AT this season, let's look at how peace on earth has fared in the past year.
First the good news, which, as usual, is shorter than the bad news. Bosnia, obviously, not because peace will work, but because after five years of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing, peace is at least being tried. I think of a Croat soldier who fought in a battle against a Bosnian-Serb unit in which his own brother fought, and died. Now the young Croat patriot tells a Washington Post reporter, "These days I ask myself: Was it really worth it?" War-weariness - perhaps not a great foundation for peace, but it's about all we have.
The land that was the birthplace of the "peace on earth" notion ranks next in my peace column. Not that it was all peaceful in the Middle East - Arab attacks on Jewish buses and then a Jewish attack that killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, that warrior who became a latter-day angel of peace. Yet the Palestinian peace process has apparently developed a capacity to survive extremist violence. And now, a break in the deadlock between Israel and Syria, a gingerly resumption of talks near Washington, and from both sides come murmurs that this time something peaceful may come of it.
In the peace column, too, Northern Ireland - where peace moves falteringly but the process has survived another year. If we count a year of peace surviving, add Haiti, where there has been an election leading to that rare event, a peaceful transfer of power, from President Aristide to his successor.
But then in the long peace debit column, the continuing conflict in Chechnya, which Russia seems unable to subdue and unable to let go. And all those hardy perennials, the civil, religious, and tribal wars in Rwanda, Sudan, Angola, and dozens of third-world places which, because the television cameras don't go there, hardly register on our consciousness except now and then when there is a particularly brutal event like an execution in Nigeria.
Abroad, bombs are planted in the Paris Metro, and poison gas in the Tokyo subway. These are the urban equivalents of the guns and machetes of tribal warfare in the deserts and jungles. And at home, what an irony that fertilizer, which is supposed to promote life, is turned into an explosive instrument of death.
In the limited terms of which one speaks of peace as absence of military conflict, America remained at peace in 1995. But, who in America feels that we can rest merry and undismayed in the face of that kind of war that evidences itself in acts of terror like the Oklahoma City bombing, or in violent acts of hate like the killing of two blacks, apparently at random, by American soldiers? Or the killing of eight in the torching of a white-owned and Jewish-owned clothing store in New York's Harlem?
Is a nation truly at peace that is still trying to come to terms with Waco and Ruby Ridge? Is a nation truly at peace with itself that divides on racial lines in reacting to the acquittal of O. J. Simpson?
U.S. News & World Report sums up the year, "Welcome to the divided states of America, dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of anxiety."
As I sum it up, "Not a great year peacewise, goodwillwise. Better luck next year."