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Relax on Peace


About two months ago, our favorite Japanese consumer-lifestyle magazine Relax did a special feature on “peace,” which our favorite Scottish musician/critic Momus called in a recent comment on this blog, “quite admirable.” I agree there is something positive about dedicating space to world peace and anti-nuclear proliferation instead of limited-edition sneakers, but the issue asks the question: Can “peace” be a lifestyle choice devoid of political underpinnings?

As this Relax hit the stands, Japanese voters were gearing up to go to the polls, and while postal privatization was the primary issue, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party has recently been showing explicit interest in altering the “Peace Constitution” to remilitarize Japan, antagonizing China and Korea with visits to the nationalistic Yasukuni shrine, and continuing the use of Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the American Iraq War. So, voting against the LDP would be an extremely easy way to “give peace a chance.”

Relax, of course, cannot bring politics into the “Peace” issue. For fear of upsetting advertisers, readers, and the Magazine House higher-ups, the concept must remain a form of laid-back consumer lifestyle and not an anti-social or political rally point. I salute Relax for not doing an issue on “Yasukuni O-share” but I wonder how much credit one deserves for wearing a black-and-white “WAR IS OVER if you want it” t-shirt one month and then forgetting to actually “want it” at the next election. At this moment in time, Japan is closer to rearming than it has ever been, and motivated youth voters could actually use the democratic outlets available to them to send a message to the Neo-Nationalists in the majority party.

Perhaps we cannot expect the media to really work towards peace, and they may be limited in action to collecting fashionable artists to do exclusive pieces on the subject. “Rock the Vote” and other American youth-oriented political programs were hardly enough to bring down the warmongering Bush presidency. I very much doubt, however, that a German magazine would dedicate an issue to “Pacifism” and not mention the War (WWII or Iraq) nor political action. I have no doubt that a majority of the Japanese public wants to maintain a peaceful existence, but I fear that just wearing the concept like a warm scarf is not enough to change the minds of those who hold the ultimate decision-making power.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
October 20, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

48 Responses

  1. jasong Says:

    …I fear that just wearing the concept like a warm scarf is not enough to change the minds of those who hold the ultimate decision-making power

    It probably isn’t, but is that worse than militant peaceniks? (being devil’s advocate here)

    Regarding Koizumi/Yasukuni, there are articles splashed all over the media, but there was a decent one in the Wall Street Journal two days ago that had a couple facts I hadn’t heard before. Being the WSJ, it placed everything in the context of China and Japan’s respective economies. And being the WSJ, it’s only available to online subscribers!

  2. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I’ve been recommending this link:

    from an old-guard nihonjinronist, which throws the meaning of the visits into sharp relief, and goes a long way towards explaining why Japan’s neighbours are so upset about Yasukuni.

  3. Bill Humphries Says:

    Not to send things spinning into a politics thing, but wasn’t the major issue about privatizing the Japanese Postal system that it also runs the savings accounts for a significant fraction of the citizenry?

    I started reading via Momus, by the way. Enjoying the blog.

  4. nate Says:

    I was just telling one of my english teachers about syllogisms.

    relax-style peace is to “a world without war” as:

    a. harajuku-swastikas are to concentration camps
    b. japanese “slow life” is to european “slow life”
    c. cyzo is to 2-ch
    d. momus is to marxy

    (that covers the big memes around here, right?)

  5. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Admirable concept shallowly addressed or not…
    that cover looks ugly as hell.

  6. Momus Says:

    I recently searched Google News for articles containing the word “militaristic”. Here are the Top 10 results I got, with the country named as “militaristic”, and the period in which the militarism is being referred to:

    Japan past
    Japan past
    China future
    Australia-US present
    Japan past
    Chile present
    Cuba present
    US future
    China, past

    I find it interesting that Japan, the least militarized of all the advanced nations, gets this word “militaristic” thrown at it in the media so much, whereas the US, currently the world’s most militaristic nation, so rarely does. I can only assume that using the word “militaristic” or “militarization” is nothing to do with actual fire-power, aggressive acts, or present deeds, but something to do with wanting to attack the country you’re describing verbally.

  7. Momus Says:

    That search was done two days ago. Today the same search yields:

    Japan, past
    US, past
    Israel, present
    “Desert societies”, past
    Liberia, present
    US, past
    Japan, past
    Japan, past
    Er, The Prodigy, on some old album

  8. marxy Says:

    It’s the Sleazeball Effect: everyone knows America has an aggressive, militaristic foreign policy, so it’s too obvious to write about. It’s like going on and on about how Republicans are evil: yeah, we know.

    Japan is the most pacifistic of all postmodern nations, but ruled by one-party which fundamentally disagrees with the US-provided constitution’s military limitations. Therein lies the inequilibrium, and therefore, the point of interest.

    If the Nazis in Germany had all stuck around the Fatherland and started calling themselves the “Liberal Party” or something and ruled Germany for 55 years, the world would probably be pretty suspicious of German nationalism too.

  9. Chris_B Says:

    momus: are you aware that Japan spends a hell of alot f money on arming its “self defence forces”? I only wish the budgets on that were even a quarter as transparent as those of the US (not that the Pentagon budgets are transparent, but at least there is some concept of oversight). Your google news search idea is interesting but perhaps not at more than a trivial level.

    marxy: you sure do paint with a big brush! I for one was not aware that Republicans were evil. Also as someone who is educated in the history of the second half of the twentieth century in regards to Japan, you must also be aware that the pacifism is enforced. Additionally I wonder even if the voters here were to swarm to an opposition party, would that actually have any effect on the defence budget and or proposals to re-evaluate Article 9? Believe it or not, some of the concerns in regards to Article 9 are indeed valid within the framework of “self defence”.

  10. henryperri Says:

    Liberals, as pacificsts by nature, tend not to have an interest in war or history. If they had a knowledge of the history of war, they’d know that war as this world has known it, is basically over. There won’t be any more hi-tech tank vs. tank wars like there were in Euorpe with millions of people dying on each side. All countries, including the US, are too scared to use even small nuke arms. All conflicts (outside of certain crazy tribal wars in Africa) are now fought on a PR level. The more people you kill on the other side, the worse the PR for your country.

    The idea that Japan is ever going to get into another war is absurd. They have too much to lose and their public couldn’t even stomach 1 or 2 people dying in Iraq. Your fears are greatly exaggerated. Take a deep breath and enjoy a world which is probably in the the most peaceful state it’s been thanks to modern innovations and share international economic interest.

  11. henryperri Says:


  12. marxy Says:

    That’s the rational view, and I basically agree with you.

    So, let’s say Japan rearms, but doesn’t go to war – it’s just a “spiritual” rearming. Do I find this wrong as an educated middle-class liberal because I’m discriminating against the tastes of the right-wing who tend to glorify war? Is this not Pacifism vs. War Mongering in reality, but a clash of values, as if Peace were Volvos and War were Cadillacs. In the case of America, the Iraq War draws a real distinction between being pro-Bush and anti-Bush, maybe not life-or-death for us personally, but for US soldiers and Iraqis. With regards to Japan, is this just a clash of values that have a minimal chance of actually becoming real positions on war?

  13. jasong Says:

    The only Google search that matters:

    Type “failure” and then click “I’m Feeling Lucky”…

    It’s an oldie, but a goodie

  14. henryperri Says:

    I see where you’re coming from. I guess the difference between the US and Japan is that the US sees itself in a paternal/enforcer role whereas Japan does not see itself in that light. When the US engages in war on foreign soil, it is with the general intention of shaping the world around it to a specific mold with which it can survive (democracy vs. communism/authoritarianism/extremism).

    With Japan, I think their rearmament is not rooted in an ideological agenda, and has more to do with pride, nostalgia, and perhaps local self-defense concerns.

  15. Yago Says:

    Japan couldn’t stand 2 dead in Iraq now, but it is increasingly nationalistic, and most of the population actually supports scrapping the pacifist clause on the constitution. DPJ’s Maehara is quite a Hawk, so you can’t even trust the opposition for “pacifism”.

    I really see the Japanese supporting a war supposing hundreds of troops dead in, say, 10 years.

  16. marxy Says:

    A long time ago, I heard Kato Koichi speak in America, and he claimed that Japan’s navy was bigger than North Korea’s. If this is not technically true, it may be close to being true. With the help of the US, I’m sure Japan has adequate defense against its neighbors. So the question of remilitarization is either one of pride/honor or one of self-reliance. Leftists who want to remove Japan from US military protection have to figure a different scheme for self-defense. Now that the Cold War is over, however, does Japan really need the US security umbrella besides a full-out war with China (which will most likely never happen)?

  17. nate Says:

    would clinton’s america have done the things that bush’s has? It doesn’t take a huge shift in the electorate to make a huge shift in foreign policy.

    However, the problematic side of japan rearming has never been what japan might do with weapons, but what china might do with an armed neighbor. Japan may have a reasonable claim to rearming in terms of self determination, but the ripples that would flow from that are pretty huge. China only needs a little provocation and reason to believe that the us will let it slide to reabsorb taiwan.

  18. Momus Says:

    With the help of the US, I’m sure Japan has adequate defense against its neighbors. So the question of remilitarization is either one of pride/honor or one of self-reliance

    Takashi Murakami characterised Japan as a “little boy” in his exhibition of the same name this year, making a link between the way WW2 ended (with the mushroom cloud he often depicts in his paintings) and the subsequent infantilization of Japanese popular culture, with otaku and lolicon culture. Japan was under America’s mushroom cloud, and now it’s under America’s nuclear umbrella. However, China is growing very quickly, and US investment in China is enormous. What’s more, the dollar is keeping its inflated value only thanks to Asian banks purchasing US government debt. Most people see a rapid “correction” on the horizon in which the US dollar will suddenly lose a lot of its value, and the whole world financial system will be destabilized as a result. When / if that happens, can Japan really be sure that the US will automatically take its side if things get ugly with China? Even if US companies have massively more staked in China than in Japan?

    It seems to me inconsistent to argue, as Marxy has on this blog, against a de-politicized, infantile atmosphere in Japan, and also say that Japan shouldn’t adopt the “adult” stance towards its own defense, which would be to have, for instance, enough nuclear capacity to defend itself should the world balance of power shift away from America. This is not, by the way, incompatible with peacefulness, as nearly 6 decades of Mutually-Assured Destruction-based stability between the world’s major powers proves.

  19. henryperri Says:

    First you say the US’s investment in China is “enormous.” Then you say that “most people” suggest the dollar will lose alot of its value rapidly (and yet countries continue to invest in the US).

    But you ignore the connection here, which is that if the dollar becomes significantly devalued, so do all the bonds that China has bought from the US. In other words, both countries are tethered to each other, economically. It is, then, in everyone’s interest to get along. Capitalism is like the economic version of the nuclear standoff. No civilized country can attack another because it means pulling the plug on themselves as well.

  20. marxy Says:

    also say that Japan shouldn’t adopt the “adult” stance towards its own defense, which would be to have, for instance, enough nuclear capacity to defend itself should the world balance of power shift away from America.

    So, you’re for Japanese remilitarization?

  21. r. Says:

  22. r. Says:

    nick say: infantile atmosphere in Japan, and also say that Japan shouldn’t adopt the “adult” stance towards its own defense, which would be to have, for instance, enough nuclear capacity to defend itself

    r. say: if the only way we has humans can ensure world peace is thru mutually ensured destruction, then i think we’d have been better off pushing the button during the cold war and ending it there.

    nick say: This is not, by the way, incompatible with peacefulness, as nearly 6 decades of Mutually-Assured Destruction-based stability between the world’s major powers proves.

    r. say: you shouldn’t have to be told this, but…you should 1) re-read bertrand russell’s amazing speech, “shall we choose death?” and then

    2) compare your measly “6 decades” with the course of war and human history. tis but a flash in the pan, and nothing to be “proud” of! look, we’ve chosen NOT to atomize one another for 60 years, aren’t WE mature!

  23. Momus Says:

    So, you’re for Japanese remilitarization?

    I agree with Henry Perry that mutual interest makes war much less likely than it was last century. Then again, there’s the possibility of huge instability in the 21st century, so I do think Japan needs a basic defensive capability, its own nuclear deterrent. Please don’t assume that the current status quo will ensure pacifism: being under America’s nuclear umbrella means Japan has to go along with American wars. If the US continues shifting to the right, and into imperialism, Japan will have to keep sending troops to whichever countries the US decides to invade. Stepping out from the US nuclear umbrella would prevent that aggression, and would allow Japan to avoid militarization.

    What’s more, I’d like to hear your take on my point about the contradiction between deploring Japan’s infantilization and saying it shouldn’t be responsible for its own defense. Is Japan to remain a “little boy” forever?

  24. marxy Says:

    No, I’ve recently realized that Japan has to “grow up” at some point and be constitutionally allowed to hold a full military. I do not, however, trust the LDP to be the ones to change the constitution. They’d probably cut out the equal rights for women part if someone gave them big enough scissors.

    Realistically, Japan is a one-party state, so this is all going to end up happening in the next decade or so under the conservatives, who are currently making a big “values” issue out of nationalism and reclaiming Imperial glory bit by bit. I honestly don’t quite understand what Koizumi gains from going to Yasukuni, other than pleasing the Hard Right. But do they really need to be pleased at this point? Something beyond practical realpolitik is going on, and it’s unsettling.

  25. Chris_B Says:

    momus: interesting idea. flawed but interesting.

    marxy: here’s what Koizumi gains: a tiny bit of independant dignity by not obeying the gangster govt of communist china. Whether that is “adult” or not is another question.

    Anyways, Japan cant really afford to be an independant military player in this regions game, not without sacrificing too many other things. The very thought is just as laughable as the EUrocrats claiming they will build a rapid response force or an EU wide military. Which sacred cows will be sacrificed in order to pay the bill? Japan cant even get spy satelites up to check out what is going on across a short distance of water for crying out loud.

  26. r. Says:

    once again, chris provides us with a much needed, real-world insight.

  27. marxy Says:

    Yeah, I forgot about the budget issue. Although armies do make a great form of right-wing welfare!

  28. der Says:

    There was an interesting review of that (very disappointing, I thought) Murakami exhibition in the New York Review: recently, touching on some of the issues discussed here.

  29. Momus Says:

    Ian Buruma, who wrote that, is one of my heroes, but a certain tut-tutting tone has crept into his writing about Japan recently. It’s funny, I was also disappointed by the “Little Boy” show, but for quite the opposite reasons to Buruma. He thinks Murakami has become “exaggerated”, I think he’s become bland. He thinks Murakami’s analysis is wrong, I think it’s right. He thinks the work on display in “Little Boy” is monstrous, unrealistic, and dangerously appealing, I think it’s tame and repetitive and quite realistic. But Buruma actually, in his caveats and between-the-lines views, gives Murakami a pretty important position, spokesman for a generation. And I find it interesting that he says the erotic emphasis is a result of political frustration. I think this is true, and it’s one of the best things about Japan. I mean, that statistic about equivalent slices of GNP being spent on defense and sex says it all, really. Go forth and beat your sickles into… well, just beat them, really.

  30. marxy Says:

    I mean, that statistic about equivalent slices of GNP being spent on defense and sex says it all, really.

    You know that countries don’t have to spend money on sex, right? In most societies, men and women can be persuaded to engage in sexual activity without the direct transfer of cash. “Non-profit sex” I think they call it.

  31. Michael McCarthy Says:

    Japan probably has more cause -now- to rearm, than ever before. Korea isn’t a big problem persay for the United States. Korea doesn’t particularly pose a nuclear threat to the United States, but it would to Japan. What’s going on with Korean disarmament? They recently changed their minds at the last minute and demanded nuclear reactor technology…

    China threatens Taiwan by the time of the next world Olympics. They say that the Olympics wont stop them from going to war to re-claim a democratic (unrecognised) Taiwan.

    That said, ‘relax’ peaceism is the defacto standard. Peace isn’t just involved in anti-war, it’s involved in basic human rights… When people start thinking about basic human rights and standards of living, they wonder why their helthcare system is so shot, and start asking questions, they ask why they have to do all of their shopping at a grim .99 cent shop.

    Besides. Thinking about the issue is much more difficult than simply buying it, just— relax.

    “It rocks so that the world may become one.”*
    —found Japanese t-shirt sloagan, Yukari Gaoka.

    *(one nation at a time, one at a time please.)

  32. Michael McCarthy Says:

    Sorry for the double post, but come to think of it, true peace is always on the move. True peace NEVER relaxes.

  33. Chris_B Says:

    human rights? in Japan? um…. ok…. but seriously folks, how bout that veal? More seriously, how bout that Teppodong III? The one which flew over our nation a few years ago which the locals didnt know about until Uncle Sam called up on the phone and said “guess who just demonstrated that your nation is within 10 minutes flight of their misiles?”

    Kimmy dont need to drop no nuke on Tokyo. Just a couple a regular warheads or some biochem stuff and this fine metropolis is pretty much out of business. We have no civil defence infrastructure so speak of, no detection capability, and the gods own truth is the fincancial infrastructure aint redundant. Buh bye to the Big 4, the BOJ, the SDF and the command and control infrastructure.

    I-self is mighty happy that Uncle Sam & Uncle Koizumi (and even Uncle Hu for that matter) are engaging Lil Kim in the 6 way talks and even happier that there is a bit of deterrant causing havoc amongst the local girls down in Okinawa. Three cheers for Koizumi san showing that Japan is now adult enough to participate in regional peace keeping. Three cheers for the JSDF guys who don the blue helmets for the UN (and thanks to the Dutch for making sure the JSDF boys in Iraq dont get their asses shot off).

  34. marxy Says:

    Does NK have any rational reason to nuke Tokyo? It would certainly mean a total and absolute end to NK, and I don’t think Kim is that crazy. He’d rather sit back, live like a mob don, and collect porn from all over the world. The nukes are just so the US won’t invade a la Iraq.

  35. Momus Says:

    Does NK have any rational reason to nuke Tokyo? It would certainly mean a total and absolute end to NK, and I don’t think Kim is that crazy.

    Yes, but he might just nuke a couple of streets in Daikanyama.

  36. r. Says:

    nick: nuke a couple of streets in daikanyama

    r.: peace sells, but who’s wearing?

  37. marxy Says:

    The problem with peace in Japan is, how can something now being sold have any value?

  38. Momus Says:

    Aren’t you being ultra-cynical there? We have two systems co-existing, a money system and a culture system. The fact that something can exist in the money system (be sold) does not void it of all cultural significance. To believe that it does is to embrace what I’ve called “moronic cynicism”.

  39. Chris_B Says:

    momus: your pie hole is moving, but too many words come out. Isnt it rather artificial to divdide money and culture?

  40. marxy Says:

    No, but the point I’m always making on my blog is the way that the Japanese mainstream media complex cannot consecrate a cultural item outside of notings its commercial success. Just by judging the Japanese media message (the importance of which should not be underestimated) nothing is good if not popular, and nothing is popular if not a market success. When the public dialogue is not allowed to judge pieces of culture subjectively, people have to rely on the money system’s “objective” measurements to try to predict value (if they haven’t had access to the thing personally). And often that leads to the adoption of only the money system’s significance.

    There is a cynical edge to my comment, but there is also lots of empirical evidence that a majority of Japanese consumers cannot “experience” anything without making a financial transaction towards it. So, if they want to sell peace to kids, they’re going to have to really sell peace to kids. That’s why “Free Tibet” isn’t going well either: they need to charge at least 2000 yen to suggest high product quality.

  41. Momus Says:

    the Japanese mainstream media complex cannot consecrate a cultural item outside of notings its commercial success

    I’m afraid I don’t find that to be the case. Take TV; endless shows in which the “cultural items being consecrated” are food and comedy. The food has a price-tag, sure, but the “consecration” comes at the moment when someone tastes it and says “Oishi!!” The comedian may have a show to plug, but what really matters is that he’s funny, and relaxes people, makes them lighten up after a stressful day, or proves how humour makes you a good team player.

    Also, I think what’s very interesting about the Japanese capitalist system is that it contains an invisible and undeclared protectionism which is very much about cultural values. The fact that the domestic market for pop music in Japan, for instance, has something like 70% Japanese-language records in it, without having had to resort to explicit French-style quotas on radio play etc, is an incredible state of affairs. It owes a lot to the consumers, of course, but also to the determination of business cabals and politicians to keep figures like Rupert Murdoch (currently very active in China, but unable to break into Japan) out of their markets. Markets themselves incarnate cultural values, which is a good reason not to open them up to just anyone.

  42. Momus Says:

    A slight correction: Rupert Murdoch has an 11% stake in SkyPerfecTV in Japan, but his attempts to gain a foothold in the market are considered a failure, according to this article in the Economist. In China he can’t collect subscriptions because it’s illegal to watch his channels, but many do. His biggest failure is continental Europe, where the law has been changed in some cases to keep him out. As The Economist says, “Broadcasting is a delicate business, since it touches on politics and culture as well as cash. By trampling on local sensitivities, Mr Murdoch has made himself unpopular with many European governments.”

  43. Momus Says:

    Correction to the correction: Murdoch has now withdrawn completely from the Japanese broadcasting market (which, by the way, allows foreign ownership only up to 20%).

  44. nate Says:

    regarding selling peace… I am currently wearing one of those 300 yen white “wristbands for poverty”. .. which is a nice attempt at selling charity, but there’s no actual charity involved. The wristbands are being sold strictly for profit and “awareness”.

    on the bright side, now everyone knows that I care enough about the poor to make a display of caring.

  45. guest Says:

    [Been following this thread for a while, please forgive me if I make a long post…]

    Certainly Japan doesn’t have a corner on this attitude, but listening to a lot of Japanese pacifists you’d think that all diagreement and conflict was the result of “misunderstanding” and “confusion” that can be alleviated through such noble efforts as sampling one another’s representative cuisines. Perhaps “ethnic” foods act as a tonic against those kimochi warui wars that just come out of nowhere like a nasty cold!

    This strain of infantile, apolitical pacifism is actively promoted in schools by the Teachers’ Union, who are usually right-on, but wrong in this case. They get away with promoting their agenda by claiming that “pacifism is not political,” by which they actually do pacifism harm by depriving it of its supremely political significance. There are serious disconnects here: Some of the most insufferable lifetsyle peaceniks I know voted for the LDP in the election!

    Rightists diagnose the pacificts with “heiwa boke,” and while I loathe the hawks I think they’ve called this one. Left liberals would be wise to wake up and make an end run around the nationalists in constitutional revision. That is, they should agree to change Article 9 to allow for self-defense and participation in peackeeping operations overseas, but only those PKOs that fall under the auspices of the UN. This would prevent them from getting dragged into another Iraq, but allow them to participate in those PKOs of which Japan can truly be proud, like East Timor.

    Of course, the gigantic sticking points are collective self-defense and the issue of the nuclear umbrella, but why shouldn’t the SDF at least replace the Americans in Okinawa (assuming the Americans would ever go along with this)?

    But I doubt we’ll hear anything so interesting from the morally admirable but woefully status-quo SDP/JCP/whathaveyou. And as for the DPJ, Maehara (so much more photogenic than Okada, and less wonkish too!) who is indeed a hawk, had this to say in what the Yomiuri Shimbun described, without a trace of irony, as “an epochal debate” with Koizumi:

    “With regard to issues fundamental to our country, such as diplomacy and security, there’s no longer a big difference (between the ruling and opposition parties) as seen in bygone days over ideology or between the right and the left. This is normal in other major countries, where a change of government takes place as a normal development.”

    Notice that this antidemocratic politics describes exactly the Confucian ideal of a just society: Everything in its right place. By endorsing such an endist curtailing of debate, the Confucian politician restores “harmony” to the universe. Confucianism as the Third Way?

    Oh well, at least military styles are totally rad! Maybe if the SDF gets deployed to Iran or Syria it will have some trickle-down effect on the goods available at the Recon store in Harajuku…

  46. marxy Says:

    Thank you for the very substantive comment.

  47. Chris_B Says:

    guest: Good post. Interesting observation about “confusion” since my experience in corporate Japan has taught me that “confusion” is something to be avoided at all costs, but what it really means is something like “not doing something by the existing method”. This dovetails nicely into your Confucianism as a 3rd Way; “Do as we tell you and you will have peace”.

    As for the JSDF & Okinawa, its still a matter of money.

    momus: interesting observation regarding French quotas as compared to the local markets. It would be interesting to see similar comparisions with other markets as well. Of course it would be hard to make good side by side comparisons with places that dont have that much of a domestic culture market to begin with, or where most culture is sold through “informal” (pirate) channels, but its an interesting idea nonetheless.

  48. r. Says:

    nick say: We have two systems co-existing, a money system and a culture system.

    and r. say: now which one was it that ‘peace’ comes from? i forget…