From Academic Kids

The concept of peace ranks among the most controversial in our time. Peace undoubtedly carries a positive connotation; almost nobody admits to opposing peace; world peace is widely seen as one of the most noble goals of humanity. Various groups, however, differ sharply about what peace entails, how best to achieve it, and even if peace is truly possible.

The context also determines the definition of the word peace. In certain contexts, peace may refer specifically to an agreement concluded to end a war, to a lack of external warfare or a period when a country's armies are not fighting enemies, or to the quietude common at night or in remote areas that allows for sleep or meditation.


What is peace?

Our conceptions of "peace" are often the product of our culture and upbringing. While there are differences about what peace is from an intercultural perspective, peace also differs among members of the same culture.

Absence of War

A simple and narrow definition of peace entails the absence of war. (The ancient Romans defined peace, Pax as Absentia Belli, the absence of war.) By this definition, however, we might consider the Congo, the Sudan, and perhaps even North Korea at peace because none of these countries engages in deadly combat with external enemies.

Indeed, by this definition, we now live in an era of world peace, with no active wars between nation-states. The maintenance of longstanding peace between nations ranks among the few great successes of the United Nations. Peace can be voluntary, where potential agitators choose to abstain from disturbance, or it can be enforced, by suppressing those who might otherwise cause such disturbance.

A hard stance on neutrality has given Switzerland fame as a country for its long-lasting peace. Sweden, however, presently has the longest history of continuous peace. Since its 1814 invasion of Norway, the Swedish kingdom has not engaged in military-style external violence.

Absence of Violence or of Evil; Presence of Justice

Constraining the concept of peace strictly to the absence of international war masks internal genocide, terrorism, and other violence. Few would describe the Congolese genocide of the 1890s as an example of peace, even though it technically occurred within the personal domain of King Leopold of the Belgians. Some, therefore, define "peace" as an absence of violence. Peace, then, is not merely the absence of war; it requires the absence of evil.

Many believe that peace is more than the absence of certain societal maladies. From this perspective, peace requires not only the absence of violence but also the presence of justice, as articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr. Proponents of this concept of positive peace argue that a society with structual and cultural oppression of one subgroup by another lacks peace even in the absence of violence because the oppression itself constitutes evil.

Plural Peaces

Some "peace thinkers" choose to abandon the idea of one definition of peace; rather, they promote the idea of many peaces. They think that no singular, correct definition of peace can exist; peace, therefore, should be seen as a plurality.

For example in the Great Lakes region of Africa, the word for peace is kindoki, which refers to a harmonious balance between human beings, the rest of the natural world, and the cosmos. This is a much more inclusive vision of peace than a mere "absence of war" or even a "presence of justice" standard.

Many of these same thinkers also critique the idea of peace as a hopeful or eventual end. They recognize that peace does not necessarily have to be something the humans might achieve "some day." They contend that peace exists, we can create and expand it in small ways in our everyday lives, and peace changes constantly. This view makes peace permeable and imperfect rather than static and utopian.

Peace and Quiet

Missing image
Peace and tranquillity — Lake Mapourika, New Zealand.

In some contexts, peace refers more generally to a state of quiet or tranquillity--an absence of disturbance or agitation.

Those who travel to remote, rural areas often notice the striking difference in the noise level between the cities and the countryside; hence the term 'peace and quiet'. Conflict that occurs in nature, however, often produces sounds. When animals fight, the surrounding forest can become even more silent, as the non-engaged animals warily await the outcome. After a conflict, then the normal sounds and actions of the inhabitants eventually recur.

Achieving Peace

Self-styled peace activists frequently call for "peace" as an alternative to military conflict against entrenced genocidal totalitarian regimes such as those of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il. Critics of these demonstrations often assail the activists' ignorance or lack of concern for the suffering people of these regimes. These critics advance a "peace through war" thesis, holding that these situations leave no viable alternative to military force in the pursuit of eventual peace. Such a military force would oust an oppressive or even genocidal totalitarian dictator.

Others, however, note the inherent contradiction in the "peace through war" or even "peace through strength" concept. They claim that peace can come only through peaceful means and that violence only breeds violence. Therefore, these activists opposed Ronald Reagan's arms race that led to the demise of the Second World and the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, Allied propaganda billed the Great War in Europe as the "war to end all wars." Although the Allies won the war, the resulting "peace" Treaty of Versailles only set the stage for the even bloodier World War II. Before the Allied victory, the Bolsheviks promised the Russian people "peace, land, and bread." Although he ended the disastrous war against the Central Powers, Vladmir Lenin butchered millions of people to consolidate his power, and his successor, Joseph Stalin imposed even worse horrors on the Russian populous. These failures illustrate the problems of using war in an effort to attain peace.

Proponents of the democratic peace theory claim that strong empirical evidence exists that democracies never or almost never make war against each other. An increasing number of nations have become democratic since the industrial revolution. A world peace may thus become of possible if this trend continues.

Peacemakers are people who have overcome entrenched violence and conflict through their leadership and vision to achieve peace.


Nobel Peace Prize

Main article: Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually to notable persons, generally peacemakers and visionaries who have overcome notorious cycles in violence, conflict or oppression through their moral leadership, but also controversially former warmongers and former terrorists who it was believed had helped bring the world closer to ending such situations through exceptional concessions in the attempt to achieve peace.

Here is a partial list of Nobel Peace Prize laureates whose award is still considered by some a matter of particular controversy:



True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
Not all the darkness of the land
Can hide the lifted eye and hand;
Nor need the clanging conflict cease,
To make Thee hear our cries for peace.

Related topics

External links

Niwano Peace Prize

Official homepage of the Niwano Peace Foundation (

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (


  1. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail (

Other links of interest

es:Paz eo:Paco fr:Paix he:שלום it:Pace la:pax lt:Taika nl:Vrede ja:平和 pl:Pokj pt:Paz simple:Peace sv:Fred sr:Мир wa:Pye zh:和平


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