I have begun writing (well, researching) a new book on why and how the public approves of and thus legitimises war fought in its name. In a democracy, if not also in a dictatorship, the people must approve of or at least tolerate war if the state is going to commit billions of dollars and thousands of lives to it. Each section of my book will explore the causes of war from the public’s perspective. Some questions I will ask include, why did the American public allow the US to invade Iraq in 2003? How do Israeli history books affect the way Israelis see Arabs? Why do Christians and Muslims in Jos, Nigeria, fight each other? And why did some Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka encourage the war against the Tamil Tigers?
I have several ideas for an introduction. One of them is to discuss Costa Rica. Costa Rica is surely one of the most peaceful countries in the world. It has done what so few other states have: abolished its military and replaced it with a civil guard. And yet, this apparently easy target has managed to avoid most of the bloodshed that its neighbours in Central America have suffered. Before going into why this might be, let us turn to the lens through which we will analyse Costa Rica: stoicism.
An article by William O. Stephens in Star Wars and Philosophy entitled “Stoicism in the Stars: Yoda, the Emperor and the Force” describes Yoda as a stoic. The stoics in ancient Greece believed in acting virtuously and in harmony with their fate. They remained happy by accepting the things they could not change. They were in no danger from the Dark Side of the Force.
Yoda was patient. He lived waiting for the jedi to arrive so that he could train him. When Luke Skywalker arrived in Yoda’s swamp, insisting that they hurry to be taken to the jedi master, Yoda bid him stay and eat first. During training, Yoda implores Luke to focus on the present. The jedi’s mind does not wander to future adventures but remains rooted in the present, choosing the right moves for the right time. Instead of seeking excitement and risk, the jedi seeks virtue through control of his emotions, equanimity and calmness. The jedi’s mind is at peace, even when all around is chaos. The jedi may be happy and humorous. He avoids anger, fear, aggression: The Dark Side of the Force are they. He uses the Force for wisdom and defence, but never aggression. Let us see how Costa Rica fits this mold.
First, as mentioned above, Costa Rica has no military. That means it cannot, at least not easily, prosecute a war of aggression. Not only is aggression clearly not a virtue in Costa Rica, it has become effectively impossible.
Second, Costa Rica ranks first in the 2009 Happy Planet Index, which measures happiness, health and sustainable development. This achievement accords with its rank of third in the world and first in Latin America in the Environmental Performance Index for 2010.
Third, its history has been more peaceful than those of its neighbours. It went through a civil war in 1948–for six weeks. Contrast this with Nicaragua’s ten year civil war and Guatemala’s incredible 36 year civil war and we see that Costa Ricans have escaped the misfortune that they could have. This observation of chaos outside its borders and peace within presumably allowed Costa Ricans the privileges of stoicism.
Oscar Arias Sanchez, elected president of Costa Rica in 1986, is a jedi. In 1987, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Esquipulas Peace Agreement that played a major role in ending the wars of ideology and beginning democratisation in Central America. He has also won the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and is a trustee of the NGO Economist for Peace and Security.
Oscar Sanchez was reelected in 2006. At a speech in Trinidad and Tobago last year, he reprimanded fellow Latin American leaders for spending too much on their militaries and not enough on education. He was proposing they leave the path to the Dark Side and seek wisdom, enlightenment, peace.
Costa Rica is a strong example of a peaceful state. It could be an excellent introduction to my next book, as a contrast to the states I will be examining.