Sunday, August 17, 2014

200 years of peace

On 21 August 1810, something truly remarkable happened to Sweden.  Tired of the crazy (losing) warlike nature of the royal dynasty and looking for new blood, the Riksdag of the Estates selected a Marshall in Napoleon's Army by the name of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte to become the heir presumptive to the Swedish throne

Bernadotte promised to move to Sweden and learn the language and became Crown Prince Karl Johan.  In 1813 he would break with Napoleon and in 1814, he would settle a dispute with Norway.  Little would the Swedes understand it at the time, but this would be the last war Sweden would fight for the next two centuries.  Arguably the most warlike people to have ever walked the planet would become a paragon of pacifist virtue under the direction of a retired Napoleonic Marshall.

The transition from a bunch of blood-thirsy Vikings to a country of peace-loving Scandinavians has not always been smooth.  Pacifism is a philosophy that is sometimes extremely difficult to practice and often warlike neighbors will not leave you alone.  Even when it is working successfully, there is no guarantee it will be appreciated.  The best example is the latter is when a member of the house of Bernadotte, the Count of Wisborg by the name of Folke, was assassinated by the Zionists in 1948 as he sought to mediate the original Isreali-Palistinian dispute while working for the UN.  The leader of the assassins was Yitzhak Shamir who would eventually become Israel's PM.

My Swedish-American grandfathers could have hardly been more different.  One was a hard-working, hard-drinking union man in the dangerous steel industry in Chicago.  The other was this utterly respectable farmer from Kansas who was a deacon in the local Lutheran church.  Every year, he would set aside one forty-acre plot as "God's Land" and the yields were donated to the operation of the church's missions.  Yet when USA entered WW I in 1917 and a national draft was instituted, BOTH men would notify their draft boards that they would refuse induction if called.  More than 100 years of a peace culture had followed them to their new country.

Flash forward to 1970.  I was by now heavily involved with the movement to end the war in Vietnam.  Because of a low draft lottery number and the lack of any obvious reason why I shouldn't be drafted, I chose to apply for a conscientious objector exemption.  The Supreme Court had recently ruled in the Welsh v US that one could be classified as a conscientious objector even without a background in an historical peace religion like the Quakers or Jehovah's Witnesses.  But the ruling was very new and draft boards had a lot of institutional inertia so actually having such a background still helped.  I had been educated in grade school by the officially approved pacifist Mennonites but my father was a Lutheran clergyman—and Minnesota was thickly populated by Lutherans who had no objections whatsoever to the ideas and practices of making war.  In fact, the majority of my local draft board was made up of Lutheran church-goers and that board had never granted a conscientious objector status—ever.

The Mennonite childhood education was a slam dunk—except for my weak link to that sect—because they have been practicing pacifists since 1534.  But what to do about those Lutes.  You could almost hear a draft board member ask, "You ever hear of Prussia?  Lots of armies and Lutherans there."  I was allowed to bring some witnesses to testify on my behalf.  I got a Mennonite clergyman to explain what I been taught in elementary school, and then I asked my father who would argue that while most Lutherans are not pacifists, a serious number of Swedish Lutherans are.  After all, in 1970, Olaf Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister had not only granted asylum to anti-Vietnam activists but deserters from the USA armed forces—all with the complete blessing of the Church of Sweden.

I was asked to leave the room while the draft hearing got information from my witnesses.  As I paced the hallway, I could hear those preachers holding forth on the basis of Christian pacifism.  Mennonites can do hell-fire and brimstone sermons with the best of them—but so could my dad.  I am pretty certain that none of those men on the draft board had ever been exposed to the idea that warfare is inherently sinful by guys who could quote the Bible so gracefully.  But it must have worked because that no-conscientious-objector board not only granted me one, but would soon grant one to everyone who had ever applied.

So here's to 200 years of keeping the peace.  It is a remarkable achievement.  Peace-keeping is a full-time task, and as Folke Bernadotte discovered, a good way to get yourself killed.  But as places like Sweden and Switzerland prove, practicing peace is a very good route to prosperity.  One of the best, in fact!

Sweden celebrates 200 years of peace

The Local 15 Aug 2014

Sweden has not actively taken part in a war since 1814 - breaking even Switzerland's record for peace. One peace and conflict expert has told The Local that Swedes learned the hard way to take the non-confrontational stance.

Sweden and Norway celebrate peace treaty (14 Aug 14)

Precisely 200 years ago, on August 15th, 1814, Sweden entered a new era of peace. The last battle took its final breath on August 14th after the signing of the Convention of Moss, ending a brief war with Norway sparked by the nation declaring its independence.

The war would be Sweden's last.

"Sweden as a nation has not participated in war for 200 years," Peter Wallensteen, senior professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University, told The Local.

How has Sweden managed to stayed out of war for two entire centuries?

"Primarily by luck," Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told The Local on Friday.

Wallensteen pointed out that Sweden has contributed forces to UN peacekeeping operations, has an active military and a thriving arms industry, and that the definition of peace is debatable.

"But there is an absence of the use of political violence in the country, no international wars, no civil wars, and no military coups," Wallensteen explained.

Due to Switzerland's unfortunate civil war in 1847, Wallensteen said, Sweden's tally even beats the capital of neutrality.

All of the Scandinavian nations had a chance at taking the prize longest reign of peace, Wallensteen said, since they stayed out of the first world war. It was during World War II that things started falling apart.

Sweden never officially took a side in World War II - but the nation has received harsh international criticism for letting the Nazis use Swedish railways to invade Norway, questioning the image of neutrality and indeed casting a light of shame and cowardice upon the country.

But historians say Sweden did not favour Germany. Rather, Sweden took the most non-confrontational stance it could.

During the war posters were hung on building walls with a yellow and blue tiger, and the words "en svensk tiger" - translating both as "a Swedish tiger" and "a Swede keeps his mouth shut".

According to Wallensteen, this attitude is not native, but learned.

"Politicians realized as far back as 1905, after the treaty with Norway, that war creates lasting animosity. But solutions create lasting cooperation where everybody benefits."

Today Swedes have a reputation for being reserved and non-confrontational. How did the war-faring Vikings and mighty kings of the late Empire of Sweden transform into humble striped cats?

"I think that Swedes have learned it doesn't pay to engage in violent conflict," Wallensteen told The Local. "There is an attitude of strong conflict awareness. There is a willingness to find solutions that work, solutions that are pragmatic, practical, and rational."

The Swedish climate of compromise, Wallensteen said, grew from experience.

"People do take a stand, but they do not take a stand so incompatible with others that discussion becomes impossible. Due to long historical experience, Swedes are willing to open up to negotiation."

Wallensteen said that the paradigm shift made a difference not just on the international scale and in peace-keeping issues, but also on the domestic front.

"I think there was a cultural shift away from viewing war as honourable and great to a much more civilian understanding of what is good in society," Wallensteen said.

"And in the Swedish case that means work hard, develop new industries, build welfare, be involved in national affairs... These kinds of values have gradually become more important than being engaged in military operations."

But will the "peace" - or simply war avoidance - continue?

"Peace must be created, secured, and continuously nurtured by dialogue and diplomacy," Bildt told The Local.

"Prediction is difficult," Wallensteen said after brief hesitation. "But I hope so. There is an atmosphere of inclusivity, a willingness in Sweden to integrate everyone and build a tolerant society."

Sweden's terror threat level has remained "high" since a botched suicide bombing in Stockholm in 2010. Reverberations from the riots of 2013 are still being felt. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, and an increasing number of Swedes are engaging in violent extremism abroad.

"All that was happening before as well," Wallensteen remarked.

"The important thing is how society as a whole reacts to it - and society is clearly against it and tries to make counter moves. In the riots, for instance, counter moves include integration projects instead of sending in police. It's a classical Swedish way of dealing with things."

Wallensteen said it would be interesting to see how the extremist Swedes fighting abroad would be handled.
"But again, I think the solution is to think about it in terms of prevention, what went wrong, and what we need to do better."

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt stressed that peace in Sweden is not the only priority in the globalized society of today, however - and Sweden cannot float on the status quo, but must engage actively to continue peace.

"Let's not forget that peace is far away in many places," Bildt told The Local.

"Europe is in the most difficult strategic times that I can remember. The situation is extremely fragile to the east and to the south. The Syrian war has created a massive humanitarian disaster, and the recent developments in Iraq are also alarming."

"In this respect, let's hope the coming 200 years will be more successful for the world than the previous ones." more

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