What's Subversive 'bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?

My lovely younger sister, whom I’ll call Princess for her own protection (hey, you never know), teaches English at one of Florida’s public schools. She is a devoted mother herself, someone who, like me, looks at this country’s open-ended entanglement in the Middle East with great alarm. Neither of us can imagine what mothers of soldiers must go through when their children are put in harm’s way for any reason, much less for reasons that, as time goes by, are proving increasingly nefarious. That, in my opinion at least, have far more to do with oil, and the control thereof, than noble concepts like freedom and democracy.

In her email to me the other day, Princess told me about a recent meeting at her school during which a fellow teacher raised an objection about the language of the school’s mission statement. The offending word in question? Peaceful.

That’s right: Peaceful is the new Communist.

My sister wrote:

I was compelled to speak out on this travesty, this utter nonsense. When another colleague and I questioned, "How is that?" she responded that the offensive word somehow suggested "un-American".

Goodness. Who knew?

Or perhaps I am in good company...

"Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind...War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."
- John F. Kennedy


Being a bit of a word-wonk, I pulled out my trusty old OED and looked up the word peaceful, derived from peace, to see if it might have some lesser-known definitions attached to it, ones that might be construed as unpatriotic or subversive. I already knew it came from the Latin pacem (nom. pax). The adjective peaceful means ”Characterized by, belonging to a state of, peace.” (Sounds like a rather desirable state for a school, if you ask me). The noun itself, peace, means “Freedom from, cessation of, war; a treaty between two powers at war; freedom from civil disorder; quiet, tranquility; mental calm; in a state of friendliness, not at strife (with)."

I should add that my Oxford English Dictionary is a beautiful old hardcover version that I found in a used bookstore when I was in college; it was printed—and dedicated to its original recipient in fountain pen ink—in the year 1942, during which time World War II was raging on several fronts. Both of my grandfathers were fighting for Britain; my future father-in-law was in the U.S. Navy. All of them lived to see their grandchildren born in peaceful times. Were any of them alive today, I wonder what would they think of that Neocon teacher's perversion of the meaning of a cherished ideal—the labeling of the term “peaceful” as un-American. Especially since they all risked life and limb so their descendents might enjoy that ideal and, indeed, saw their own colleagues die in the process.

(Hat-tip to Princess for the story and the wonderful JFK quote).

Crossposted at my peaceful little corner of the blogosphere...

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