Voice for peace

Kelly Rae Kraemer
Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Our world lost a giant of peace research last week. Johan Galtung, “the Father of Peace Studies,” author of more than 100 books and 1,000 scholarly articles about world peace, passed away on February 17, 2024, at age 93.

Galtung taught at 30 universities on five different continents over the course of his seven-decade career, while serving as an expert adviser on more than 150 active conflicts around the world. His passing marks the end of an era for the academic field of peace research as well as for the practice of peacebuilding work in our world.

In 1969, dissatisfied with the popular idea of peace as a “negative,” the mere absence of war, Galtung redefined peace as the opposite of violence. He characterized the latter as “avoidable insults to life.” The art of peace became the skilled avoidance of such insults. In this way, he enriched our vocabulary of peace by embracing the notion of “positive peace,” also known as the presence of justice.

These terms had been used before by activists like Jane Addams and Martin Luther King; Galtung brought their language into academic discourse. This innovation allowed him – controversially – to identify destructive forces like poverty and racism as forms of “structural violence,” the exploitation and repression that form the roots of physical violence in our world. In this way, peace research expanded from the limited study of alternatives to war to the study of violence as an issue of social justice, enabling scholars to study the deep-seated roots of conflict.

In this way Galtung took our field of study beyond the Euro-American focus on peace as military security. He thought peace should be studied the same way as medicine, by diagnosing a problem, figuring out the prognosis, and, if it’s negative, designing therapies, or “peace work,” to produce more desirable outcomes. He trained students and colleagues around the world in this approach.

As a graduate student at the University of Hawai’i in the 1990s, I studied under Johan and worked as his research assistant. Today I can use Galtung’s D-P-T method to examine the on-going Middle East carnage with fresh eyes. Diagnosis: both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples fear extinction at the hands of the other. If the conflict follows its current militarized trajectory, it’s likely to escalate unless or until one or the other group is annihilated. Prognosis: genocide.

Excerpted: ‘Remembering a Voice for Peace’.