Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What's Subversive 'bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?

My lovely younger sister, whom I’ll call Princess for her own protection (hey, you never know), teaches English at one of Florida’s public schools. She is a devoted mother herself, someone who, like me, looks at this country’s open-ended entanglement in the Middle East with great alarm. Neither of us can imagine what mothers of soldiers must go through when their children are put in harm’s way for any reason, much less for reasons that, as time goes by, are proving increasingly nefarious. That, in my opinion at least, have far more to do with oil, and the control thereof, than noble concepts like freedom and democracy.

In her email to me the other day, Princess told me about a recent meeting at her school during which a fellow teacher raised an objection about the language of the school’s mission statement. The offending word in question? Peaceful.

That’s right: Peaceful is the new Communist.

My sister wrote:

I was compelled to speak out on this travesty, this utter nonsense. When another colleague and I questioned, "How is that?" she responded that the offensive word somehow suggested "un-American".

Goodness. Who knew?

Or perhaps I am in good company...

"Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind...War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."
- John F. Kennedy

Being a bit of a word-wonk, I pulled out my trusty old OED and looked up the word peaceful, derived from peace, to see if it might have some lesser-known definitions attached to it, ones that might be construed as unpatriotic or subversive. I already knew it came from the Latin pacem (nom. pax). The adjective peaceful means ”Characterized by, belonging to a state of, peace.” (Sounds like a rather desirable state for a school, if you ask me). The noun itself, peace, means “Freedom from, cessation of, war; a treaty between two powers at war; freedom from civil disorder; quiet, tranquility; mental calm; in a state of friendliness, not at strife (with)."

I should add that my Oxford English Dictionary is a beautiful old hardcover version that I found in a used bookstore when I was in college; it was printed—and dedicated to its original recipient in fountain pen ink—in the year 1942, during which time World War II was raging on several fronts. Both of my grandfathers were fighting for Britain; my future father-in-law was in the U.S. Navy. All of them lived to see their grandchildren born in peaceful times. Were any of them alive today, I wonder what would they think of that Neocon teacher's perversion of the meaning of a cherished ideal—the labeling of the term “peaceful” as un-American. Especially since they all risked life and limb so their descendents might enjoy that ideal and, indeed, saw their own colleagues die in the process.

(Hat-tip to Princess for the story and the wonderful JFK quote).


  1. one of my favorite lines from shakespeare is in romeo and juliet when benvolio is trying break up the initial street brawl crying "peace. peace." tybalt says "what? drawn and talk of peace? peace! i hate the word, as i hate hell, all montagues, and thee benvolio." spoken like a real john wayne fearing american. we talk of peace incessantly. we wax poetic in our dreaming of peace. we just never quite get around to accomplishing it. as americans we can from our perspective now, decry the genocide of the native americans. "sorry bout the poor indians, we'd apologise but ooops, we killed them all." or, when i was talking with a friend from mexico recently i admitted that we stole a good portion of his country. flat out stole it in a trumped up imperialistic war. what makes it a real bitch is that we stole the part with all the good roads. it's also kind of interesting to note that thucydides noticed the same disconnection between rhetoric and action with the athenians. they too, talked long and loud about their peaceful ways, while spending more time at war than otherwise. tell the princess she's not alone in noticing the dissonance. it is the american way, however, to teach the opposite. peaceful has a place in american society. as long as you keep it all talk.

  2. it is the american way, however, to teach the opposite. peaceful has a place in american society. as long as you keep it all talk.

    And it is this truth that breaks my heart. War makes money; war reaps land. Yet is remains such a monumental waste of human potential.

    When will they ever learn, indeed. (Thanks for the Shakespeare--it's been years since I read R & J!)

  3. ..My son, now thirty-three, recently remarked that he could not recall a time in his memory when the United States had not been involved or engaged in conflict or crisis ...nor can I. My first worry was the Korean "conflict", I was born in 1943 during World War II...they change the name (these clowns change with the weather), but never the reality ...Kennedy had too many things right...and now, peace is a dirty word .....

  4. As the mentioned "princess" in the piece, I forgot to tell my sister (Go Litbrit!!)what this other teacher "teaches". Can you guess? American history. It's either sad or appropriate. Perhaps both.


    No. Effing. Way.

    You're right, darling--it's sad if you're one of us, a member of the Reality-based Community, and appropriate when you think about Orwell's 1984 and the re-writing of history. Add to this the fact that the Bush Administration has begun to pull all manner of previously-available documents from the public archives, declaring them "secret" now. I'm referring to documents that go back to the Second World War.

    Heaven help us.

  6. American history.

    Why am I not surprised?

    - oddjob

  7. With one daughter, "The Last Duchess" and another the "Princess", I guess that makes me Queen for a day, (at least)!

    At a loss for words regarding our Country's present situation I can only quote the Jefferson letter-
    "A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."

  8. Queen MUM! Welcome!

    *Curtseys deeply*

    Thank you for reminding us all of Jefferson's beautiful and timeless words. I wonder if he and Churchill are together in spirit somewhere, willing us to never give in, never give in...

    You'll be pleased to know I have downloaded my naturalization application. Must keep up the British Invasion, you know :) I like to imagine that my single vote then, and multiple mouth-offs now, will, in their small way, help turn things around and return this country to greatness for your grandchildren.

    Much Love,

  9. ..teaches American History ....
    ..no surprise here at all .....perhaps we progressives might consider "home-schooling" ....

  10. This morning, I was relating this story to a fellow Mama at the boys' school. She laughed when I told her about the teacher being an American History instructor.

    "Oh yeah, well sure, " she said. "This country is in love with war and violence, I mean, and the rockets' red glare, were still bursting in air... and all that." Then she whispered to me, "Of course, the people who buy all that bullshit tend to be Republicans".

    True--to a point. Mr. litbrit and Queen Mum II are both registered Republicans but they haven't voted that way in decades. As for me, when I become a citizen, I think I'll register as an Independent. I'm too pissed off at the Democratic Party for what they did to Paul Hackett, and, of course, for the way they've rolled over and rolled over and rolled over and played dead while Shrub et. al. ran the country into the ground with the big Blood-For-Oil quest.

  11. litbrit, my advice to you on how you register is to pay close attention to the implications of said registration with regards to your particular state. Tip O'Neill famously said that all politics were local. There are few ways in which that is more true in this country than it is in voter registration and how it interacts with the party for which one registers.

    In Massachusetts one can register as a member of no party, and then choose whom to vote for during a primary election simply by asking for the appropriate ballot when voting, but in Pennsylvania if you register as a member of no party, in the primary elections you will only be able to vote on whatever general ballot questions there may be.

    In Pennsylvania's primary elections you can only vote for the candidates of the party to which you are a registered member, and you must register appropriately well in advance of that primary in order to get the desired ballot.

    I have no idea what the rules are in Florida, but I urge you to find out before you register.

    - oddjob