Peace is the absence of fear: Ursula Franklin on peace and Polanyi

In an interview Franklin responds to John Polanyi's claim that the use of force is appropriate in achieving peace

By Susan Jagminas (interviewer) | 1994-11-01 12:00:00

JAGMINAS: In an interview in The Toronto Star on April 19, John Polanyi, University of Toronto chemistry professor, suggested that the use of force was appropriate in achieving peace. He also said that science itself is a warlike endeavor. In this interview we'd like you to respond to his comments.

FRANKLIN: That's right and I want to begin by saying that John Polanyi is not only a highly respected colleague, but a good personal friend. I have known and respected him for decades, and we have joined together many times in the struggle for peace. John Polanyi has long worked for peace, as well as for the social responsibility of scientists for their work and for the welfare of the world. It is therefore that I take his views so very seriously, as expressed in a paper on which The Star report is based. He gave it at the symposium, the "Unfinished Agenda," in honor of Lester B. Pearson. It's a serious matter that I find myself in disagreement with a friend of such long standing.

We may begin with the difference in the meaning of peace. For many people in the peace movement, their concern with peace came through the realization that war (nuclear war, chemical and biological war) entailed such horrors that the world had to abandon war as an instrument of policy. These people worked diligently to make it clear that war was no longer possible. So for many of them peace became the absence of war.

Then there are pacifists like myself who have another perspective. Peace, for me, is a consequence of justice. For that reason, peace is defined, not as the absence of war, but as the absence of fear. And for that reason, I am convinced that means that are unjust or violent cannot, even for the best of reasons, provide peace. This becomes particularly crucial when one now deals with involvement of the military under the United Nations in peacekeeping, peace enforcement. John Polanyi is among those who feel that the U.N. should have a standing force to achieve peace, and I am one of those who believe peace cannot be brought by force, particularly since the U.N., in terms of the Security Council, is in no way representative of the nations of the world. It is an imperial model of world government in which the military is an expeditionary force, just like the force that any empire sent out when the natives got restless. Whether the natives had reason or not is beside the point. It's an imperial model of enforcing a peace that in fact is not peace.

JAGMINAS: Don't you think that whether or not the natives got restless really is the whole issue?

FRANKLIN: Quite right. And this is why I think that the only answer is to look at the roots of the conflict in order to concentrate on prevention. Before the provisions in the U.N. charter for military intervention were drawn up in 1945 (after the world had reeled under a horrible war), there were in fact no international organizations active beyond the Red Cross, and it was understood that the U.N. was going to be the international organization. Today the world is criss-crossed by a large number of international organizations, most of them voluntary, many of them related to development, community development, peace, and human betterment. And these, in fact, are the people who both mitigate conflicts, resolve, and try to help in situations that are incipient conflict situations. They are in fact our peacekeepers, our peacemakers; the people who warn of situations that endanger peace and might break out into conflict. Remember that the international organizations warned about Rwanda; they pleaded in the case of Somalia not to send in troops.

Canadian Quakers submitted a brief to the Parliamentary Committee that inquired into Canada's foreign policy. They suggested non-military ways of peacekeeping based on the work of the international organizations. For that reason I think John Polanyi is wrong in suggesting that Canada should increase the involvements of its military under the U.N. and work towards a standing military force. I regret his suggestions and I can only see further aggravations through them because what is suggested is war-making, not peace-making. At the time when John Polanyi gave the interview to The Toronto Star, he cited the incisive action of the NATO bombers to assist in Yugoslavia, saying that people in Sarajevo now lived in peace. That was unfortunately premature. Today, again, it is only a few days after Sarajevo has been cut off from power and water.

I think it is profoundly wrong, as well as counter-productive, to use force to enforce peace. After all, every war was fought to bring peace to somebody. The result is that, under the guise of peacekeeping, the military establishment takes its own agenda worldwide, and takes on the ongoing research, development, and production of military equipment, all of which is in my view a vast misuse of resources and talents.

JAGMINAS: Where could the resources be better used?

FRANKLIN: There are a million ways in which the resources could be better used, but the most important one is to clean up the mess that the military has made. If you look at the state of the environment, the radioactive dumps all over the world, including this country's, there's no shortage of urgent needs for applying resources to the mess.

I want to comment on a point that was raised in the article. That is, a reference to scientific research being conducted like war, that one battles nature for her secrets. That is how the words of John Polanyi were reported. As a scientist, I don't think that I have ever felt that way. I feel more that I am in conversation with the objects of my research. From the crystals I study, I inquire in almost a conversational mode, what is their arrangement, what are their properties, how do they function. And if my experiments give silly results, I don't kick the crystal, I kick myself and say that I've probably asked a stupid question. On the other hand, when I do get insightful information, something that helps me in my own understanding, then I have a profound feeling of thankfulness. So I think the attitude that one "conquers" not only does harm, but rules out other, more collaborative approaches. This is a prerequisite not only for an insightful approach to nature but also to peace. One should resist the notion of scientific endeavor as something in which the other side is being pushed around.

JAGMINAS: Do you agree with me that this Baconian view of science gives rise to the current view of enforced peace? When applied to the political realm, an attempt to coerce order not only implies an enforcer but also an enforced. Whether or not the enforcer is right or wrong, the situation is already laid out.

FRANKLIN: Yes, and this is a wrong view in terms of nature. Sir Francis Bacon had that notion of conquering, of forcing nature to yield her secrets (and it was always her). That's different from other scholars who were more in the dialogue mode. Scientists often felt that they were "taming" nature and nature was "yielding." Native peoples and others who were close to the soil considered nature as presenting "gifts" of the soil, just as there are gifts of understanding. One was in a relationship with nature in which one respectfully received what was given and in turn would be able to learn more through that attitude of respect and understanding.

JAGMINAS: And cooperation.

FRANKLIN: Yes, cooperation in the sense of knowing that nature is infinitely more complex than science can ever explain. Scientists, particularly the more successful ones, understood that while they might know far more than any of their contemporaries, what they knew was a very small fraction of what nature had to reveal. While each one of us may know something, it is only when we talk together that we begin to know more.

In the article, John Polanyi spoke of order. He said that social order could be established, like order in nature. I think one should be very questioning about social order as natural order. Women have always been very suspicious because it was the natural order for some peculiar reason that always turned out to leave the women in the kitchen and the men in government. But generally, what we see in nature, other than isolated situations in the laboratory, are conditions that are often far from equilibrium-conditions that are very well described by Ilya Prigogine in his discussion of order, chaos, and disorder. To believe that through force or even reason one can establish an order as permanent as the order of atoms in the crystal is an inappropriate analogy.

Susan Jagminas is an arts student at York University.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1994

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1994, page 23. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Susan Jagminas here

Peace Magazine homepage