Satire and International Relations: What is ‘peace’ without war? ‘CND Soldiers’ by Banksy

Photo courtesy of MyArtBroker.

Photo courtesy of MyArtBroker.

Andre Kim '25, Guest Writer

Two soldiers and a large peace symbol were spray-painted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London during the anti-war protest in 2003. One soldier does not keep the guard off from his companion, who is painting a large peace symbol with its red paint dripping down.

This simple artwork is entitled ‘CND Soldiers,’ its initials symbolize the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) of 1957, where the peace symbol now widely known was first used. In order to understand what this might imply, I would like to add some historical and international relations context behind this piece of graffiti. 

Let’s go back to the year 2001. In that year, the 9/11 attacks and terrorism acts followed up by a notorious organization Al-Qaeda alarmed the national security of virtually every single state in the globe. The United States declared the war against terrorism, and its allies in Western Europe started to cooperate in order to protect national security, which has been their highest concern.

In spite of disapproval of politicians, United States declared war on Iraq on 2003 with its main goal to eliminate terrorist organizations that can cause another 9/11 attacks, to limit the spread of mass destruction weapons allegedly acquired by the Hussein Administration. Other goals of establishing democratic government that can protect human rights and securing oil reserves at the Persian Gulf followed up. 

The United Kingdom, one of the most important allies of the U.S. for over half a century, decided to involve itself in the Iraqi War as well to contain the spread of terrorism organization and to stop the notorious Hussein government from using mass destruction weapons. To summarize, it can be said that U.S. and its allies declared war on Iraq to retrieve ‘peace’ in the Middle East and countries feeling threatened by terrorism including themselves. 

As a global policeman, a mission protecting world peace would have been interpreted as a justification (or strong motive) for the U.S. to play a big part in the Iraq War, or as a huge ‘national interest’ shared by other countries as well. 

This graffiti artwork done by Banksy holds a significant question about the true meaning of peace. The irony of peace is portrayed through two armed soldiers, and I assume that they are satirical representations of the United States and the United Kingdom. The behavior of soldiers painting symbols on a wall can be interpreted as the symbol of ‘conquered region’ or ‘acquired territory’ during the warfare.

The artwork portrays the cruel norm where peace must be achieved through warfare, which is another form of a brutal conquest. In this sense, red paint dripping from the peace symbol can imply the bloody conflicts taking place in warfare. It might have foreshadowed the immense costs of human lives that the Iraq War was going to bear. This heavy satire is not just a criticism limited to the United States or its allies. This is not merely a picture in a world history book. This is a story taking place in international relations right now. 

In the beginning of the year 2022, we could see various types of tensions and dangers of war heard from daily newspapers to news videos uploaded on YouTube. Tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine are reaching its peak; those between the U.S. and China over Taiwan are similar too. In the middle of the conflict to attain the position of a global hegemony, or a favorable world order, this artwork gives state leaders and citizens a significant message to give a second thought about the problem of ‘war and peace.’

In the end, I would like to ask these questions to fellow readers as well as state leaders of each country: Through what measures can peace be achieved? What are the different meanings behind the word ‘peace’? What efforts (other than war) can be made to achieve peace? How can we manage a balance between national interests and peace (or global security and peace)?

I hope that everyone who is reading this article will spare some time and contemplate these questions.