Revisiting Peace Research in the 21st Century: Reflections on an Interdisciplinary Field with a Mission

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REVISITING PEACE RESEARCH IN THE 21ST CENTURY: REFLECTIONS ON AN INTERDISCIPLINARY FIELD WITH A MISSION

Harry Targ
Professor, Department of Political Science
Coordinator, Committee on Peace Studies
Purdue University

Plenary 1: “War, Peace, and Peace Studies”
Radical Philosophy Association, Ninth Biennial Conference
University of Oregon, November 11-14, 2010

Personal Reflections

As I grow older I ground more and more of my teaching and writing in the context of my own professional history. I studied journalism and political science in college in the late 1950s and earned a masters degree in political science in 1962. After short stints in the military and working for the social security administration, I decided to pursue a Ph.D in political science. Lacking a political vision much beyond liberalism and devoid of any practical political work, I thought being a professor would make a nice career.

As most of you remember or have read about, the mid-1960s was a time of ferment. Brave young people, from the South and the North, launched a heroic campaign to end Jim Crow segregation in the South. From the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in August, 1964 authorizing President Johnson to escalate war in Southeast Asia, to the daily bombings over Vietnam (Operation Rolling Thunder) in 1965 to 540,000 troops in South Vietnam by 1968, struggles over the war in Vietnam and foreign policy in general enveloped the society. The 60s was a time also when the last vestiges of colonialism were being dismantled. Only Portuguese Africa resisted change as did white minority regimes in the former Rhodesia and South Africa. In the Western Hemisphere, the Cuban revolution represented the hope of humankind for the construction of a better world.

It was an exciting time to be alive, to become politicized, and to initiate a teaching and research career. I was drawn to the study of international relations and United States foreign policy within political science.

Social Science Paradigms: Realism, Behavioralism, and Modernization

I had studied international relations, foreign policy, and diplomatic history in college. My “radical” teachers in college were critical of the foreign policies of presidents Truman and Eisenhower. They also condemned the most simplistic versions of the Cold War explanation of world affairs, and the overly zealous branding of all critics of United States foreign policy as being “communists.”

I was influenced by my professors and the scholarly literature of the time to see the world from the lens of “the theory of political realism.” Foundational theorists who shaped the discourse on international relations included British historian E.H. Carr (1964), theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1947), retired diplomat George Kennan (1957), and political scientist Hans Morgenthau (1960). The theory of political realism they propounded drew upon the classical writings of ancestors such as Thucydides, St. Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, and James Madison (see Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff, 1971). Each in their own way saw war and violence as emanating from human nature, drives for power, greed, and personal honor. In a world of each against all, military capabilities, “balances of power,” and other devices whereby the power of one could be checked by the power of another constituted the tools for muting, but never eliminating, war and violence.

The contemporary realists, for example, Kennan and Morgenthau were critics of United States foreign policy not because the U.S. was interventionist or because the American government had launched an arms race with the former Soviet Union but because these activities were defended in the name of promoting freedom and democracy rather than “national interest” and “security.” The problem with the anti-communist proclamations of the day and the promises of human liberation they articulated was that they were not achievable. There must...
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