Douglas Roche


November 3, 2014

The flight map showed our plane flying directly over Westport, a town in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland. In 1842, my great-grandfather Michael Roche sailed with his bride Ann Keenan from Westport to the "new world" in a wretched trip that took six weeks to reach Quebec City.

Now, here I was in the comfort of a jetliner streaking through the skies at 800 kilometres an hour with the comfort of home only a few hours away.

I have always been grateful to my great-grandfather for his courage. The early stages of the potato famine had struck Ireland and life was undoubtedly hard, but it must have taken enormous determination to set out across the Atlantic Ocean to build a new life.


My thoughts drifted from the world of my great-grandfather to today. Has modern technology made a better world today? Was the world more at peace then than now?

The violence-torn summer of 2014 has dismayed those who had thought that – just maybe – the world was beginning to move away from war as a means of resolving conflict. The killings in the Middle East, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, to name but the top of the list of centres of atrocities, have saddened the world.

We cannot allow the 21st century to be defined by terrorists and barbarians. There will always be individuals willing to give their lives to attack an enemy. But terrorism is an aberration, not a system of change in people's lives and attitudes toward one another.

There are not civil society groups by the thousands coalescing around terrorism; rather there are civil society groups by the tens of thousands implementing at ground level, in many ways, the values of a culture of peace. This work is seen in the human rights, development, disarmament and environment movements.

In 2005, the United Nations adopted the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, in which all states agreed to use diplomatic, humanitarian and, if necessary, military means to stop genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The UN has actually exercised the Responsibility to Protect in Mali, the Great Lakes region of Africa and Libya, but it is hampered by the veto system in the Security Council, in which any of the five major powers can unilaterally stop a proposed action. Thus the Security Council has not acted to stop the slaughters in Syria and Iraq.


The failure of the major powers to overcome their narrow, short-term interests has crippled the UN's ability to enforce "peace and security." The fact that the major powers will not unite to enforce an end to the barbarism of 2014 is a tragedy for the UN.

At least, the Security Council, at its recent summit, united to suppress the flow of foreign fighters, financing and other support to Islamist extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. But the UN has a much bigger bag of tools, not the least of which is the International Criminal Court, to protect civilians and enforce justice.

Stopping violence is the first step to peace. The countries of the world need to get behind the UN at this moment of crisis.

In Michael Roche's day, international law was practically unheard of. The United Nations did not exist. The protection of human rights was left to chance. The medicines that today save lives had yet to be invented. Knowledge of how to sustain life on the planet simply did not exist. In the intervening years, humanity has matured, and we have created an architecture to support modern life.


So it is hard to make the case that Michael's world was better than mine. The reason so many people despair today is because, down deep in their minds, they know the world has enough resources, technology and experience to do so much better than seems to be the case when watching the TV news.

Michael took the suffering for granted. Life was brutal and only the fittest survived. But today, we know the disorder doesn't have to be that way. People are frustrated. The political process is deficient in addressing the scale of human needs.

The world has clearly developed, particularly since the end of World War II. That was only 70 years ago. In the course of history, that is a relatively short space of time. We are still maturing as a human species, still learning how to live together. We will build better laws for the future.

Michael Roche made my world a better place.