The Missing Peace, a one-volume survey of U.S. history from Native American origins through the end of the Cold War, offers an ambitious reinterpretation of both familiar and lesser-known events in the nation's past. Juhnke and Hunter prompt readers to consider the legacies of violent historical events and institutions--wars and slavery, for example--as well as the alternatives proposed by peaceminded leaders along the way. Is it conceivable that the birth and development of the nation from the 1770s onward could have occurred without war? In the nineteenth century, might it have been possible for the nation to abolish slavery and ensure African-Americans' freedom and rights without the fighting of the Civil War? Throughout the work, the authors reexamine assumptions about the inevitability of violence. They suggest interpretations that both unmask legacies of violence and highlight the contributions of historical figures who sought reconciliation and justice through nonviolent means.
One of the authors' intriguing phrases is that "peace broke out." During a 1968 reenactment of the Washita massacre in Oklahoma Territory a hundred years earlier, Cheyenne descendants of those killed in the massacre reconciled with the descendants of Custer's Seventh Cavalry. Peace broke out when a Cheyenne peace chief placed a blanket over the shoulders of the leader of the military re-enactment, leading to a symbolic exchange of gifts that signified reconciliation over the century-old legacy of senseless killing. Another of Juhnke and Hunter's examples, drawn from early national history, asserts that "peace broke out" between adversaries France and the United States in 1799. In that episode, President John Adams, supported by army commander George Washington, took steps to avoid a seemingly inevitable war with France over naval hostilities and expansionist rivalry. Readers of American history are accustomed to hearing about the outbreak of war, but rarely if ever about an outbreak of peace. This book attempts to shift the readers' acceptance of sanctioned violence toward an alternative vision of the past.
This is a conceptually ambitious work. The authors acknowledge that they have been "relentlessly revisionist" in covering events from the colonial period through the late twentieth century (p. 7). Their thesis may surprise and vex readers accustomed to accepting certain notions about American history; most notably, that the nation's wars have been inevitable. The authors offer a conceptual approach that pricks reader consciousness in three ways. First, they critique the repeated use of violence by asserting its legacies of escalating violence. Second, they frame historical events in terms of how well those events measured up to goals of reconciliation and justice (rather than self-willed triumph). And third, they highlight the historical experiences of people who worked for nonviolent alternatives. In short, the authors assert, "we want to rethink the notion of 'success' and reclaim the hidden heritage of a 'nonviolent America'" (p. 13).
Most of the book's thirteen chapters follow a chronological narrative of the nation's founding, development, and gradual shifting of position in world affairs. But as the authors interpret and analyze event after event with their three-pronged approach of exposing legacies of violence, highlighting struggles for justice, and introducing peacemakers, they make the further argument that the teaching of history has usually been inadequate. In the book's preface, the authors ask whether American history "really is only carnage and inhumanity--or is this a problem with the way in which history is taught and sold?" (p. 10). The authors come down firmly on the side of the latter, saying that their purpose "is to begin the process of emancipating U.S. history from the tyranny of our violent imaginations . . . [through which] the linkage of violence and freedom in U.S. experience has grown into a powerful national myth" (pp. 11-12).
Thus, the book is provocative at several levels, for it requires readers to test preconceived ideas about various subjects against the authors' interpretations of those events. Simultaneously, readers are drawn to consider the ways in which they themselves have long absorbed American history--in classrooms, as readers, and as participant-citizens--in the vein of what Juhnke and Hunter are calling national mythology.
All of this is to say that the book, fascinating as it is, does not make for comfortable reading. The authors assert that they are offering a new perspective that rejects the grand triumphalism of traditional historical narrative, and so they are. They also argue that their interpretive lens offers a more cohesive vision of the United States' past than does radical New Leftist scholarship, which often fails to move beyond critique. Juhnke and Hunter claim to offer "a perspective of constructive nonviolence as an alternative to triumphalist nationalism and destructive cultural criticism, both of which often assume that violence is redemptive" (p. 270). Despite this analytic ideal, however, the book's authors are much closer ideologically to Howard Zinn and other radical critics of American culture than to sentimentalistic purveyors of the past.
Among the strengths of this book is its accessibility to general readers ready to consider the book's interpretive challenge. The Missing Peace is geared toward college-level and general audiences, with discussion-oriented questions woven throughout the text. For example, in considering Native American history: who contributed more to the survival of this minority culture over centuries of encounters with whites--Indian warriors, or peacemakers and prophets? Or, in studying the history of the Revolutionary War: how does the rising tide of mob violence help to explain links between war, freedom, and democracy? With regard to the abolitionist movement, did nonviolent attempts to oppose slavery really fail?
The authors' forays into the realm of speculative history, in which they offer "what if" scenarios as alternatives to the past, open up imaginative thinking. And yet, at times they seem to meander into wishful thinking. In these instances, the possibilities with which they present us do not adequately satisfy our desire to make sense of the past. For example, in a chapter dealing with the first half of the nineteenth century, the authors rightly describe the war against Mexico in 1846-47 as a particularly grievous example of aggressive national expansion. As they point out, some Americans at the time regarded the war an outgrowth of the ideals of manifest destiny. But for today's students of nineteenth-century America, the United States' invasion of Mexico is difficult to justify. In comparison with the American Revolution and the Civil War, the war against Mexico seems a greedy and shameful conquest. Is such an assessment realistic and warranted? It probably is. But the authors of The Missing Peace, aiming to offer an alternative vision to 1840s-style American militarism, go on to suggest that we "imagine that a separate nation might have come into existence on the west coast, and that the Republic of Texas and a Republic of California might have joined with the United States in a confederation less addicted to violence and expansionism than was the American nation" (pp. 73-74). Most readers will be hard-pressed to imagine such a scenario, for it seems to offer more of a whimsical vision than a usable one.
And yet, on balance, the many merits of The Missing Peace include its realism. Who can argue with the notion that violence permeated twentieth-century American life and that public and private fascination with violent images continue to influence our collective memory? Why is it that so many Americans can only conceive of fighting violence by responding with more violence? And how do we draw out the strands of our cultural, national, and religious heritage that symbolize resistance to violence and the affirmation of human worth? The Missing Peace addresses these questions head-on and gives us authentic images of people who have long yearned for peace.
Rachel Waltner Goossen
Department of History