The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Iliad to Iraq

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Author: John Gittings

Review by Marc Perry

In the history of mankind, there have been more periods of peace than war; or as John Gittings puts it: “There have been more ‘peaces’ than wars.” According to conventional wisdom, peace doesn’t make a gripping narrative for history books or an eye-catching shocker for the headlines. With the publication of this academically appealing book, Gittings, a former journalist with the Guardian, attempts to set the record straight.

Here, convention is turned on its head. Peace becomes as interesting as war; the default mode of humanity, the driver of progress and our natural predisposition. Without long periods of peaceful development, Gittings argues, we would not be here today.

With the premise set, evidence for the argument is sought far and wide; from the writings of Homer, Erasmus, Kant and Shakespeare to the paintings of Picasso. Gittings charts ‘the case for peace’ in art and literature from ancient Greece and China, through the enlightenment, the crusades, cold war and Iraq, to today.

Some fascinating facts are revealed along the way. Did you know more humans have died from accident, disease or old age than from war? Or that estimates place the number of human deaths from war at only 4% of all deaths, since 3600BC? Or that there was a treaty of Universal Peace in 1520 between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France?

In a story that does not shy away from the failures and successes of peace-making, Gittings remains positive about the future. We should feel – quoting Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling – “privileged to have the opportunity of contributing to the achievement of the goal of the abolition of war and its replacement by world law.”

Even today, with several conflicts happening at once, this book gives us a timely reminder that the vast majority of humanity is not at war, but at peace.