WHEATON – A world in which war is illegal is often thought of as a fantasy. But technically, that day is here – and has been since 1928.
That’s the argument of the West Suburban Faith-based Peace Coalition, which recently held a peace-themed essay contest won by Wheaton Warrenville South High School junior Isobel Michaud.
After World War I, dozens of nations, including Germany, France, Sweden, Turkey, the Soviet Union and the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty that said all signatories agreed “that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”
But the continuing war in Afghanistan and potential U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict serve as proof that the pact didn’t have the impact its signatories had hoped for.
So the Peace Coalition asked a simple question: “How can we obey the law against war?”
More than 120 contest entrants responded, hoping to win the $1,000 first place prize. The essay writers spanned from California to Maryland, and included high schoolers such as Michaud, who heard about the contest through her history teacher, to one 95-year-old woman.
“I really thought about the question a lot,” Michaud said. “And I think that any conflict we have most of the time in general is just because we want things.”
Michaud said, ultimately, the key was to eliminate the idea of entitlement both personally and internationally.
“We all have wants, but getting everything you want is as disillusioned as a world without strife,” she wrote in her essay. “We must shed the idea of our wants coming before the basic needs of other nations.”
Frank Goetz, a member of the servant leadership team for the Peace Coalition, said few people think of peace as “something that is very active in individuals and hopefully in governments.”
Goetz said while an essay wouldn’t be enough to provide world peace, he appreciated Michaud’s perspective, especially for someone so young.
“She says ‘aren’t we putting our wants in front of other people’s needs?’” he said. “If people just seriously considered that question, I think maybe we’d start reorienting some of the priorities in our country.”
Goetz said he hoped the essay contest would bring attention to the local group, which often participates in protests, panels and talks with local peacemakers.
Michaud said she, as a 16-year-old and a member of a generation she says has an especially acute feeling of entitlement, rarely gets the chance to have her opinion heard.
“I have a lot of different ideas, and I really thought it would be a cool opportunity to be heard,” she said. “At 16, you have a lot of opinions, and your parents will sort of listen to you, but you don’t have many opportunities to really voice your opinions and have people really consider them.”
Isobel’s father, Dan Michaud, said she spent a great deal of time and effort on her essay, and took advantage of her moment in the spotlight.
“She said ‘I’m glad I get to speak here today, because people don’t typically have to listen to 16-year-olds, but now I’m here and you have to,’” he said.