culture of war

A new Canadian army of peace?

Could it be possible?

Some current legislation could take serious steps towards the creation of a new more peaceful Canada. The Campaign to Establish a Canadian Department of Peace , MP Bill Siksay, many non-governmental organizations, academics and individuals have been proposing new ideas to help establish a more peaceful Canadian culture. How do we create a more peaceful society? A more peaceful image? A more peaceful value system in Canada? Some suggestions have been recently brought to the Canadian Parliament.

In May of this year, MP Bill Siksay introduced Bill C-390 to Parliament which would give conscientious objectors to war an opportunity to divert their tax funding away from military spending. Unfortunately, this Bill will never likely be incorporated into law, especially seeing as it has already been brought into Parliament four times and has not moved forward. It is more of a symbolic gesture and chance to open a dialogue on the issue of peace within the House.

On September 29th, Bill Siksay introduced Bill C-447, which would establish a Canadian Department of Peace to help to create a culture of peace in Canada instead of a culture of war. This department of peace would work in conjunction with the current structures and would dedicate itself to peacebuilding and the study of conditions conducive to peace both domestically and abroad. In essence it would work towards creating a culture of peace in Canada, expanding the scope of peace building, peace making and peace keeping missions of Canadians, and promoting education in peace.

There are many who think this is some huge joke and another pointless waste of taxpayer money, which to some extent I understand and agree with. Our current level of bureaucracy leaves many great ideas bound in discussion and paper-pushing, wasting money but producing few actual results. A Bill becoming a law doesn’t always ensure change– this I can agree on. What I don’t understand is the mentality that violence is the only way to meet violence and that it is not possible to change our culture (and other cultures) to become more peaceful.  I think it is important to entertain the reasons why some think this is impossible and I would love to hear thoughts on the matter who could enlighten me more towards this end.

I am not naive to violence and have experienced the world outside of Canadian safety. I have seen violence with my own eyes in many forms and have lived within cultures of fear and war. So it is not because I do not know about the realities of war that I suggest this is a positive thing.

I have read extensively over the last decade anthropological works that detail the changing cultural forms and structures of different populations over time. These have taught me that many things taken as innate in humanity are actually learned social behaviours. This includes the way we walk, the way we sleep, the way we give birth, everything we take for granted as natural and non-changeable (read Marcel Mauss “Techniques of the Body” if you’d like more insight into this). For example, while we here in North America tend to sleep in beds (on mattresses with pillows and blankets), some cultures actually sleep standing up, some cultures use neck benches, some sleep in hammocks. There is no one way to sleep. All of these “facts” that many of us take for granted as part of  humanity are not facts at all; rather they are culturally learned. The important lesson in this is that these natural “facts” can be changed if the culture itself changes because the people find the change somehow advantageous and worthy of passing on.

Violence is often thought to be an innate human trait. Much of violence, however, is culturally ingrained within us as learned social behaviour. Think about the cycle of domestic violence that we now see as a mostly a learned trait. A child that sees violence in a home thinks that this is normal and will grow up more likely to be violent as an adult. It works the same way on the national and international levels. If a society sees violence in their country, they begin to think that this is normal and will be more likely to be violent in their laws and actions. If the international community sees violence in the world, they begin to think that this is normal and will be more likely to be violent in their actions towards other countries and the international forums.

So can we lessen this massive cycle of violence in anyway? If so, how?

That’s what creating a Department of Peace could help to do. It’s not going to magically transform society into some beautiful utopia, but if we create a discussion on peace, an option for peace, education in peace; we help to create a culture of peace. The more we learn about peace, the more we accept it as culturally normal and find ways to interact with each other in non-violent ways.

The department of peace would not take away from the army. It would supplement it. It could allow for other solutions to be made so that we would not have to send our troops into dangerous situations in the first place and spare their families their loss of life in battle. How’s that for supporting our troops?

It could give another voice a chance to speak. The culture of war has taken over our country, even though the majority of Canadians (69%) consider peacekeeping a defining characteristic of Canada (p.5).  Our army has been given almost an endless budget in recent years to the detriment of our international image, and our national security. Instead of being seen as a neutral party in the world, we now are now classed among the world’s aggressors. This puts all of us in danger of retaliation. It also creates a culture of war and violence that will only be reproduced throughout our culture and among other cultures.

I for one, would like to thank Mr. Siksay for bringing this discussion to light and for trying to make Canada have more of a culture of peace. If you agree, you can thank him too at Siksay.B@parl.gc.ca. I urge you to please write to your MPs and tell them what you think of these Bills and if you would like to live in a culture of peace instead of a culture of war. If you need suggestions on what to write, please feel free to email me at apeaceofconflict@gmail.com.

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