Commemorating Peace

Certain “Hallmark holidays,” when you think about them, have subjects that really should be commemorated more often. Holidays like Mother’s Day and National Doughnut Day make me wonder why we don’t celebrate mothers and doughnuts on a more regular basis.

Somewhat similarly, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of Peace earlier this month on Sept. 21, which is dedicated to “strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.”

Although well intentioned, it begs to question: Why don’t we commemorate peace more often?

The U.N. spends about $8 billion per year on peacekeeping operations—which seems like a lot, until you consider that it’s less than half of one percent of worldwide military expenditures, a whopping $1.74 trillion dollars in 2013.

And $8 billion pales in comparison to the peripheral costs of war and violence. Modern conflicts can displace millions of people, triggering mass migration that places a considerable civil and economic burden on governments all around the world.

For example, to support the millions of men, women and children fleeing Syria (just one of many sites of brutally violent conflict currently underway), Germany alone has decided to spend $19 billion on housing and other state services to ease the strain the sudden influx of migrants has placed on the country.

Other countries in the Middle East, Europe, and even North America are similarly committing funds to help these refugees—almost all of whom are victims in a conflict over which they had no control.

This doesn’t even consider the human cost of violent conflict, which tends to be unimaginably horrific and destructive. The physical and psychological scars of war often never truly leave its victims, giving birth to a generation of people who can’t even recall living in peace.

In our office at the Archdiocesan headquarters in New York, a quote, taken from a speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, is taped to the wall.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” it says. “This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

Fortunately, there are still many talented and dedicated people working around the world devoting their sweat, genius and hope to bring about a more peaceful humanity. But there are many, many more who are either indifferent or actively seek to undo that work.

Because the International Day of Peace was this month, let each of us pay special attention to how we can promote peace in our own lives, in our own communities, and in our own countries. But then, because it warrants more than just one day or even one month of focus, let’s push well beyond Sept. 21—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and simply instilling within ourselves and in one another a lifelong commitment to peace.

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.