Short Story: “Peace Initiative”

What do you see when you read the bumper sticker, “Visualize World Peace”? (This is part of a series related to my novel, “Burnout Fever”, which is available for the Nook reader and app. Catch up from the links listed here or here.”)

“Peace Initiative”
Part 2 of a series
By P. Orin Zack

“The what hypothesis?” Melissa Fox held up her hand to halt the whispered verbal avalanche she’d unleashed. It was her second visit with the folks of Constitutional Evolution, an activist group that was exploring ways to improve the processes of governance.

Derek Boa chuckled. “Whorf. No, not the Klingon from Star Trek. Benjamin Whorf. Chemical Engineer studying linguistics in the 1930s. Anyway, the point is that if there aren’t words for something, you can’t think about it, much less talk about it.”

She nodded, and brushed a loop of blond hair from her face. “Like in ‘1984’. Well, it was making a silly picture in my head, you know.”

“I can imagine. Having an artist around here expands the language we can use to communicate the ideas we’re exploring. A picture, as they say…”

Rodney Falk, leaning over the table at them, theatrically cleared his throat. “You done with your sidebar, Counselor? Emotional arguments, remember? I was just getting into the underside of this debate, and here you are trying to yank it back into academia.”

Derek slipped his hand forward to stop the black man’s fingers from drumming the table a second time. “Sorry. You have the floor.”

Falk returned to the center of the room, and looked around.

Melissa and Derek were seated, along with the rest of the group, behind two half-rings of tables, playing members of Congress. They were exploring how sensitive topics were spoken about, using peace for their hot potato. Rodney, who spent his free time stirring up protests, was one of the warhawks.

“As I was saying,” he drawled broadly, having gotten back into character, “this country was founded through an act of war. And it has been drawn into wars time and again to put down the forces of evil. It does exist. And if we’re not on our guard, it will destroy the sacred freedoms that make this country what it is.”

The scraping of chair legs echoed against the bare walls. “Will the speaker yield for a question?” It was Derek.

Falk turned. “If it’s brief and on topic, Mr Boa.”

Rodney’s informal response was one of the things they were experimenting with today. Melissa had pointed out that all of the formalities, calling one another ‘Distinguished’, and never by name, enforced a psychological distance between people who were supposed to be working towards a common purpose. She’d known about it from school, but seeing her dad do it in the House of Representatives had brought it home to her. They also did away with dividing the room by party, opting instead to arrange members based on geography. There were pros and cons to this, and they weren’t convinced it was the right solution.

“These wars, Mr. Falk, might as well be brands. They’ve got names — Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars I and II. Or we talk about where they’re fought – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq. How many of these were clear cases of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’? Was the British Crown evil when the founders wrote the Declaration?”

Rodney closed his eyes. “The patriots who gathered in Philadelphia certainly thought so.”

Derek shook his head. “I doubt that. If they had, they would have said as much in the Declaration of Independence. No. What Jefferson wrote about was an abuse of power. And what about the Civil War? Did half the states suddenly turn evil?”

Rodney’s jaw clenched. “The states? Probably not, but the slave owners–.”
Derek trampled his thought. “–who were welcomed into the union after the Revolutionary War? Those slave owners? Were they evil all along, or was that image drummed in the northern soldiers’ minds so they’d be willing to kill their countrymen? Their own brothers, for heaven’s sake? Selling the idea of killing people as a glorious business, regardless of whether there’s an ethical justification for it or not, is blatant manipulation of the citizenry. Surely there must be a way to base our nation’s self-image on more peaceful activities.”

“Like what?”

“Like raising families, fishing, farming, running businesses. Like reading a good book, going to a movie. Anything but killing people.”

“But you’ve just made my point for me, Mr. Boa. You’re not arguing for peace, you’re arguing for the things we might do while we’re at peace. But we do those things anyway, whether we’re in a war or not. So you have no argument.”

“Whoa. Whoa. Time out!” Gisela Kilarney, the redheadded gamer seated across from Derek and Melissa, was frantically making a ball-field ‘T’ with her hands.

Falk stepped towards her. “Whatcha’ got, red?”

“There’s no pictures, Rod. Derek was talking about a national self-image. Pictures we carry around in our heads. Pictures that represent us as a people. But look at what we’ve got. It’s easy to represent war graphically. Tanks. Guns. Soldiers in uniform.”

He nodded. “I gotcha’. Rocket’s red glare and all that.”

“Recruiting posters,” Melissa said, getting to her feet. “Propaganda films. Newsreels and war photographers and embedded news crews.”

“War movies,” Derek added, joining her.

Gisela circled her hand in the air. “And games. Lots of games. But where’s the other side? Where’s the peace posters, the movies?”

“That’s easy,” Rodney said. “At protests. And on progressive websites. The movies are out there, too. Documentaries. Download ‘em, Get ‘em on DVD. Show ‘em in your living room.”

“But nothing to counter Derek’s war flicks. There’s anti-war films, sure. Lots of them. But they all define themselves by what they’re opposed to. There’s no real peace movies. Or games.” she pressed.

“Peace games? I don’t have a clue what that even means.”

“That’s right. You don’t.” She sprang to her feet. “War’s easy. We know what that looks like. We can draw pictures of it, make movies – real movies, not just documentaries. Films with characters we can identify with, emotional arcs that draw us in. But what does peace look like? How does it feel? If we don’t know what it looks like, how the heck are we supposed to have any kind of national self-image based on it?”

By this time, the rest of the group had joined the huddle. Derek looked around for a moment. “Okay,” he said, raising both hands. “New project. Call it a peace initiative. If we’re going to talk about peace, we need a language to do it in. Words. Pictures. Actions. Here’s an example. Rodney, what’s the peace movement about?”

He shrugged. “Ending the war, of course.”

“It defines itself by making people think of war?”

Rodney laughed. “When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous. But what’s the alternative?”

“That’s our new project. We’re going to create one. If we ever hope to put this nation on a path of peace, a path of creation, rather than destruction, we need to be able to think about peace AS peace. And once we can think about it without invoking everything that’s conjured up in the idea of war, we’ll be able to talk about it, see pictures of it, play at doing it. We need to feel what it’s like to live in a world that embraces peace, not merely one that’s trying to clear a space between wars for a little holiday.”

Melissa frowned. “That’s a pretty big challenge.”

“It is. And thanks for volunteering to lead the effort.”

“Volun–? What gave you that idea?”

Derek grinned. “You said it was a challenge. That means you’re interested in doing something about it. And since you’re the only artist we have at the moment, I think you’re the best choice for the job. After all, what we’re looking for is an image.”


Gisella nudged her gently. “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. I’ll team it with you. After all, I have a vested interest in working this problem.”

“You do?”

“Sure. We’re going to end up with the basis for some kind of peace game out of this. And I’m claiming first dibs for the right to spring it on the world.”


[Afterward: The action continues in “Ping-fa“.]

Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack


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