Pondering Peace, Wondering War

by Belinda Munoz on April 8, 2010


One of my favorite things in the world is to take a tiny hand in mine and follow a path wherever our feet take us.

On this particular spring day, the sun was out and our feet took us on a stroll through Japantown. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom. We dined on green cha soba noodles and raw saba. We drank hot tea and cold milk (I willfully passed on some sake being the designated driver; oh how this will change in no time). We peered through Windexed windows and admired faux food — a fun thing to do even after a full meal. We browsed picture books and giggled at silly drawings of people and animals.

We then walked outside on the grounds of the Peace Plaza. We stood in the middle of the Peace Pagoda and looked up to the top from inside. We skimmed its concrete octagonal perimeter until one of us bumped into a tree branch and lost our balance gracefully (me). He laughed a hearty laugh as only Momma can make him (yeah, right).

And then he asks me, Momma, what’s peace?

Having been primed by his Daddy on a response to this question, I answer, It’s when everyone cooperates, sweetheart.

That was sufficient for the time being.

Until story time came that evening before bedtime.

As I read the Sound of Music to him (e-Bay score, thanks to his Daddy), he hovers on the page of the book with a picture of a red, white and black Swastika flag, also known as the war flag, where I casually turn the page to the next which, again has the same picture only this time, Captain Von Trapp is pulling on said flag with a less-than-peaceful look.

Then came the second challenging question of the day, Momma, what’s war?

Having the wherewithal to stay consistent, I said, It’s when no one cooperates, sweet boy.

Everyday since then, this tender soul has asked Momma and Daddy about peace and war.

What does it mean when no one cooperates?

Is the American flag a peace flag?

Why do people fight?

Peace. War.

Two words I fear I’ll never be capable of discussing without emotion. Or with ease.

In print, the ensuing meaning of these monosyllabic words sit on opposite sides of the spectrum; contrasting starkly enough not to confuse a three-year old.

In practice, these concepts appear to inhabit the same space, battling for the same air time and not so far apart from each other after all; interweaving intimately enough to confound a thirty-something-year old.

As strong as my convictions are regarding peace and war, I’m not much different from my boy as we share many of the questions he asks.

And as strongly as I believe in peace, its premium and its possibility, I wonder if war really has no value; not in the lessons we learn on an intellectual level and not in the way it drives us toward peace . I wonder if the the price we pay for the principle of striving for peace at all cost is the same as preventing war at all cost. I wonder whether I’m qualified to speak of war having never actively fought in a war.

Tomorrow, I can only hope that my son will continue to ask more questions. Why war? Why not peace? And I hope, that by doing so, he, too, will come to dwell, as I have more or less, in a semi-comfortable place of ignorance, devoid of proof, where hope and faith have a fighting chance.


Do you discuss peace and war with friends?Β  With your children? If so, what do you say? Are peace and war topics best left in an academic setting? Can disagreements ever be truly settled? Does anybody know what diplomacy means?


Image by Pink Sherbet

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tracy Todd April 8, 2010 at 3:13 am

Powerful words! Peace. War.

Both provoke emotion. Amazing how words can carry so much energy.

Peace, gives me a feeling of contentedness. War, on the other hand, leaves me feeling very unsettled, invoking feelings of fear, anger and sadness.


2 Justin Dixon April 8, 2010 at 4:51 am

I have some different answers for war and peace. I think the issue your running into is that you started by trying to define peace, if I start with war my answers are different. People have to cooperate with each other during war, otherwise they don’t survive.

War is when one person tries to control another person with violence and the person who they are trying to control fights back.

Peace is when you realize that you don’t have to control anyone, and that instead you can live an example of what you think the world should be like.

People fight because they are afraid of something, or have something to protect. Its silly though, as soon as violence is used no one wins.

Flags are neither peaceful nor hateful, they are only what we make them to be. When he asks if the American flag is a peace flag you can tell him that it can be.


3 Tony Single April 8, 2010 at 6:51 am

Belinda, while I was preparing myself to answer your questions at the end, another occurred to me and I couldn’t shake it.

“Should the day come when I cease to be at war with myself, then will I know peace?”

In other words, I think I’m with you on this one. Do any of us really understand what war and peace mean? We have examples littered all about us in the world and throughout its history, but have we truly comprehended what they are when disputes between people remain resolutely unresolved? Can we ever let go of the need to be right (and the need to be seen to be right) long enough to meet on common terms?

Yeah, I don’t think I have a grasp on this one yet. Thanks again for the brain food. πŸ™‚


4 Nadia - Happy Lotus April 8, 2010 at 7:32 am

Hi Belinda,

My newest post on my blog deal with war. So it is interesting that you wrote about this topic too.

One thing that has always fascinated me is how some people really want to be right. Marianne Williamson says that many people would rather be right than be happy. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

I think we need to stop viewing each other as being separate from one another. We all want the same things regardless of our race, religion and so on. We all want love, financial security, good health and so on.

We are all in the same boat. Why not recognize what unites us instead of focusing or thinking we are separate?

The minute a person views himself/herself has being superior to another, compassion flies out the window.

We need to try to understand why we do what we do. Instead of thinking that our way is the only right way.

I love your posts! πŸ™‚


5 Fr. Michael April 8, 2010 at 7:44 am


Along the lines of what Tony mentioned: war and peace are really first interior realities. Each of us has the capacity to be at peace or to wage war. The reason there is war is because it is first in the human heart. The potential for peace is also because peace can be in the heart.

There’s a great Cherokee Legend that illustrates this point perfectly. An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. β€œA fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. β€œIt is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, β€œThe other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, β€œWhich wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, β€œThe one you feed.”

Thanks for your thoughtful posts and your friendship.



6 Greg Blencoe April 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

Hi Belinda,

I have no idea how you explain peace and war to a three-year old, but I think you are doing a really good job.

My only thought on this is that the more we focus on loving ourselves and loving other people, the more peace we will get.


7 Eva April 8, 2010 at 11:46 am

Belinda, I love how you say you want your son to keep asking questions. Of course, we want our children to be inquisitive – but it seems the endless, hard-to-answer questions of a toddler could be overwhelming.

Husband and I were having a war and peace talk the other night – prompted by watching the latest episode of “The Pacific” on HBO. (It’s the new mini-series by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg about the Pacific front of WWII.) There is such sadness and loss in war. Even if you survive and return home after the war, you are irreparably changed, your soul is lost in a way. And Husband and I were wondering if that’s necessary, if war has too high a cost, why we need wars at all.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post!


8 Mimidsay April 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

War: Black Hawk Down
Peace: Marty Stouffer’s Wild Babies
She was 8. She saw both that year.


9 Baker April 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Hey Belinda,
These words are so serene and beautifully put together. I enjoyed this post very poetic and makes me think about very peaceful times as a child growing up. The words peace and war have so much energy and beliefs that come along with them that I hadn’t realized before. Very insightful post.


10 Madeleine April 8, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Belinda, Indeed war and peace are difficult concepts to explain to a young child. War is so terrible, violent, and destructive to all involved. And yet I think there can be righteous war and that the Civil War to end slavery in this country was such a war. If we are not willing to fight for fundamental human rights, then how do we justify that to our children and to the generations which come after them?


11 Patty - Why Not Start Now? April 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I don’t think I know anything about war, Belinda. Except that I don’t like it. I’m very limited and simplistic on this topic: war = bad; peace = good. But what I can say is that your description of your day with your son and the ongoing conversation and all the questions starting with “Momma,” well, that just lifted me up this evening and made me feel that everything is OK. So thank you for that. It’s quite, quite wonderful.


12 BigLittleWolf April 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm

What a thought-provoking piece.

Of all the things my children asked about over the years, I don’t think they ever asked about peace, or war, specifically. Yet they must have asked something about war – they both watched 9/11 happen on tv, in elementary school, as it was happening. I wonder if I have blocked out that time, those questions.


13 Belinda Munoz April 8, 2010 at 10:49 pm

@Tracy, indeed. I, too, have visceral reactions to both which predictably lead to further murky territory. Still, I wonder if we attempt to exhaust every possibility for non-violence before we resort to war. In my ideal world, I question if war ever needs to be an option at all let alone be a last resort. I wonder if we try hard enough to expand how we view and value peace and if by doing so, can war become less and less of an option. Thanks for the visit.

@Justin, always good to hear your thoughts. Thanks for weighing in.

@Tony, all good questions. And like you, I get stuck not so much on the definition but on the practice. We have a few examples of peaceful revolutions in our history but they really do pale in comparison to the bloodbath that we seem to habitually get ourselves into. Wanting to be right is a really big deal to a lot of people. I know I fall into that trap many more times than I’d like. I don’t know any other way to see fighting a war to achieve peace as anything other than hypocritical, though I can see how that would seem to be a limited view to some. Thanks for the conversation.

@Nadia, thank you! Wanting to be right versus wanting to be happy does seem to be a real struggle for many and I love the point you make about being awake to our connectedness. This is a theme I come back to all the time in my 30s. Separateness is a farce in many ways; none of us gets anywhere in life alone. None. And yet so many of us have blatant disregard for our commonalities and indisputable interdependence. Laways great to see you here.

@Fr. Michael, I love that Cherokee legend as it covers many of my buzz words. I’ve never heard it before. I’m familiar with these wolves and I sure hope I can recognize which wolf I’m feeding : ) Thanks right back atcha.

@Greg, thank you. I agree, love trumps all and it feels great to be saying this from experience.

@Eva, it’s amazing how the questions from my son are actually more energizing than overwhelming or enervating. For now, at least. The little ones add so much fullness to everyday life. “The Pacific” sounds like good tv. I am unequivocally anti-war and am convinced that most people would rather stay as far away from it as possible (could be naive of me to think so). Yet its frequent occurrence despite the gravity of its effects compels me to consider if there’s any justifiable good that comes from it despite the loss of dutiful (military/militia, etc.) and innocent lives. Thanks for your insight.

@Mimidsay, hello there. Haven’t seen either. Thanks for the recommendations and for stopping by.

@Baker, ahh, happy childhood memories are priceless and I’m happy to have helped invoke a few. Many thanks for your kind words.

@Madeleine, good to see you here again. Yes, you bring up a gray, gray area. I, too, hold human rights in the highest regard, and yet I wonder if slavery could’ve ended with a peaceful war. Gandhi comes to mind as the best example for non-violence. The People Power Revolution in the 80s in the Philippines also comes to mind which stopped a civil war before it began. And, Speaker Pelosi at an event the other night reminded me of the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square who stopped the advance of tanks by standing in front of them. These are tiny little glimmers of hope in history that show that there are non-violent ways to resolve a conflict. We could use more examples, though, but who will initiate them and how?

@Patty, I agree, war: unequivocally bad; peace: unequivocally good. And yet. As I mentioned in my comments above, there’s proof in history that conflict can be resolved through non-violence. My possibly naive self keeps hoping that we can evolve toward this. If it’s possible in rare cases, perhaps it can be possible in more cases in the future. And thanks for the thanks. It makes me very happy to know that I’ve lifted you up today.

@BigLittleWolf, I was supposed to be on a plane to NY that day. So many memories from that day are either blocked out or fuzzy. Who can blame us?


14 Tisha April 8, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Usually war and peace are two loaded words that I avoid in mixed company, including close friends, even though I know most of them feel the same way I do. My husband and I will sometimes have lively discussions that have been spurred on by a public figure that has done or said something we both dislike. But I think my general aversion comes from, like you, feeling that I am too emotional to make coherent arguments about how I feel. My “hippie-ish” feelings about peace…and love are so strong and heart-centered, it doesn’t seem they have a place in the harsh realities of debate and reason. For me, peace is, as you say, cooperation, hand-holding and “hugging it out”. War, sadly, is rationale and rhetoric about why those things are not enough.
Thanks Belinda for another thoughful post!


15 Lauren April 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Wow, Belinda, out of the mouth of babes! What poignant questions.

I ponder war and peace often. I remember starting in jr. high I had a problem saying the pledge to the flag. It is not that I don’t love and appreciate the United States. I do. It’s just that I could not pledge my allegiance blindly to every act, regardless of what act might be committed.

Personally I love the freedom flag the most. Honoring all countries, being a world citizen.

With that said, I have what is probably a very unpopular perspective. I believe there is likely to always be war, as there is darkness to light. It provides contrast. Both war and peace seem to be embedded in the human psyche.

Still, I will place my chips in the peace arena. My hope is to create peace in my interpersonal relationships and with all those whom I come in contact with.

I love your response to your son! No easy answers are there? I love the way you embrace these deeper issues and address them.


16 Sara April 11, 2010 at 8:09 am

Belinda — Sometimes it’s good to be late. I came to this post and got to read both the wonderful post and the comments. I loved Tony’s comment and Father Michael’s story about the Cherokee Legend.

I agree with others that your answers for your three -year-old were wonderful. I think it’s also very interesting that he asked these questions. It shows a mind that is willing to contemplate the polarities in our human nature.

I think there’s a part of us that needs this polarity if only to find our balance:~)


17 J.D. Meier April 11, 2010 at 10:40 pm

I think a lot of the skills we learn in corporate life … emotional intelligence, conflict and negotiation, empathy … etc. are the same skills that help with peace. Without the skills, it gets pretty primal.


18 Nicki April 12, 2010 at 9:22 am

War and peace. Peace and war. For words that have been around for ages, possibly even eons, we do not understand them well. I am with the war=bad and peace=good.

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t do simplistic. I still recall things from my childhood while the US was in Vietnam vividly. The Lt. Calley and the My Lai Massacre, American flag-draped caskets coming home to Dover Air Base, stories from those I knew who served. For years I would not watch a war movie. It took a good friend to loan me a few before I watched movies that are not war movies but contain war. I just couldn’t do it.

I also vividly remember 9/11/2001. I remember everything about that day – where I was, what I was doing, trying to postpone a meeting to stay home and watch the news, looking for a friend’s name as I was unsure if his transfer had gone through yet and did not know if he was in one of the Towers. The only differences between war and 9/11 were some of my perspectives because of being a parent now.


19 Kristen @ Motherese April 13, 2010 at 7:44 pm

My older son is a bit younger than yours and he is just entering the “why?” and “what is _____?” phase. As much as I love his curiosity, I feel scared of not having the answers to all of his questions – especially when the questions are the weighty type you present in this post.

I have to believe that fostering an environment in which our children can safely ask questions is one way to promote peace in our homes and in their futures.


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