It is said that at least 15 "small wars" and a score of lesser conflicts now rage around the globe, taking a grievous toll -uncounted hundreds dead each day, thousands maimed and untold wealth consumed. Over 300 wars have been fought since World War II, report the British authors of "The War Atlas," a book detailing over four decades of military conflict. These have included Northern Ireland and Spain's Basque region. At least 10 million have died.
Although great powers have not clashed for several decades in a World War, almost half the current wars could be classified as proxy battles - wars between local forces armed and encouraged by the rival superpowers. Outside powers often take a more direct hand. The Center for Defense Information, a non-governmental Washington research office, said at one time more than a half million foreign combat troops are involved in conflicts all over the world.
Soldiers of all countries get plenty of training in the waging of a war. But the International Peace Academy in New York teaches diplomats and military officials from around the world to keep the peace. A peacekeeping force works like a referee who keeps two boxers apart when the fighting gets out of hand. Like the referee, the peacekeeping force doesn't decide who's right and doesn't necessarily try to negotiate a settlement. It merely keeps things quiet temporarily.
The skills a soldier or commander needs for peacekeeping are quite different from the skills he needs to fight. When peacekeeping, for example, a soldier must not fight back, even when provoked. Soldiers in both situations must understand the people and culture of the country they occupy - but for peacekeeping, they use that understanding to work with, not against, other armies.
The United Nations provides most peacekeeping forces. But until the 1970s, the U.N. had no system for training soldiers and diplomats in peacekeeping. Concerned about the difficulty of learning peacekeeping, a group of private citizens approached the U.N. in 1967 with the idea of the International Peace Academy. The secretary general of the U.N. at that time said that while no official connection was possible, he would welcome a group with informal ties to the U.N.
The academy held its first seminar in Vienna in 1970 and we are told that they have had one there every year since. At a seminar about 40 military and diplomatic officials come from 30 countries to learn to supervise a ceasefire, to negotiate, to train their armies to keep the peace and even to talk to reporters without making inflammatory statements In addition to the annual seminar, the academy will set up a special workshop whenever a country requests mission training.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his work in the civil rights movement, but his last efforts were not just with civil rights but speaking for peace and ending war. It was during this time that his approval rate dropped dramatically. Dr. King, once said, "We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear... That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind ... The time is always right to do the right thing... Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."
In 1957 at the beginning of the civil rights movement, he said, "Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one's whole being into the being of another."
In 1968, the year of his death, he said, "We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and for justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."
Dr. King went from fighting for peace in our local communities to fighting for peace all over the world. May that be all of our legacies. Take time to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday. God Bless our troops and God Bless America.
Guest columnist Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Temple in Weirton.