to peace

Review: Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Disclaimer: Kent Shifferd is my primary mentor in Peace Studies. When I was a community organizer on back in the day I attended a gathering he organized. By the end of the event, I was so impressed I rearranged my life, moved to his college town, and obtained my Peace Studies degree from his program. His holistic and clear intellectual depth of knowledge, coupled with an uncanny ability to explain complex systems with case-cracking clarity, changed my life. I learned how to be a better community organizer, how to approach scholarship, and how to explain myself to students.

This new book from McFarland does all that for all of us. Shifferd, a historian, looks at how our war system came into existence, what the consequences of that system have been and are today, and what it takes to transform that system into a peace system. It is the single clearest document on the topic that I've read in the past 30 years, and the most realistic.

First, he describes war, and traces its history from ancient times to now, noting trends and helping us see the trajectory of mounting failure, if by that we mean loss of life, loss of treasure, loss of ecological purity and even sustainability, loss of territory and influence, and destruction of relationships. The reader is reeling by the conclusion of this section, the first half of the 202-page book, shocked at the darkening and narrowing vision of the future with war wrapping shut like the closing blades of a camera's iris diaphragm.

Then Shifferd opens the vista for the student of peace steadily throughout the second half of the book, giving us reason upon reason for hope as he chronicles the extent to which civil society, more and more governments, and our recent supranational and transnational institutions are steadily building capacity and experience toward a phase change for humankind.

Following his inspiring conclusion, the appendices offer more, especially his first appendix, which is a briefly annotated list of 23 trends toward peace that show the synthesis and direction easy to miss in our world of overload and staggering minutia.

Shifferd believes this transformation of a hundred years is well underway. Upon reflection, I can only recommend that more of us read this book and share it with others to accelerate that process before the zombie of war drags humankind into its permanent dystopia.

No comments: