Modern media has certainly had an impact on turning popular sentiment against the realities of conflict in ways that stand in stark contrast to preceding attitudes that prevailed at the beginning of the 20th Century.
By Thomas Nemel
We understand today that our elected politicians have a moral and professional obligation to pursue peace in their policymaking. When examined against even comparatively recent history, it’s clear that this is something we might be taking for granted. We need only look back to Europe in the run-up to World War One to see that Statesmen agitating for peace on both sides of the conflict were a minority in the face of public and political opinion that felt that war was inevitable and, even, just. Today, however, we expect politicians to do almost anything necessary to preserve peace through the actions of their office. Indeed, it took the atrocities of the Second World War for the peace movement to gain significant traction in popular political culture, and peace as the ultimate goal of international politics only came to ascendance with peace movements like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and others in the 1980s.
A switch to cynicism
Peace is a motif frequently employed in religious rhetoric, and has a similar power to galvanise opinion within the political sphere. In the face of what’s perceived as an increase in geopolitical turmoil in recent times, “peace” is a word with a rising cachet. Compared to the relatively simple dialectic of East versus West Cold War politics, the diffuse nature of modern political conflict on the international stage makes it easier to imagine the destination rather than the journey when people look to make sense of international politics. By virtue of these same complexities, it’s also a lot harder for peace to appear as a realistic endgame in many foreign theatres of conflict. The fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War seemed, for many, to be ushering in a new era of unilateral international cooperation where sustained peace and a suspension of global hostilities seemed more viable than ever. The more telling lessons, however, should’ve been taken from the Balkan and Gulf Wars, with their intractable conflations of geographical and ethnic loyalties, that presaged the development of asymmetrical conflicts such as the current situation in Syria.
Peace as a visual language
The visual language of the peace movement bears out attitudes to the peace process throughout the 20th Century. Between the mushroom cloud and the dove, we have the spectrum of attitudes between cynicism and optimism symbolised, respectively. As the century played itself out, symbols of hope gave way to representations of the deadly consequences of warfare: the peace sign that was such a recognizable symbol of the optimism of American countercultural and youth protest in the 1960s soon gave way to much more graphic imagery, like the photographs of the execution on Nguyen Ngoc Loan and the image of the infant Phan Thi Kim Phuc fleeing the wake of a napalm bombing run. Artists, often the vanguards and architects of popular sentiment, have always been drawn to the vivid imagery of the horrors of war, and many called upon their own personal experiences in fields of combat. Whatever the case, modern media has certainly had an impact on turning popular sentiment against the realities of conflict in ways that stand in stark contrast to preceding attitudes that prevailed at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Thomas Nemel is a businessman and writer from NYC, US.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.