Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 5 – The way to peace is to be so nice that nobody will want to attack us.

Alternate Assumption:  The way to peace is to be strong enough that nobody will dare to attack us.

The debate on whether it is better to wear iron or velvet gloves is not new.   Before World War II Winston Churchill argued that we needed to be strong and forceful to stop the Nazis.  Instead Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of England at that time, appeased Hitler and declared that he had achieved “peace in our time”.  We all know what happened after that.  During the cold war the nuclear freeze movement argued that if we stop building nuclear weapons and eventually disarm, the Russians will stop being afraid of us and this will lead to peace.  In current times, we are fighting Islamic extremists.  The debate centers over whether we need to destroy the extremists or whether we need to stop provoking them.

It is easy to point to Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement as proof of the need for peace through strength.  It isn’t that simple though.  The post-war Marshall plan achieved subsequent peace in western Europe through kindness.  In his book  “David vs. Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell shows how the brutality of the British troops in Northern Ireland caused the country to explode.  I also think it is fair to state that over two hundred years ago if the British had been a lot nicer to the American colonists, there may never have been an American Revolution.

So it seems that sometimes “Peace through Strength” works best and sometimes “Peace through Kindness” works best.  How do we determine which to use then?  I believe that it depends on the mindset of who we are dealing with. The key words are “Live and Let Live”.

If you are dealing with “Live and Let Live” people then kindness is the best approach and you can negotiate for a “win/win” solution where both sides benefit.  These people don’t want to hurt you.  They just want to live their lives without you hurting them.

If, on the other hand, we are dealing with people who already want to kill you, who espouse a philosophy of “Live and Let Die”, then kindness  becomes appeasement.  These people do not believe in a “win/win” solution.  They only want “win/lose”.  In a win/win” negotiation, then a concession is seen as a first step to which the other side must also take a step towards you by making their own concession.  In a “win/lose” negotiation, any concession you make is seen as a sign of weakness and the other side hardens its demands, taking a step away from you.  Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak conceded on almost every issue to the Palestinians, giving them over 90% of their demands.  PLO leader Yasser Arafat responded by launching the infitada and its suicide bombers at Israel.

So when I say that “Peace through Kindness” is a bad assumption, I don’t mean that it is always wrong and without merit.  I believe it is a dangerous assumption when you are dealing with people who want to kill you.  When people have a “Live and Let Die” philosophy, you must be strong enough so they know they can’t kill you and live.  We avoided nuclear war throughout the cold war because the Russians knew if they killed us, we would kill them too.

Now we have a new challenge with enemies who have a philosophy of “Die and Let Die”.  These people can’t be deterred through kindness or strength.  They can only be destroyed.  Of course in the act of destroying them we risk turning other people who might currently “Live and Let Live” to “Live and Let Die”.

There is no simple, clean solution.  And that is the segue into the next bad assumption…