“The Peace Innovators” by Dan Buttry

My first peace book came out in 1992, Christian Peacemaking: From Heritage to Hope (for a free download click here).  Another book came out at the same time with similar themes and some of the same stories, Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft edited by Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson.  Inside the cover jacket former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying there was something to learn here in this book that told about the role of religious activists in forging peace or creating the conditions for peace in key conflicts around the world.  Earlier Kissinger had told non-governmental folks to butt out of peace efforts and leave it up to the diplomats, the experts.  Evidently Kissinger himself learned something because of the impact these religious folks had made.

I recently read Walter Isaacson’s excellent book The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.  Isaacson delves deeply into the history of how computers and the internet developed.  He saw three major groups of people and institutions which played key roles in that process.  One was the government, military and university complex.  A famous example is Alan Turing, the academic from Princeton and Cambridge who was brought in by the British military to crack German codes during World War II, a story turned into a movie, The Imitation Game.  The second group were business people, folks who wanted to profit by what they conceived and brought into being, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  The last group were the “hackers,” people who operated outside the systems, such as the chess club at MIT and the people involved with the Whole Earth Catalogue.  They believed in making the internet free to everyone and developed breakthroughs such as the open-sourced Linux system.  Isaacson stipulates that people from all three areas were needed to get to where we are today as people from each of these three streams of innovation made contributions that helped the others move forward.  The synergy from the three different viewpoints and mindsets enabled something larger to emerge than any of them could have done in isolation.

I believe peacemaking innovation has a similar threesome of creative thought and action that interact with each other.  The area with the longest historical tradition is governments and trans-government or supra-government agencies such as the United Nations.  Governments have long participated in peace processes with diplomatic corps to represent them and advance their causes through negotiations.  A more recent burgeoning group is the academic community.  When I was in college there were no peace studies programs, but now you can get Masters Degrees and PhDs in universities across the world in conflict transformation, peace studies, and other related fields.  The U.S. Institute of Peace was established as an official counterpart to the military academies to develop the knowledge and practice base in peacemaking in conjunction with many educational institutions throughout the country.

The third area for creative peacemaking is parallel to the hacker culture in the digital revolution.  That is the work of non-governmental groups, particularly religious leaders.  Johnston and Sampson explored the development of this source for peacemaking even as I was publishing Christian Peacemaking.  I was writing out of the religious community, including sharing some of my own involvement in ceasefire negotiations between the government of Burma/Myanmar and ethnic insurgent groups.  Johnston and Sampson came out of the Washington foreign policy think tank community, recognizing the religious community as a valid and vital source for strategic peace-building leadership.  Some groups talk now about multi-track “diplomacy” involving players from many sectors, but I see religious, personal and activist involvement as one cluster of actors that may play many different roles.  They think and operate “outside the box,” thus opening opportunities that parties in conflict might not otherwise be able to reach on their own or with traditional government or supra-government diplomacy.

Isaacson’s thesis in The Innovators is that all three of the streams of creativity were needed for the new technologies and structures to emerge that transformed our world.  I believe the same is true of peacemaking.  Each stream of peacemaking–the government/transgovernment diplomats, the academics, and the activists all have an important role to play.  If we learn from each other and collaborate we can continue to build on the amazing discoveries and best practices in peace-building, conflict resolution, trauma healing, nonviolent struggle, dealing with our diversity, and reconciliation.  We can move humanity forward to face some of the incredibly difficult and complex challenges before us with the possibility of working together rather than tearing each other apart.

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