The concept of peace is often associated with non-violence and harmlessness. Many people think that being peaceful means being passive and avoiding confrontation. However, there are those who believe that true peace requires the capacity for violence. One such person is Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL and author who famously said, “You can’t truly call yourself “peaceful” unless you’re capable of great violence, if you’re not capable of violence you’re not peaceful, you’re harmless.” In this article, we will explore the meaning behind this quote and its implications for our understanding of peace.
The Origin of the Quote
Jocko Willink is a well-known figure in the world of military and self-improvement. He is a retired Navy SEAL officer who served in the Iraq War and received several awards for his service. After leaving the military, he became a successful author, podcaster, and motivational speaker, advocating for discipline, leadership, and personal responsibility. In his book “Extreme Ownership,” Willink describes his philosophy of leadership and the lessons he learned from his experiences in the SEAL teams. One of the key themes of the book is the importance of being both disciplined and violent when necessary. Willink argues that true leadership requires the ability to make difficult decisions, take calculated risks, and use force when all other options have failed. It is in this context that he makes the statement about peace and violence.
The Meaning Behind the Quote
At first glance, Willink’s statement may seem paradoxical. How can someone be peaceful if they are capable of great violence? Doesn’t violence contradict the very idea of peace? However, upon closer examination, we can see that Willink’s argument is more nuanced than it appears.
According to Willink, true peace is not the absence of conflict or the absence of violence. Rather, it is the ability to control and harness our aggressive impulses in a way that promotes positive outcomes. In other words, true peace requires the capacity for violence because it acknowledges the reality that there are times when force is necessary to defend ourselves or others, to uphold justice, or to achieve our goals. Being peaceful does not mean being weak or passive, but rather being strong and assertive while maintaining a calm and composed demeanor.
Willink’s argument is consistent with the idea of “just war” in ethical and political philosophy. Just war theory holds that there are circumstances in which it is morally justified to use force to defend oneself or others, to punish wrongdoers, or to prevent harm. However, the use of force must be proportional, discriminate, and authorized by a legitimate authority. Similarly, Willink argues that violence must be controlled, disciplined, and used only as a last resort.
Implications for our Understanding of Peace
The implications of Willink’s statement go beyond the realm of military strategy or personal leadership. They have important implications for our understanding of peace as a social and political concept. In particular, they challenge the notion that peace is simply the absence of violence or conflict.
Many conflicts around the world are driven by underlying structural or systemic factors such as poverty, inequality, injustice, or discrimination. Achieving peace in these contexts requires more than just the cessation of violence. It requires addressing the root causes of the conflict and promoting social, economic, and political equality. This often requires taking bold and assertive actions that may involve some degree of violence or coercion.
For example, the civil rights movement in the United States was a nonviolent movement that sought to achieve equality and justice for African Americans. However, it was not a passive or harmless movement. It involved protests, boycotts, and civil disobedience that challenged the status quo and provoked a response from the authorities. Similarly, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa involved both nonviolent resistance and armed struggle, as the African National Congress (ANC) fought against the racist regime that denied basic rights to black people.
In both cases, the pursuit of peace required the capacity for violence. The civil rights movement and the struggle against apartheid were not passive or harmless movements. They were assertive and even confrontational at times. However, they were also disciplined and strategic in their use of force. They recognized that violence should always be a last resort, and that it should be used only when all other options have failed.
The same principle applies to international relations. In the context of a world in which states have different interests and values, the pursuit of peace often requires the capacity for deterrence and defense. This means having a strong military and the willingness to use force if necessary to protect one’s own security and interests. However, it also means using diplomacy, negotiation, and international law to resolve conflicts peacefully whenever possible.
Further Implications and Criticisms
While Willink’s statement has many implications for our understanding of peace and violence, it is not without its critics. Some argue that the capacity for violence is not a necessary condition for peace, and that promoting the idea that it is only reinforces a culture of militarism and aggression. Others argue that Willink’s statement is too focused on individual agency and leadership, and does not take into account the structural and systemic factors that contribute to violence and conflict.
These criticisms are valid to some extent. The capacity for violence is not the only factor that contributes to peace, and it should not be overemphasized at the expense of other important factors such as social justice, human rights, and conflict resolution. However, it is also true that the capacity for violence is a necessary condition for defense, deterrence, and justice in some contexts.
Moreover, Willink’s statement should not be taken to mean that violence is always justified or that it is a desirable outcome. Rather, it should be seen as a reminder that peace is a complex and multifaceted concept that requires a nuanced understanding of the relationship between violence and nonviolence.
In conclusion, the statement “You can’t truly call yourself “peaceful” unless you’re capable of great violence, if you’re not capable of violence you’re not peaceful, you’re harmless” by Jocko Willink challenges our traditional understanding of peace as the absence of violence or conflict. It suggests that true peace requires the capacity for violence, but that violence should always be a last resort and should be used in a disciplined and controlled manner. The implications of this statement are far-reaching, and have important implications for our understanding of leadership, social justice, international relations, and conflict resolution. While there are valid criticisms of this perspective, it is an important reminder that peace is a complex and multifaceted concept that requires a nuanced understanding of the relationship between violence and nonviolence.