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Professors talk peace



Article Published: Sep. 23, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Professors talk peace

ASU professors Curtis Ryan and Renee Scherlen discuss world peace during a teach-in Sept. 21, as part of the International Day of Peace.

Photo by Lauren K. Ohnesorge



"World Peace."

It's what you're supposed to say if you're granted one wish. According to Appalachian State University professors Curtis Ryan and Renee Scherlen, you may not need a genie to make it happen; just a lot of compromise. World peace may be closer than you think.

Experts on international and comparative politics (Ryan in the Middle East and Scherlin in Latin America), the pair led a teach-in Tuesday as part of Boone's International Peace Day celebration.
When we think about history, Scherlen said, war's common place in our thoughts, but it only tells part of the story.

"We tend to talk about history in terms of great men and exciting events, and I guess warfare is stirring and exciting," she said. "All the people that are toiling away at peace probably don't make as pretty copy."

And she has examples.

"Think about how much time we spend on World War I and World War II and how little time we spend on successes," she said, successes like the Cold War, where resolution came without bullets. "As technology facilitates more participation by people, as people write more of their history, then cooperation can gain ground."

Scherlen is of the belief that the world is dominated by peace, not conflict, despite your average headline. "I try and remind people that there are a lot of incredible examples that we take for granted," she said.

Humans, anthropologically speaking, she said, aren't made for war. In ancient hunter-gatherer societies, laws didn't exist because crime didn't exist. "You didn't take what wasn't yours because it was more to carry," she laughed.

While headlines today might be dominated by man's new obsession for conflict, we see examples of peaceful international cooperation every day, she said. Take the simple action of communicating via e-mail and cell phones. Geocentric satellites assist in even the simplest forms of electronic communication, and wouldn't be possible without peaceful international agreements.

"The more we can focus on emphasizing the shared benefits that come out of cooperation," she said, "you do have a high probability of success, even talking about states that are very different."

Part of what's holding us back from world peace? Fear. That's where Ryan's expertise of the Middle East comes in. While the headlines may make us feel otherwise, the majority of the nations in the Middle East are peaceful, he maintained.

Even the Israeli conflict, he said, is solvable.

"It's chalked up as primordial," he said. "If that's the case, we should just stop discussing it and head to the Boone Saloon now because there's nothing you can do."

The conflict, he said, is too new for the "primordial" designation. "Israel didn't even exist until 1948," he said.

And, while the conflict is judged as a constant, "These people that we're talking about now, these are not the Israelites," he said. "These are not ancient Egyptians. They are not the people of Moab and Canaan... it's been a couple of thousand years... people who call it a primordial [conflict] are the ones that know the least about it or... have a very strong stake that it doesn't get fixed."

And the terrorism you read about? It's committed by the extremists and shouldn't be equated with a nation or a religion.

"It's like saying the Tea Party is representative of America," he said. "You have a movement made up almost entirely of middle- and upper-class extremely angry white people driven entirely by fear."

And it's that fear that drives extremism, he said.

According to Ryan, there's more peace today between Israel and other nations than decades past. That's why we're hearing about more violence. "It's forced the conflict back to a more original state," he said.

So how do we get to world peace? "I think we need to stop thinking about ourselves as passive recipients of information," Scherlen said.

Discriminate where you get your news, she said, but you can't strive for world peace alone. "It's an issue of leadership, genuine leadership," Scherlen said.

And it starts with education. Instead, they said, of just looking at war stories, devote a few chapters to peaceful conflict resolution, so that the next generation can put violence in context.
Peace Day is an internationally recognized day of cease-fire that happens every Sept. 21.

This year's event in Boone included teach-ins, a parade, a variety show and a vigil and was put on by the Appalachian State University Peace Club and the Mountain Peace Keepers.


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