The Conscience of Words

By Susan Sontag

What do we mean, for example, by the word »peace«? Do we mean an absence of strife? Do we mean a forgetting? Do we mean a forgiveness? Or do we mean a great weariness, an exhaustion, an emptying out of rancor?

It seems to me that what most people mean by »peace« is victory. The victory of their side. That’s what »peace« means to them, while to the others peace means defeat.
If the idea takes hold that peace, while in principle to be desired, entails an unacceptable renunciation of legitimate claims, then the most plausible course will be the practice of war by less than total means. Calls for peace will be felt to be, if not fraudulent, then certainly premature. Peace becomes a space people no longer know how to inhabit. Peace has to be re-settled. Re-colonized…

Extract from Susan Sontag’s The Conscience of Words The Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech (published in: At the Same Time. Essays and Speeches und Reden, p.246-247, eBook edition).

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