Peacemaker or Troublemaker?

The Big Gun

When you think of peacemaker who or what do you think of? What first comes to mind? For me, I thought of the belt-fed machine gun capable of firing more than 500 rounds per minute; used by United States troops in World War II and the Korean War. It was called the peacemaker because there was no other weapon that compared to it at the time. When used it could wipe out the enemy as they were encountered. Peacemaker can also be defined as “one who makes peace especially by reconciling parties at variance; a person or organization that attempts to reconcile parties involved in a dispute” which reminds me of my wife and mom – both have mastered the art of peacemaking.


Weakness or Strength

There are those who view peacemaking as a weakness but, in fact, peacemaking requires great strength. Peacemaking does not mean avoiding conflict but rather meeting conflict head on without making the conflict worse. In order to achieve lasting peace, the peacemaker requires a special inner strength to look beyond the common solutions of intimidation and retribution in order to find creative ways of solving the conflict. Peacemakers require a strength that allows them to put aside typical emotions as they pursue paths which satisfies the question of who the parties ought to be there in clarifying the questions of who the parties ought to be and who the parties want to be.

Moments of conflict provide opportunities for peacemaking which helps to enrich our knowledge and understanding of conflict resolution in many important ways. There have been many notable peacemakers that have taught the world valuable lessons. Many peacemakers use the same approach towards conflict resolution.

  • Contact
  • Cooperation
  • Communication
  • Conciliation

Jimmy Carter Approach

Jimmy Carter is considered a peacemaker however; I have differing opinions of President Carter. Several of the Iranian hostages who were held for over 400 days were my peers. President Carter was unable to secure their release while he was in office. However, after leaving office President Carter did make strides in peacemaking in various parts of the world. Carter had several characteristics that made him an effective peacemaker after leaving office. He had an uncanny ability of defusing or calming down both sides of a conflict. As an effective communicator he was able to address issues and not feelings. Jimmy Carter was a master at bringing parties together in agreement or compromise. Once successful conflict resolution was achieved Carter gave credit to the parties involved, if he failed he called it like it was.

In 1994, Carter traveled to Pyongyang North Korea in attempts to dissuade the North Koreans from nuclear proliferation. Carter's credentials gave him credibility with Kim Il Sung. What was important about the meeting is what Carter did during a CNN interview after the first day of meetings. “By announcing on CNN Kim Il Sung’s promises, Carter locked both sides into conducting the third round of negotiations that eventually produced the Agreed Framework” (Caprio). Carter was uniquely qualified as a former President and Nuclear Engineer which enabled him to communicate effectively. Even though Carter was successful in achieving agreement on a framework he was highly criticized – accused of having weakened President Clinton's and “for his being 'gullible, naive, or an appeaser'” (Caprio).

Peacemaker or Troublemaker

Many have questioned did Jimmy Carter overstep his bounds as a former president in his attempts to be a peacemaker? Was he doing freelance diplomacy, in conflict with current U.S. policy and against U.S. interests, and possibly in violation of the law? Or was he simply acting as a private citizen, using his celebrity to make headway with a group that would otherwise be hostile to the United States? I believe any world states-person such as Carter would consider trying to break the stalemate through contact. Carter is a Christian man who is also a world leader who has always stood for justice and human rights. He has always taken the issue of the sanctity of life seriously which could easily be used to make the argument he considered he had no choice but to try stop the potential bloodshed of conflict.

Another example to consider with Carter is how he dealt with Hamas. In the protracted conflict between Israel and Hamas, Carter added new ideas from a high-profile position which shook up the status quo. As peacemaker, Carter showed the world that the issues between Israel and Hamas were much grayer than the Israeli and U.S. government portrayed them to be. While it was unlikely an ex-president would be able to extract major concessions, what Carter did in his meetings with Hamas was still notable. Carter's success with Hamas came from his ability to enter the dialog with a cool head, with the intent to achieve compromise and conciliation from both parties. Carter was good at peacemaking because he was a good listener and approached each situation with an open mind and clean slate. He called it like it was bad or good and ensured credit was given when credit was due.

Unity and Respect

Peacemakers strive for unity. Their guiding principles steer their efforts in conflict resolution to unification and understanding. They strive to establish sustained relationships of respect. They have an uncanny ability to defuse conflict and put people at ease which invites trust. Peacemakers have an ability to synthesize what is divided antagonistic conflict into a unified acceptable compromised conflict resolution. In other words it is perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree as long as concerns of both sides are treated with respect and understanding. Who are the peacemakers in your world? Are you a peacemaker? What conflicts are you currently in that could not be resolved by just respectfully agreeing to disagree? We can all be peacemakers by being good listeners, approaching conflict with an open mind and establishing or renewing relationships through understanding and respect.

Reference: Review of A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, the Power of a Peacemaker, and North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions, by Marion Creekmore, Jr. (2006) Korean Studies Review 2007, no. 2