South Sudan Could Learn From America's War of 1812 on How to Build a Lasting Peace

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William Lambers is the author of "The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty" (2008), among other works.

At a Senate hearing in March, actor and Sudan activist George Clooney was asked about how to keep Americans, especially young Americans, engaged with the conflict and hunger in South Sudan. Can people here in the U.S. feel a sustained connection to a country many thousands of miles away?

Imagine for a moment a country that has recently gained its independence. War, territorial and boundary disputes, and the inability of the young government to cope with emergencies are the tragic reality. Cities and towns have come under assault from the nation's northern neighbor, forcing civilians to flee their homes in terror. Farmers have been forced away from their land by armies, thus ruining food production.

What you just read would describe South Sudan today. The description could also fit the United States during the War of 1812.

For when the United States was a young nation, like South Sudan now, it experienced war on its soil. This year is the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812, which President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed at their White House meeting in March. During that war the British burned the White House to the ground. After the War of 1812 had ended, little by little the two sides moved away from conflict and toward partnership.

The Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 disarmed the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain -- during the war the lakes were scene of naval battles and fierce bombardments on coastal towns. A naval arms race was averted. This allowed the U.S.-Canadian border to develop in peace rather than diverting resources into costly warships which may have provoked a new war.

One of the most tense standoffs between Britain and the U.S. in the decades after the War of 1812 was over who owned the Oregon Territory in the Pacific Northwest. In 1846 veteran diplomat Albert Gallatin, one of the peace commissioners during the War of 1812, published an essay urging calm between the two rivals. His words for peace were what any standoff needs to get resolved.

Today, South Sudan is faced with building peace with their neighbor Sudan. The two sides fought a civil war that only ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But this agreement has a long way to go before becoming a genuine peace.

Last summer fighting erupted between South Sudan and Sudan over the disputed territory of Abyei. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile fighting is raging. U.S. Ambassador Princeton Lyman says "conflict has been raging there since last May, arising from issues never fully resolved in the civil war because people in those states, particularly in the Nuba mountains, fought with the South."

There is also internal conflict in South Sudan between rival tribes, the Lou Nuer and the Murle, that has displaced many thousands of people in the Jonglei state. These two tribes have repeatedly attacked each other over the years through cattle raids and kidnappings. The scale of their battles though has risen substantially in recent months.

In May a peace conference is set to begin to deal with this deadly rivalry. Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, head of the Peace, Reconciliation and Tolerance in Jonglei Committee says, “I am expecting everybody who loves peace to participate in this process because we have lost so many people. I hope everybody will come, sit together and try to find a lasting solution for the problems.”

There is an initiative underway to collect the guns that have proliferated in Jonglei and plans for a buffer zone between the Lou Nuer and the Murle to help transition to peace.

Deng Bul says, "It is important for all citizens not to carry arms because the arms are tempting (people) to unnecessary actions. If we want to have development in Jonglei, we must make sure that everybody is not carrying a gun.”

South Sudan desperately needs its own peacemakers before it’s too late. The internal and external conflict has harmed the region's food supply. Drought has also struck. These two elements, combined with preexisting poverty are creating a hunger crisis approaching famine. The UN World Food Programme, which relies on voluntary funding, says nearly 5 million people in South Sudan are suffering from hunger. Food is desperately needed to reinforce the peace process.

South Sudan needs the United States and others to stay with them during these rough waters as it tries to build a road to peace.

As we mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812, students and other citizens can take time to reflect on the peace with Britain that emerged from the ashes. This learning adventure in American history can also offer a way to connect with South Sudan. How can this newly independent nation also build their own road to peace?

For what the governor of Ohio, Thomas Worthington, proclaimed after the War of 1812 rings true. Worthington said we must seek the day, “when bloody wars engendered in pride and wickedness, and prosecuted in fury and unrighteousness, shall forever cease, and when every human being, in the true spirit of humanity, meekness and charity, shall do justly,love mercy,and walk humbly with his God.”

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