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A Quest for World Peace

Summer 2012 | By Kathy Mayer. Photo by $photocredit.value.

Agaptus Anaele, graduate student in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and member of the Purdue Peace Project Research Team, interviews the president of the Brong Aghafo Council of Chiefs, Nana Osahene Kwaku Aterkyi II.

If a defining treatise were written covering all wars, their results, and how peace, if achieved, came to be, the tome might begin with a tale told in stone, the carved monument known as Stele of the Vultures. Its relief depicts a Sumerian conflict some 4,500 years ago that ended in conquest, not a peace by today's standards.

There's no definitive answer for those who study the reasons for war and the elusiveness of peace. Even so, the quest goes on, three efforts in Purdue University's College of Liberal Arts, each differing in approach, embrace the potential for peace and the search for how it might be achieved.

A study begun in 1997 and led by Charles Ingrao, professor of history, centers on ferreting the facts of recent Yugoslav conflicts. Students enrolled in the Peace Studies minor, launched in fall 2001, widely explore the topic. The third and newest, the Purdue Peace Project, debuted this year to encourage and assist local leaders in conflict-prone areas in preventing violence.

New Edition, The Scholars' Initiative

With 15 years of scrutiny to its credit, The Scholars' Initiative: Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies, remains dynamic, this fall publishing updated research and a new report.

More than 300 scholars from 30 countries are involved, examining documentary evidence and other published materials from 1986 to 2000 about key controversies dividing the region.

"The project design is long-term," says Ingrao. "We get all sides and the scholars together, and we agree on a common narrative that embodies what we know to be true."

In the process, he says, "Myths get exposed, and we dispose of the myths that often justify what one wants to do to the other."

One goal is to bridge the gap that separates scholarly knowledge of events from interpretations that nationalist politicians and media have communicated.

Objective study in hand, Ingrao says, "We meet with political leaders." Those continue over time, especially as leaders die or are voted out of office. "It involves a lot of personal diplomacy and salesmanship."

The project took him to numerous countries for presentations during this past summer.

Potential results are far off and far-reaching, Ingrao says. "We have to reprogram educational systems, an important step in the process. We have scholars rewriting the master narrative, but it could take 40 years to get it in schoolbooks. You don't dig your way of out this hole overnight."

Off Powdermill Road

Alumnus Funds Purdue Peace Project

When it comes to education, corporate leadership, business strategy, publishing, and even artistic expression, Milton Lauenstein (CE '45) has tallied enviable successes. Besides his Purdue University degree, he earned a master's of business administration from the University of Chicago, led numerous corporations, taught business policy and strategy at two universities, wrote a book and numerous articles, and took up painting peaceful landscapes such as "Powdermill Road," pictured above.

Now retired with residences in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Lauenstein is doggedly pursuing his most important quest ever: peaceful solutions to armed conflicts. With that goal in mind, he funded the College of Liberal Arts' Purdue Peace Project, launched in January 2012.

"This business of war has bugged me all my life," says Lauenstein, who read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War as a young man. "I was struck by the similarity of the behavior of ancient leaders and the way leaders behave these days. It seems to me that humanity has the ability to do better."

When he retired in 2001, he decided to invest the earnings from the sale of a small company "to support work for peace."

As he gave to various initiatives, he came to realize, "I want to address ad hoc situations that might trigger violence."

That led him to Purdue, where his contribution is helping to identify brewing conflicts, research the effects of pre-violence intervention, and replicate peaceful resolutions.

Peace Studies 'A Big Tent'

Fifteen students are currently minoring in Peace Studies, with about 75 earning a minor since the program began 11 years ago, the program's director, Harry Targ, reports.

"Peace Studies is a big tent. Some students are interested in human rights, political economy, war and peace, or women's rights," he says. "We begin with an introductory course that explores the field and all its variations, with additional courses that concentrate on the areas of student interest."

Those might include English courses, such as Literature of Black America or Nobel Prize Winners in Literature; Political Science's Modern Weapons and International Relations or Selected Problems in World Order; or courses in history, philosophy, sociology, or other areas.

"Students who take the introductory course seem to be interested in and concerned about world problems," Targ says. "That's one of my motivations for engaging in peace studies. We want to serve those students who have public concerns about domestic and international issues."

They develop individual program packages, usually centered on a topic, through consultation with faculty on the Committee on Peace Students; 15 credit hours are required for the minor.

"A peace studies minor won't change the world, but if you educate a few students who get engaged and work on these issues and problems, that's pretty exciting," Targ says. "That's what we're about."

Purdue Peace Project Goal: Prevent Violence

Work is already well under way on the newly launched Purdue Peace Project, with its first project in Ghana, where "we feel we can have an impact," says Professor Stacey Connaughton, the project director.

"Our focus is the prevention of violence," she says. "We are a team dedicated to doing good research and doing research that makes a difference. We believe in genuinely listening to the voices of the local citizens and working with them every step of the way."

The team has identified a situation that could escalate, and it is working on the ground with local leaders to prevent that. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, details and location are under wraps for now.

"We focus on results, building on the capacity of local leaders, so the action comes from the communities," Connaughton says. "We complement existing programs that seek structural change."

Purdue's responsibility is listening, gathering data, and testing whether the chosen approach is valid, she explains. Data gathered depends on the project, and might include interviews with local citizens and leaders, observations at meetings, and a collection of media reports. Purdue also will disseminate results to various audiences.

This summer, graduate researcher and Brian Lamb School of Communication doctoral student Agaptus Anaele, who is a Ford Foundation International Fellow from Nigeria and familiar with the local culture, spent time in Ghana doing research.

"We see the Purdue Peace Project as an opportunity to make real-life impact in human lives, especially in countries where threats to violence exist," Anaele says. "In line with the Purdue Peace Project concept, it is our hope that this project will help to prevent potential violence in local communities where such threats exist."

"We never want to dictate what should be done," Connaughton says. "We try to provide opportunities for people to come together and act to prevent violence."

Besides Connaughton and Anaele, the team includes former Purdue Professor of Communicaion, Mohan Dutta (now at the National University of Singapore), who is principal investigator and project report lead investigator, and Rosaline Obeng-Ofori, West Africa program manager, who has experience in human rights, gender equality, peace building, and development work. The team also includes Communication doctoral students Christina Jones, Shavonne Shorter, and Dorothy Snyder.

The Purdue Peace Project received initial funding from retired businessman and philanthropist Milton Lauenstein (CE '45), who is drawn to the violence-prevention aspect (see sidebar).

"I like the project's focus on immediate threats to peace," he says, "and that it will write and disseminate reports on what they did and what the outcomes were. The project is based on helping local leaders do what they believe will be most effective in preventing armed conflict in fragile states."

Its value would also be in applying what's learned to other areas, Connaughton says. "If we are successful in Ghana, we would then move to other parts of the world."

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