Eisikovits challenges traditional theories of war and peace

Associate Professor Nir Eisikovits will present his lecture “Kill Me Tomorrow (but let me live today): Truces, Ceasefires, and the Trouble with Peace” this Friday, May 6 in Taylor Hall. Photo courtesy of Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre.jpg

When considering the outcomes of war, anything but peace is not a solution. On Friday, May 6 in New England 106, Associate Professor Nir Eisikovits of Suffolk University will discuss this problematic binary of war and peace. His lecture, “Kill Me Tomorrow (but let me live today): Truces, Ceasefires, and the Trouble with Peace,” sponsored by the Presi­dent’s Office, is the last installment of the Di­alogue and Engagement Across Differences series for this year.

Eisikovits, a former attorney, is an associ­ate professor of legal and political philosophy, as well as co-founder and director of Suffolk University’s Graduate Program in Ethics and Public Policy. He is the author of several books and numerous articles. Eisikovits’s research covers the political and moral dilemmas after war; specifically, he focuses on how countries recover from war, how they come to terms with their past after war and how they deal with a legacy of human rights abuses.

Eisikovits’s most recently published book and inspiration for his lecture, “A Theory of Truces” challenges the notion that peace is the only legitimate way to control violence and contends that trucemaking has been a misun­derstood and underutilized tool in attempts to end conflict.

Among the many case studies included in his book, Eisikovits uses the example of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s well-known “fireside chats” to demonstrate the long history of po­litical tunnel vision in regards to conflict res­olution. In this example, the former President argued, “Most of them [American soldiers] are fighting for the attainment of peace–not just a truce, not just an armistice–but peace that is as strongly enforced and as durable as mortal man can make it” (“A Theory of Truces,” 2015). Such a mentality has continued to the present, Eisikovits argues, pointing to several more re­cent examples of failed peace attempts in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Eisikovits asserts that the longstanding bi­nary of war and peace in political discourse has often led to the unnecessary perpetuation of violence. “Part of what I’m arguing is that the way we’re thinking of conflict is oversim­plified and can lead to some dead ends that are not necessary,” he said. In other words, a singular focus on achieving permanent peace is not always feasible or desirable. In fact, as demonstrated through numerous examples in his book, Eisikovits argues that trucemaking between belligerents, even if only for the short-term, may result in fewer deaths than prolong­ing war with hopes that permanent peace could eventually be achieved.

Professor of Philosophy Jamie Kelly, who invited Eisikovits to campus, concurred. “The concepts of war and peace are so deeply em­bedded in the way we think about conflict that they usually go unexamined and unques­tioned,” he said in an emailed statement. “Pro­fessor Eisikovits is…questioning the status of a permanent peace as the only acceptable way of winding down conflict. By rehabilitating the idea of a truce, he requires us to reevaluate the basic conceptual framework we use to under­stand contemporary conflicts.”

Traditional discourses that emphasize the binary of war and peace have become increas­ingly irrelevant as the very nature of conflict has transformed over the past several decades. No longer does war refer exclusively to a con­flict between two countries. The rise of guerril­la and other militant organizations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS has transformed the landscape of armed conflict into one increasingly based upon wars between states and organizations. This concept of “asymmetric warfare”–war oc­curring between an established military and a rogue movement–has indeed pushed political philosophers to dig deeper and to question such traditional discourses of conflict and con­flict resolution. As Eisikovits prompts, “What does it mean to win a war when wars don’t hap­pen between two states anymore, but between a country and an organization?”

Kelly invited Eisikovits to campus to bring a new perspective on armed conflict and peace­making to the Vassar community. “I hope that his foundational work on truces, combined with his knowledge of the contemporary situ­ation in the Middle East will provide a stimu­lating new way of thinking about these issues,” Kelly said.

While not focusing in depth on the specific case studies included in “A Theory of Truc­es,” Eisikovits hopes to discuss more generally the thinking behind war. “Why is our thinking about winding down and ending wars only car­ried out in terms of war and peace, when many wars don’t actually end completely? We’re missing some category in our thought [about war and peace].” He will include several exam­ples in which trucemaking has offered a prom­ising alternative to the prolongation of violent conflict, such as the lead up to the Revolution­ary War in the United States and the transition to democracy in Spain in the late 1970s.

Elise Ferguson ’17, who plans on attend­ing Friday’s lecture, expressed her interests in learning more about the roots of such nar­row-minded thinking: “I think that we get caught up in dichotomous thinking with a lot of issues within society, war and peace being just one example. This kind of framework rare­ly reflects our reality, I think, and the rigidity of it is never helpful in conflict solving. I’d be interested to see if he [Eisikovits] has a theory as to why such patterns of thinking arise in the first place.”

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