Tis the Season of Peace on Earth

Let’s Talk About War and Conflict – But in a Good Way

Say What?!

I expect the second line in the heading for this blog caused a bit of confusion. How could one talk about war and conflict “in a good way?”

Bear with me as I try to make the case. In general terms, who wouldn’t want peace on Earth? Unfortunately, we are not there yet as a species. We still have no shortage of evil-doers who are all too ready to inflict pain, death, and suffering on others for the most unacceptable reasons (greed, power, hate – the usual list). In those cases, fighting back and resisting are not only appropriate, but essential.

The good news is that such good fights (or perhaps better stated as fights for the good) are going on around the world right now, often in places one would not expect to see such things happening.

Let’s look at a few examples.


The brutal and completely wrong war launched by Putin against the people of Ukraine is as bad as it gets. Civilians and national infrastructure are being targeted. Perhaps 100,000 have been killed or injured, many of them civilians, including children. Approximately 8 million are displaced. Many face the real risk now of freezing to death or dying from lack of food and water. The war crimes are being documented and surely are in the tens of thousands.

And yet. The Ukrainians hang in there. Not only are they surviving, they are winning. Their sense of national identity and commitment is awe inspiring, to say the least. They know this could drag on for a much longer period and yet as a nation, they are prepared to fight, for their freedom and for justice. Russia has a special skill in absorbing pain, so this may yet go much longer and could get even more dangerous for the world, but Ukraine has shown what it looks like to stand up and refuse to be bullied into oblivion. We owe them on many counts.


Rarely has a government misjudged a thing so badly has Putin and company in this war of aggression. The cost to Russian society, its military, and its economy are bearing down increasingly. People across the country, even some prominent and in the media, are beginning to speak out against the folly of this war and its terrible levels of waste. Many thousands have left the country, either to avoid a suicide version of the draft or to live somewhere with a modicum of freedom of speech.

To be a Russian citizen willing to go into a public square and protest is real courage. The consequences of such protests are severe and immediate. They know that, and yet they show up to speak out. Certainly not a majority, but numbers are growing.

Many among the Russian elites must be getting nervous. There is no way this ends well for Russia. The prospects of serious international trials for war crimes are growing – enablers will be called out. Putin is increasingly vulnerable. Of course, part of his problem are critics on the Right, who castigate him for not drafting enough people and for not using tactical nuclear weapons. Imagine how much worse it could get if that bunch stages a successful coup. But people are speaking out, in ways we have not seen for decades. Hope springs eternal.


Perhaps of all the governments listed here, this is the most vulnerable. It is also likely the most violent towards its own people. Thousands have been arrested; hundreds have been killed. Two were publicly executed just in the last few days. But still, they protest all over the country, of all ages, all ethnic groups, and both genders. Most of the population was born well after the conflict with the Americans. They are sick of corruption and a power fixated theocracy.

The Iranian authorities have not seen resistance like this in many years. The Iranian women have led the way with unimaginable, quite courage. They know fully every day that they step out in protest could be their last day. Yet they are committed. Eventually, they will win.


 China also is seeing protests, unlike anything since Tiananmen Square. Like Iran, it is all over the country, all ages choosing to risk it all to stand up against a government they no longer trust nor see as infallible. Thus, that government is also no longer assumed to be entitled to rule or thought to know what is best for everyone at all times. The government has backed off a bit on its stringent COVID controls but is still arresting people who protested. This one is not over yet, but I sense a bit of a sea change among the public. Time will tell.


The former president of Brazil, Bolsonaro (Trump, Jr.) swore he would not acknowledge defeat. In the end, his people, by a thin margin, decided they had had enough, and voted him out in favor of another former president, Lula da Silva. The key element here was that enough citizens decided the dictatorial, mercurical, above the law approach to government was intolerable and so they threw him out. Not bad, Brazil.


Yes, the USA is on this list. The most recent midterm elections had remarkable importance for the future of our country. Democracy really was on the line. It still is very much at risk, but to the surprise of many of us, a good part of the electorate saw what was at stake and who caused the problem. They voted down all the most visible election deniers, for exactly the right reason. Good on you, fellow Americans. Thank you. May we use your message and the time you gave us well.

About Democracy

No doubt about it. Democracy is messy, cumbersome, subject to corruption and the ugly side of populism. But more than any other approach, it tends to be self-correcting towards the center and moderation. Not a straight line, but doable.

The examples cited above offer us two lessons:

One, people everywhere yearn for some level of respect and freedom. Pushed hard enough, they will die for such treasures.

Two, authoritarian systems and dictators inevitably run off the road and fail, taking a lot with them. They lack the process and mechanisms to correct. If you cannot tell the king he is naked, he will eventually freeze to death. Fortunately.

Hang in there, people. We may yet sort all this out. It just might take a few more decades. Or centuries.

         Bill Clontz

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