When the Old Men Don't Make the Peace
Making war is easy. Making peace is difficult.
“Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. And the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution. It must be so.”
These are the words of Prince Faisal to T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. At this point in the film, Lawrence has been driven mad, partly by the natural realities of the desert, partly by his time embedded with the Bedu, partly by the savagery of all sides in the Great War. But one force is more responsible for Lawrence’s madness than the others: the swift collapse of Lawrence’s vision for a free and democratic Arabia.
Faisal now sees Lawrence for what he is: a fanatic, a false prophet. Over the course of the film, Lawrence seems to embody the “virtues of war” in his time with the Arab army so much so that he takes on characteristics of someone who is religiously enlightened. And when Feisal speaks of the “vices of old men,” he could be thought of as speaking Lawrence’s thoughts aloud as the parties prepare to partition control of Damascasus’ essential infrastructure. But where Lawrence may see vice, there is virtue. The mistrust and caution of old men are manifestations of the virtue of prudence, particularly when dealing with a foe or a deceitful ally.
Making war is easy—it feeds man’s baser tendencies and more passionate instincts. Making peace is difficult. It takes experience, wisdom, sound judgment.
But what happens when old men fail to embrace the virtues of their longevity, if not eschew them completely? They, like Lawrence, slip farther and farther into madness and perpetually pine for a state of war.
Such is the case with President Joe Biden, who has been abroad visiting Ukraine and NATO countries close to the current war. He’s promised that America will prop up Ukraine—its military, its government’s budget, its economy—for “as long as it takes” to defeat the Russians.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump has been visiting East Palestine, Ohio, where a train derailment has caused what seems to be a major ecological disaster. He's also called for an end of hostilities on the European continent. The prudence of old men informs them on what, who, and where matters most, rather than blind commitment to follow an ideology wherever it may lead.
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Like Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called for peace in Ukraine. Though more than two decades younger than Biden, Orban seeks to go about the business of old men. In his State of the Nation address on February 18 in Budapest, Orban said the following:
How do we overcome the danger of war? We want to simply put an end to it, but we do not have the power to do so – we are not in that league. Therefore, if we want to protect Hungary, if we want a peaceful life for ourselves, we have only one choice: we must stay out of the Russo-Ukrainian war. So far this has not been easy, and it will not be easy in the future, because we are part of the Western world, we are members of NATO and the European Union, and everyone there is on the side of war – or at least acts as if they are. Can Hungary afford to remain on the side of peace in such circumstances, in a way that is directly opposed to that of our allies? Of course we can, because Hungary is an independent, free and sovereign state, and we recognize no one but God above us.
Orban recognizes that Hungary does not have the station to pursue peace on its own, given its station among western nations and the ties it has built to them. If the rest of the trans-Atlantic alliance refuses to practice the virtues that create peace, then Hungary will practice those virtues on their own, and their nation will be better for it.