Write a short essay (two to three pages typed, double-spaced) on the following topic. Be sure to keep a copy of your work (that’s part of every assignment), and be aware of the requirements of academic honesty in writing your paper.
First, read pages 167 – 177 in the Galtung essay, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research,”
You will see that for Galtung “peace” has (at least) two distinct senses: a “negative” sense, in which the term refers to the state of “no war,” and a “positive” sense, in which the term refers to the state of social justice. Your assignment, put very briefly, is to relate your family’s history to “peace,” and to violence — that is, to the absence of “peace” — in both of these two senses. Your goal is to find out, if you can, how violence (both personal and structural) and its absence, war and social injustice, and peace and justice, have affected your own family — and, therefore, affected you.
With Galtung’s conceptual framework in mind, begin conversations with your parents, grandparents, spouse(s), in-laws, and siblings (and children, uncles, aunts, and cousins if it helps) about violence (in both senses of the concept identified by Galtung, positive and negative), and the absence of violence, or peace, (again, on both dimensions, positive and negative).
On the “structural” or systemic side of the equation, you might begin by finding out, to the extent possible, your family’s location or status in the wider society. How did your family relate to the social structures of society in which they grew up and lived their lives? One way of thinking of this is economic — what did the members of your family do for a living? Were they workers? Employers? Self-employed, as professionals, shopkeepers, or family farmers? Or were they tenant farmers or sharecroppers? Were they rich, poor, or middling? (And so on and so forth.)
Another relevant dimension might be racial or ethnic — in their society’s racial or ethnic hierarchy, were did they stand? Or, to introduce a different perspective, consider that in many societies, recent immigrants and their children often have a different place in the social hierarchy — so, find out if your family’s members were recent immigrants, long-time inhabitants, or “natives” as far back as records and memories run. Analogously, in “settler” societies, like the United States or Canada, but also in much of the Caribbean or Latin America or Australia (etc.), indigenous people have a different, and distinct, place in the social hierarchy as well.
To the extent you can answer such questions about your family, you will be able to get a sense of their position in the wider society and, perhaps, the extent to which they lived and worked in arrangements that were unjust or unfair (or the opposite).
For some people in some families, those social injustices will have prompted resistance. So ask about that also: Was anyone involved in human rights/civil rights protests and demonstrations? Did anyone work in a peace or human rights organization? Active in a religious congregation on peace or human rights issues? A labor union? A political party? Was anyone jailed or imprisoned for activities related to human rights activities? Anyone fleeing an unjust society and asking for asylum in another country? (And so forth and so on — use your imagination in carrying out this conversation in the context of your own family.)
The approximate temporal parameter is an ordinary human lifespan, the threescore and ten of the King James Bible — meaning, more or less, back (almost) as far as the Second World War (if possible), and up to the present day, but if you are able to do so feel free to push that backwards in time. I know that not everyone can do that much, the length of a human life, but many or most of you probably can; give it your best shot.
Ask such questions as: Was anyone in the military? Was anyone involved in combat, as soldier, sailor, or airman/airwoman, with the Red Cross/Red Crescent, or as civilian “noncombatant”? Was anyone injured, or killed, in the war (in combat or not)? Was anyone a prisoner or detainee in a war? Was anyone a refugee or emigrant from a war zone? Did anyone receive special treatment as a veteran (e.g., through the G.I. Bill), or as the survivor or dependent of a veteran? Did anyone work in a war-related industry (e.g., as a “Rosie the Riveter”)? Did your family’s community (communities) have war industries or military bases nearby? Did war refugees come to the community? Did anyone protest against a war (or threatened war), or demonstrate in favor of one? Any conscientious objectors? Anyone imprisoned because of a war, or because of activities against a war?
Many students in the past have understood this assignment as a request for war stories. That’s only one part, usually a small part, of what I’m asking you to investigate; as I’ve tried to suggest above, however, there are other parts as well. Others have understood it as a competition in atrocity horror stories; it isn’t that, either. (There are no winners or losers in this assignment; the grading is Pass if you do it, Fail if you don’t.)
In some families this will be a conversation that has never taken place across the generations, so you may have some tough sledding. Do your best; see what leverage you can get from the fact that this is a school assignment and you are not asking out of idle curiosity.
With that set-up, the assignment might be summarized as follows:
Describe and evaluate your experiences, and your own family’s experiences, or lack of experiences, with peace and war, justice and personal violence, justice and structural violence — or in Galtung’s terminology, the presence and absence of both negative and positive peace, over the past three generations (your generation, your parents’ generation, and your grandparents’ generation) or so.