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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Peace In Our Time

‘Shall we begin this Parish Council meeting?’ asked Hillary Davis, Chair of the Council.

Heads nodded around the table.

‘First of all,’ Hillary began, ‘I would like to introduce two special guests who have joined us today. The first is Mr Ban Ki-moon who you will all doubtless recognise from the media. Mr Ki-moon is, of course, Secretary-General of the United Nations.’ She turned towards him. ‘I would like to welcome you, Mr Ki-moon, on behalf of the Parish Council of Little Middleington, here in the English county of Southshire.’

Ban Ki-moon smiled and nodded his head in recognition of the greeting.

‘Mr Ki-moon has brought a colleague with him,’ Hillary continued. ‘I understand that for security reasons, we must refer to his associate as Mr Smith.’ Hillary looked at the second man. ‘Welcome to you too, Mr Smith.’

Mr Smith nodded in response.

‘I would now like to invite Mr Ki-moon,’ said Hillary, gesturing towards the Secretary-General, ‘to explain the circumstances of their visit.’

‘Thank you for your welcome, Mrs Davis,’ said Ban Ki-moon, graciously, ‘and thank you all for allowing us to visit your charming village of Little Middleington.

‘The reason we are here follows from an innovative, new approach that the UN wishes to implement in the promotion of world peace. As you know, one of the goals of the UN is to try to avoid, or resolve, international conflicts.

‘Negotiation and other political means have led us to a fair measure of success since our organisation was formed after World War II to replace the League of Nations. You have only to inspect the daily news, however, to note that very many serious conflicts continue throughout the world, despite our best efforts.

‘In an attempt to better understand and address this situation, the UN undertook research to identify the common characteristics of conflict zones and also the common characteristic of areas in which conflict was at a minimum. Our overall aim is to replace the cultures and lifestyles that foster conflict, with cultures and lifestyles that do not.’ He paused to note any reaction to his words.

‘Can you tell us more about the UN findings?’ Hillary Davis asked.

‘Several factors were identified that corresponded to major unrest,’ Ban Ki-moon responded: ‘Political and economic systems that had developed from tribal roots were found to be problematic because they resulted in discrimination or oppression of members of the non-ruling tribes. In the absence of a fair, universally respected system, nepotism becomes rife, corruption becomes institutionalised and unrest among the disadvantaged becomes inevitable. It is generally impossible for people to change from one tribal grouping to another, and so it is very hard for such systems to peacefully evolve.

‘Political and economic systems based on religious principles appeared, at first glance, to be more promising, as religions generally have a positive underlying moral code, and it is generally possible for people to covert to join the most favourable group. These systems mostly break down, however, due to those in power simply following their own culturally driven prejudices and personal self-interest. Rulers in such systems also tend to attribute their own bigotry to God, so leading them to be even more extreme in their responses to any opposition.

Ban Ki-moon paused and gestured towards Mr Smith. ‘For security reasons the real identity of Mr Smith must remain secret, but he is with me as a representative of a typical warring faction in a conflict zone.’

‘It is my job,’ said Mr Smith in a heavy foreign accent, ‘to compare alternative socio-political frameworks and consider if they could be implemented to bring peace to regions such as my own.’

‘This brings me to why we are here,’ said Ban Ki-moon. ‘It appears that middle-class areas of rural, southern English villages have some of the lowest known incidences of violent conflict. Little Middleington has been chosen by the UN as a typical such example and one on which we hope to remodel conflict zones.’

‘For that reason,’ said Mr Smith, ‘I would like to discover more about how you achieve your results here in Little Middleington. For example,’ he continued, ‘during our drive into your village, I noticed that there were no bullet holes in any of the buildings. Do you not have any disputes with neighboring villages?’

‘We were a bit put out,’ said Harry Roberts, Chair of the village horticultural society, ‘when Waterford won the Village in Bloom competition. Our hanging baskets were a lot better than theirs, and we had a magnificent display of bedding plants on the village roundabout.’

‘Why did you not plant a bomb in Waterford?’ asked Mr Smith, with a puzzled expression on his face.

‘I don’t think that would have been considered very good form,’ said Harry Bowler. ‘I play for the village cricket team, and we were due to have a match against Waterford on the following week. If we’d have blown up their village then there might have been some pretty harsh words said over the after-match tea.’

Mr Smith looked thoughtful. ‘There is also no evidence of armed police or militia, he said. ‘How do you maintain order?’

‘There’s not that much trouble here,’ said Mavis Peters. ‘I caught some lads taking apples from the orchard last week, but that’s the first incident I can remember for a while.’

‘Stealing,’ observed Mr Smith. ‘That would be a dishonour to their families. Did their relatives have them flogged and then disown them?’

‘Well no,’ replied Mavis. ‘Kid’s will be kids, after all. Mind you, I gave them a piece of my mind. They won’t do that again in a hurry.’

‘Some of the ideas from the village have already been trialled in the Middle-East,’ interrupted Ban Ki-moon. ‘A chain of garden centres has been opened in one conflict zone, and it has already been noticed that violence significantly decreases on Sunday afternoons when everyone goes to the centres for a look round and a cup of tea. Tea shop owners, of course, have received training in how to make a proper cup of tea – including warming the pot and putting the milk first into the cup.’

‘That regime also gained considerably more popular support,’ added Mr Smith, ‘when the ruler provided everyone with two-for-the-price-of-one vouchers for cream teas.’

Those around the table nodded, immediately grasping the effect such moves would have in taking armed gangs off the streets.

‘However, there are many things about your village life that I do not understand,’ admitted Mr Smith. ‘For example, religion has been shown to be one of the factors in generating unrest, and yet your Church is one of the cornerstones of village life.’

‘We’re Church of England, though,’ explained Janice Hopkins. ‘That’s not like a real religion.’

‘I do not understand,’ said Mr Smith.

‘Well, we decorate the church with flowers and so forth for festivals, and we organise coffee mornings and bring-and-buy sales,’ Janice listed. ‘We also arrange the village fete and do our little bits of charity work. We don’t do too much thinking about God, though,’ she concluded. ‘That’s the vicar’s job.’

Mr Smith nodded as he further took in aspects of this alien culture.

‘What other village ideas are being tried in conflict zones?’ Hillary Davis asked Ban Ki-moon.

‘We have been trying to encourage people to have dogs as pets and take them for walks, rather than just shooting or eating them, or both,’ Ban Ki-moon replied. ‘Success with that project has been limited, however. I think we may be missing something.’

‘How far do they have to walk with their dogs to the pubs?’ Harry Roberts enquired.

‘What pubs?’ Ban Ki-moon replied.

‘I think that may be your problem,’ Harry suggested. ‘Dog walking won’t take off unless there are pubs to walk to. That’s the whole reason for having a dog: Whether you want to have a pint on a sunny day, or just want to get away from your partner for a bit, a dog is always there to give you a guilt free excuse to go out.’

Ban Ki-moon removed a notebook from his pocket and wrote in it. ‘Thank you, Mr Roberts,’ he said.

‘You’ll need some English brewers too,’ added Sam Harris, landlord of the Dog and Duck. ‘I’ve never understood why foreigners are totally incapable of brewing a decent pint,’ he continued, ‘but the fact is they can’t, so if you are going to build pubs in your war zones then you’re going to have to have proper real ale to put in them.’

Ban Ki-moon removed the notebook once more from his pocket and added a further entry. ‘The pubs with real ale can certainly be added to the list of essential buildings,’ he said, ‘together with the fish and chip shops; Chinese restaurants; Indian restaurants and DIY superstores. I hope there is not more opposition to them being built,’ he added.

‘Do some people object to building developments, then?’ questioned Harry Roberts.

‘Unfortunately some areas have already wholeheartedly adopted the southern English, rural middle-class lifestyle and so have formed NIMBY groups that routinely object to any new proposal.’

‘People are resistant to change,’ added Mr Smith. ‘Many ideas have to be introduced gradually. For example, we have recently instigated branches of the Women’s Institute in my country to maintain supplies of cakes and jams for fetes and charity sales. For the moment, however, we thought it might be too controversial for them to start expressing political opinions on everything, like they do here.’

It crossed Harry’s mind that Little Middleington WI, as chaired by his wife, could benefit from that policy, but he thought it prudent not to comment. However, he wondered how easily this new UN policy could be implemented in every location. ‘I can see how this all works in principle,’ he said, ‘but aren’t some people going to resist the abandonment of cultures that may have developed over hundreds of years?’

‘Frankly,’ concluded Mr Smith, ‘I, my fellow countrymen and millions throughout the world are tired of violence and conflict. We just want to get on with our lives in peace. None of us would choose to emulate the southern English, rural middle-classes but, if that is the price of peace, then that is a price we will have to pay. ‘I say, chaps,’ he added, looking at his watch. ‘It’s nearly four o’clock. Isn’t it about time for afternoon tea?’