Reflections on Peace Education

The Germans capitulated and the Armistice was declared at 11 am on November 11, 1918.  The First World War, the war to end all wars, was over.  The parting words of Matthias Erzberger, the Catholic politician and chief German delegate negotiating the surrender to the French General Foch, were “A nation of 70 million can suffer, but it cannot die.”  There were no handshakes.  The conditions for the next world war had already begun.

Nov. 11, 2018 Vancouver, British Columbia, Victory Square Cenotaph (Photo by C.Froese)

A hundred years later, we still pause to remember, lest we forget and make the same mistakes all over again.  Wars have extended from military encounters to vague looming threats of nuclear war or terrorists targeting innocents or mass shooting targeting anyone defined as “an enemy”.  Leaders are able to be elected with angry rhetoric, a disregard for divergent opinion, and without a vision for a peaceful, global context or respect for human rights.   The most populous democracy in the world has nearly one mass shooting per day (2018 Gun Violence Archive) and a president advocating the use of torture and turning away refugees at the border.   The quest for a peaceful world seems increasingly uphill.

The League of Nations, an international body devoted to peace keeping, was the brainchild of Goldworthy Lowes Dickinson, a British political scientist in 1914 and precursor to the United Nations.  Drafted by British politician Lord Robert Cecil and the South African statesman, Jan Smuts, and supported by US president Woodrow Wilson, the draft was proposed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.   The covenant was established in the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919 by 44 states.  This included 31 states that fought or joined the Germans in the Triple Entente during WWI.  Peace was on the table and there was global recognition that the cost of war was too high.

The signing of the covenant of the League of Nations 1919 (Wikepedia file:No-nb bldsa 5c006.jpg)

The focus on global peacekeeping of The League of Nations evolved into what we know today as The United Nations.  The United Nations Declaration of Peace and Freedoms was signed on December 10, 1948 and 48 countries signed the document that articulated basic human rights and a vision of a peaceful world where people were entitled to celebrate their religion and culture with their family and live free from war.  It has been translated into over 500 languages to date.  It continues to be the go to reference in discussion of peace and freedom.  It has become a measure of the moral integrity of our leaders and ourselves.  I believe it becomes the best way in which we can find our way towards leading a life in a peaceful context.

The United Nations Declaration of Peace and Freedoms has been simplified for use with children.  The conversations about peace and freedoms with children are perhaps the most hopeful.  It is when minds are open to new learning, imagination is ripe, possibility is endless, and ideas are being defined into passions.  My passion for human rights was ignited at an Amnesty International booth at Granville Island when I was a student at The University of British Columbia.  Learning about human rights and incorporating the fundamental beliefs into our lives, has the power to change the way people perceive the world and interact with each other.  It is content that facilitates the development of all of the core competencies in the New British Columbia Curriculum.  It requires communication, problem solving, and actively engages reflections of personal and social development.   It provides hope for the pathways being navigated by our students.

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