James Der Derian & Nisha Shah, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

Why now?

The art of peace in a time of war strikes a contrapuntal note.  Peace is defined by the absence of its opposite, war; each war produces a unique aspiration for peace; and every peace inevitably, it seems, ends in a new war.

History provides powerful testimony. The French Revolution, founded on an enlightened declaration of peace, was followed by a twenty-year conflict that drew in all the major European powers; it was the first but not the last ‘total war’ to be fought in the name of peace.  The Congress of Vienna and balance of power that brought a ‘long peace’ to Europe failed to stop the forces of nationalism, militarism and imperialism that lead to the First World War.  That ‘war to end all wars’ produced the League of Nations, a project for perpetual peace that was superseded by Stalinism, Hitlerism and the attendant horrors of forced famine, genocide, and weapons of mass destruction.  The Second World War ended with the Nuremberg Tribunals and the United Nations, leading to a ban on crimes against humanity and wars of aggression, that was almost immediately undone by a state of neither-war-nor-peace lasting over fifty years, a ‘Cold War’ sustained by ‘Atoms for Peace’.

Since then, villages have been ‘burned to save them’ (Vietnam); cities ‘bombed for peace’ (Belgrade); countries invaded by ‘humanitarian hawks’ (Iraq); and people sacrificed as ‘collateral damage’ (all of the above).  New peace movements have come – and gone.  As we approach the ten-year mark of the intervention into Afghanistan and the ‘long war’ against Jihadi terrorism, and confront new struggles of resistance and liberation in the Middle East, the art of peace in a time of war takes on a new urgency.

How do we make an art of peace that rivals the art of war? Make representations of peace – in music and film, arts and sciences, the streets and corridors of power  – that can challenge the allure and aesthetics of war? Make infopeace not infowar?

What structures and institutions must be built? Rules and norms developed? Schools and curricula created? Documentaries made? Songs written?  Emotions tamed or let loose? Brains rewired?

Or, as President Reagan prophesied during his last press conference, will global peace only come when the aliens invade? What if they come in peace?

Why here?

We think of this event as a fugue (from Latin: a running away, flight), both in the musical sense (a complex improvisational structure in which independent voices return to a theme), and psychological (a dreamlike state of consciousness in which an amnesiac wanders from home).

In other words, to take leave, from U.S.-centric peace and security studies and of the senses themselves, or at least of the commonsensical truths that stand in the way of creative thinking; to actively forget what we have learned about the impossibilities of peace; and to take a northern heading to Canada, where peacekeeping, global governance, and human security are a familiar part of the landscape, for some peace improv.

We also want to step outside the settled terrain and easy distractions of city and university.  Montebello is not exactly the wilderness (it does have wi-fi), but its rustic setting  – the ‘largest free-standing log structure in North America’ – offers at least a temporary escape from the zeitgeist of permanent war. As fugue or refuge, it is a more natural place to imagine a sustainable peace.

Why us?

We seek to gather individuals with a rare combination of traits.  Who share a pessimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will.  Who have the artistic, technical and political skills to turn complicated ideas into workable knowledge.  Who believe that progress comes from creative dissent, not conformist agreement.  And who know it won’t come easy.

But with the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and in collaboration with the University of Texas-San Antonio and our Canadian University co-sponsors (Ottawa, Toronto and Waterloo), we have the makings for a sustained effort to move the question of peace from the borderlands to the heartlands.

We don’t expect instant peace to result.  This is a beginning:  call it the seed, the planning group, or the first karass of the ‘Montebello Peace Project’, which we intend to take on the road (next stop Rio), turn into a documentary (‘What’s so funny about peace…’), and develop into an online site (‘Virtual Peace’).  Perhaps we will even pick up a few leader-followers along the way.

We’re putting out the call, to all utopian realists, pragmatic visionaries, and sceptical peaceniks.




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