Photo by Nick Abadilla
“I think peace is actually really complicated. I think it’s a hard-core subject,” says Milburn Line, who took the helm of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice in August. “Peace gets written off as, ‘Flower Power, Birkenstocks, we should all just get along,’ and it is much more complex than that. It requires a much more studied approach and a much more political approach.”
Line is up to the task, having spent more than 15 years “on the ground,” working for peace and justice on human rights projects at the local level in a number of hot spots around the world.
Most recently, he directed a $37 million human rights program in Colombia funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. He also worked on the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s and has spent years in Guatemala, including a stint as director of a USAID-funded human rights and reconciliation program.
All of that work — especially getting to know people trapped in conflict — has helped him forge his ideas about the best way to achieve the complicated balance of peace and justice.
“It’s not just a simple vision of coexistence; it’s a forged and locally owned, consensus-building process for coexistence. And that’s much more complicated and hard to achieve.”
The way he sees it, now is the time to explore the intricacies of peace.
“As a species, we have spent a tremendous amount of our time dedicated to the study and implementation of war, and we’re quite expert at it, actually. We have tremendous military power. And we haven’t thought systematically about peace — not peace in the fluffy sense, but how do you achieve coexistence? What is authentic representation and accountability for the disparate groups in society and their grievances? Those are tough questions. They’re not just questions for Afghanistan — these are questions for governing cities in the United States.”
Beyond our borders, Line is passionate about Guatemala and excited about the prospects of USD projects in that country he knows so well. Although a peace agreement has technically ended the conflict, Line says Guatemala still needs help.
“The institute tries to do a mix of conflict prevention, trying to be involved in some of the ongoing conflicts and post-conflicts. Guatemala is really almost not a post-conflict country — it’s a terribly unsafe and insecure place to be now.”
With a surprising number of people at the University of San Diego with strong ties to that country — including Elaine Elliott of the Center for Community Service-Learning — momentum is building for a sustained, multi-disciplinary effort from USD. The aim is to “really build a long-term relationship on a variety of issues, not just any single peace and justice issue or any single community service-learning project,” Line says. “If we pick a regional area, we might be able to have a larger package and more impact.”
Line also wants to nurture some of the IPJ’s most well-known programs, like the Distinguished Lecture Series, WorldLink for youth and Women PeaceMakers. Each fall, the last of these brings four women to USD from various countries to document their stories and share information.
“We now have this core of 28 women, and we want to see how we can project them into gender empowerment processes around the world,” Line says.
As he settles into his job, living in the United States again for the first prolonged time in two decades, Line is also exploring life as a father to his new daughter, born in 2008. She and his wife often come to events at the IPJ, and a stroller is at the ready in Line’s office. But it doesn’t take long for the topic to turn from the child he calls “our youngest peacemaker” back to the business of making peace.
“The thing that’s exciting about this is it’s kind of a new field, and it’s kind of a field where we’re trying to learn and think about the sustained well-being of our species — a biological, hard-sciences view of peace.”