A few days ago Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup released the results of a survey that they had recently conducted. It was an annual end of year survey in which residents in over 60 countries were asked a variety of questions. One of these questions was “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”. For anyone with a sense of humanity and decency the result should not be that shocking, yet the internet is buzzing with stories and articles in relation to the results of this survey. I was not at all surprised to see that the United States of America came top of the list. I expect many people assumed there would be a similar outcome. The results of the poll show that 24% of those surveyed believe that the US are the greatest threat in this world.
The United States gained three times as many votes as Pakistan, who finished second, and four times as many as China, who were third. In fourth place was a four way tie between Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea. Pakistan, China, Russia and even neutral Switzerland had the United States occupying the top position. Unsurprisingly the majority of Middle Eastern and North African countries, where American military intervention is fairly common, also viewed the US as the top threat. Whichever way the press and media attempted to show it, the results were always going to paint a pretty bleak picture back in the United States. Not only were nations that the US considered enemies voting them as the greatest threat, so too were would-be allies and NATO partners. Just across the border in Canada there was a tie for the unenviable first place position, 17% said Iran and 17% said the United States. Across the other border into Mexico, 37% of those polled saw the US as the biggest threat also. Even within the United States itself, among its own populace, the US was seen as a major threat to world peace. It received 13% of the votes which put it in a tied third place position, along with North Korea. I can only assume that a mix of blind-patriotism and short sightedness influenced the United States vote. Iran finished in first, and Afghanistan in second.
Though this survey reaffirms what should already be obvious, that the United States are considered THE most dangerous nation in the world, and it highlights just how out of touch, and ignorant, Americans are of their nations actions on the world stage, I feel it has a limitation.
It is my belief that the question itself is incorrect, and so no matter what answers it gives us, these too will also be incorrect.
The question is phrased “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?” The phrasing of this question seems to suggest that “peace in the world” is a reality. It is a factual, almost tangible object. It exists, and the question is asking which country is threatening this existing peace. I am being rather pedantic by picking on the wording of the question here, but I believe that there is huge power in words. The wrong word, or the inappropriate word, could lead to any number of negative outcomes. A guilty murderer could escape prosecution or a nation could justify an illegal war. There is huge power in the words that we use, and there comes a great responsibility to use the correct one.
As a peace in the world has never existed, I don’t believe that “threat” is the appropriate word to use in the context of this question. A more appropriate word, I believe, is “obstacle”. If we were to see peace as a destination, and we were driving along a road towards peace, a tree in the road, preventing us reaching our destination, would be considered an obstacle, rather than a threat. In this scenario a threat would be poor weather perhaps, or low fuel in the vehicle that we are travelling in. These threaten to stop us getting to our destination, the threat may remain and we may still get there, or the threat materialises and we don’t make it. With the destination being “peace in the world today” you have to ask yourself whether military action constitutes a threat, or an obstacle. On the road to peace, the United States is not the poor weather, or the low fuel, it is the tree across the road. Any nation that participates in military action when the desired goal is “peace in the world” should be considered an obstacle and not a threat.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an obstacle is defined as “a thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress”. This is clearly the most appropriate word to use in the context of an international survey looking to achieve global peace. The reason for me being so anal about this is because, as I said earlier, there is huge power in the words that we use. When we use the word “threat” it can be relatively ignored, maybe laughed off a little, there would be a few ideas, maybe a plan, for when, and IF, this threat materialised, but nothing much would be done. It is a threat, life is full of them, and you just try to get by without it impacting on your life too much. Therefore the United States being considered the “greatest threat” in an international survey means very little, it can be shrugged off, nothing much has to be done.
What then happens when we replace the word “threat” with that of “obstacle”. The word “obstacle” by definition means something that needs addressing in order to achieve your desired goals. If the United States were considered to be the “greatest obstacle to global peace” in an international survey, that cannot be ignored. That statement, and that finding, would mean that somebody would have to actively do something about the obstacle, the United States, somebody would have to face reality, bite the bullet and take it on.
The power of the word changes the entire perspective of what this survey means. A threat can be ignored, but an obstacle has to be tackled, it has to be overcome. It’s very likely that the word “threat” has been used deliberately, to be diplomatic, and to keep the peace, so to speak. The reality is that “threat” is not the appropriate word, but it is used because nobody is willing to speak the truth. Everybody knows that “obstacle” is the most appropriate word, but with the use of that word, comes the responsibility to act on it.
If the wording of the question in the survey were to be changed, I believe that it would still produce the same outcome. The United States would still finish in first place, but this outcome would have far more power and significance. I was planning on continuing this piece by looking at why the United States deserves its title as the greatest threat/obstacle to peace, but I feel that may be an article in itself. Instead I shall end on a quote:
“Words are weapons. They blast big bloody holes in the world. And words are bricks. Say something out loud and it starts turning solid. Say it loud enough and it becomes a wall you can’t get through” – Richard Kadrey
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