The Father of Peace Studies

Johan Galtung is a man that we are all quite familiar with after week two. If you are not familiar with the so-called Father of Peace Studies, you are at a loss but are not alone. Peace and Conflict Studies as an academic field is only about 50 years old. While facing mandatory military service in Norway in the 1950s, a young Galtung was shocked to discover that while there were numerous arguments against war, he could not find research on a single positive argument in favor of peace. He then devoted his life to changing that reality.

And change it he would: Since then he has published more than 150 books and 1,500 articles and essays on peace and conflict resolution. He is also the founder of TRANSCEND Peace University and is perhaps one of the most well traveled men in the world — although this fact did not spare him from excessive attention at Ataturk Airport, as his driver (our program assistant, the self-declared ‘Swiss Army Knife,’ can attest). He liberally applies his TRANSCEND method to just about every conflict you can imagine — everything from feuding married couples to the ongoing war in Syria. This is what appeals to me the most about his work. It is so easy to understand and universal that I have already applied it to some of my own conflicts. TRANSCEND presupposes that a conflict is a contradiction in goals between two or more parties (key point: each party’s goals, along with the attitudes and behaviors that reflect those goals, are what are in conflict as opposed to the parties themselves) and that a solution can come from a creative mixture of those goals, provided said goals are legitimate (i.e. they do not trump basic human rights). It would be the role of an impartial mediator to discover this solution and propose it to the parties after engaging in dialogue with each of them individually. The best solutions involve some type of ‘both – and’ arrangement rather than settling on a compromise — whereby all parties give up something to gain something — a win-lose scenario, or a lose-lose scenario. This is not legalistic by design and reminds me of Gandhi’s decision to step out of his role as a barrister representing a wealthy Indian man in a lawsuit against his own brother and guide them to a settlement where they could both retain their dignity.

A more basic example is a disagreement between a brother and sister over who gets to have the last orange in the pantry. After deliberating with both parties, the mother determines that the brother wants to eat the orange and that the sister wants only to use the peel for a science project. The solution is self-evident and leaves both parties happy.

While most conflicts are far more complicated and serious, mathematical people will especially like Galtung’s approach. He even has a formula for peace:

Peace = (Equity x Harmony)/(Trauma x Conflict)

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but it’s refreshing to know that someone has given so much thought to a concept that is so readily dismissed by academics and world leaders alike. It was dismissed just today by the Turkish prime minister in remarks about border clashes with Syria. Peace, you see, is not merely the absence of war — and it certainly cannot be achieved through war.

I am hoping that a new generation (dare I say ‘army’?) of peace workers will follow in the aging Galtung’s footsteps. He has helped lead the way toward an entirely different understanding of peace and has given us the tools to achieve it. I, for one, am fascinated by the idea of sitting down with armed actors, heretofore dismissed as fundamentalists/terrorists/psychopaths, and asking them what a better community/country/world looks like to them. From what I learned from Galtung’s experiences, their answers may surprise and inspire me.


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