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Study War No More

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
September 19, 2021

Study War No More© Kabul, Afghanistan. Sign Art, Photo and Title by Lisa Saye

Democracies are incredibly hopeful. They represent a cultural shift in policy and programs and offer a more inclusive user experience for citizens. Inclusion gives meaning to government and to governments’ ideas. Public administration organizes those ideas by creating the mechanisms of implementation and evaluation.

I worked for a time in Kabul, Afghanistan. At a Peace Summit in the fall of 2019, I designed the Study War No More image/art that accompanies this article. During the summit, I lead a break-out session on peace with a couple dozen attendees. I decided to provide the session with the theme at the end of all discussions. As part of the session, each group was given a word and was tasked with discussing an aspect of peace associated with that word. No group was aware of another group’s word. At the end of the session, at my direction, each group taped their word on the classroom’s dry erase board forming the theme of the session. A noticeable silence fell over the attendees in the room as the phrase spelled out the hope of everyone present. I cannot take credit for the phrase. I learned it as a child when listening to my grandmothers sing old spirituals while they cooked or sewed or remembered. Down by the Riverside is the song the phrase comes from and predates the American Civil War. The song talks about laying down [the] burden of war—to study it no more.

The goal of peace-keeping is to disrupt the consciousness of war. In the past two to three centuries, that disruption has often included the adoption or addition of democratic characteristics of government and peace. The world is still trying to perfect the transfer of democracy and recent events let us know that we still have work to do. The hopeful goal is to change the consciousness of war and the acceptance of its inevitability and the instability it contributes to government.

When the goal is war, government ideas and useful agency organization comes later, if at all. War is war until it’s not war. When it’s over, the slow and gradual disruption of the consciousness of it begins and hopefully elective, representative government fills the vacuum and becomes the preference of the citizenry.

When vacuums remained unfilled, public administration becomes butchered and scattered, leaving many areas of government weak and unsustainable. Corruption increases and access to even a place in line is for sale. Practical discussions become non-existent and government formation is fragile and symbolic. Public administrators do not mind hard truths about limited budgets tied to deliverable goals and objectives. What they require is for those goals and objectives to be real ones. Too often in unstable and even in stable democracies and governments around the world, persons who deliver impressive PowerPoint Presentations are employed to highlight imaginary narratives and results. Within this make-believe is lost the opportunity to solve real problems and to solidify the government. What remains are wasted and abandoned resources, desperate victims and useless apologies.

In my December 2019 article for PA Times entitled, Public Service—Our Immediate Vocation, I wrote that public service as a vocation becomes real in a place where fragility is visual, structural and breathtaking. I wrote those words behind blast walls in Kabul, Afghanistan and they are as profound today as they were almost two years ago. Our goal as public administrators is not to babysit fragility, but rather it is to correct it and leave something behind that survives and mimics our efforts toward good governance. As public administrators, we must understand that only talking about democracy is a cruel deception of stability if real democracy had never been implemented or practiced.

Vision is very important for communities and governments. People have to be able to see where they are going and to use the correct tool to get there. Most people do not see war as a way to implement a vision. Peace, however, allows a people to dream and in doing so to build a society that resembles the values they cherish. I have worked in several conflict zones over the years, so I do not make light of the touch decisions associated with war or peace. I do, however, anticipate the day that peace is no longer an abstraction to so many because on that day war will no longer be a choice.

The copyrighted ‘Study War No More’ image was taken by Lisa Saye in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Author: Lisa Saye teaches Applied Research Methods for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at DePaul University. Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. Dr. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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