With the United States launching missile strikes on Syria, and the North Korea and US relationship on a knife-edge, one might question the point of studying peace. But Convenor of Peace Studies at the University of New England (UNE), Dr Marty Branagan, is in no doubt.
“For millennia people thought that walking on the moon was a crazy dream, but that dream was realised almost 50 years ago,” he said. “We saw that where there is a will, there is a way. While there are some terrible ongoing wars and threats, the vast majority of human interactions are peaceful, and some significant conflicts, such as in Northern Ireland, are being resolved. As non-violent action, peace-building and conflict resolution techniques become more sophisticated, new possibilities arise for humans to evolve beyond war.”
In its 35-year history, hundreds of individuals graduating from UNE’s Peace Studies have gone on to play a pivotal role in implementing non-violent solutions to conflict at the international, national and grassroots levels.
“Our students have worked within the United Nations, with organisations like AusAID and within the governments of troubled countries like Nigeria,” Marty said. “We’ve had people from the Pacific Islands return to lead community movements for women’s empowerment and resistance to the impoverishment of minorities. Other students have taken new insights into their roles in the armed forces or counselling the victims of domestic violence, and been leading activists in the climate change arena, such as the Northern Rivers’ successful rejection of unconventional gas extraction.
“We are not just concerned with academic or abstract thought. Many of our students come from places of turmoil, including some of the poorest communities on Earth, and are actively seeking a better way of doing things. They come to UNE to learn so that they can return home and assist with peace-building.”
The UNE Peace Studies program is one of the most comprehensive and popular in Australia, but Marty said he would like to think that one day it will became redundant.”In the foreseeable future, however, there is a need for it,” he said.”While we have the US increasing its military spending and Australia spending $32 billion every year on military matters – money that could be used for education, health, renewable energy or even putting out bushfires in Tasmania’s World Heritage areas – there will be a need for Peace Studies.
“Some people think that peace is an easy subject, but if so, why isn’t there more of it? Our program offers different perspectives on society and culture, and promotes the idea that peace is possible.”
It’s a recurring theme in the five films that UNE’s Peace Studies is offering in this year’s Nonviolent Film Festival, opening on Monday 7 May with the documentary Winter Go Away, which describes the events of the 2012 Russian presidential elections. The other films to be shown include My So-called Enemy (Israel/Palestine/USA); Concrete, Steel and Paint (USA); Blowpipes and Bulldozers (Borneo); and Miracle at Midnight (WWII Denmark). Screenings each day start at 1pm at the Oorala Centre at UNE. Entry is free and members of the public are welcome.
For further information, contact Dr Johanna Garnett on 0402 427 365 or Dr Vanessa Bible on 02 6773 2085.