Skip to content

Pentagon Peace Pals

    Cuddling up to ‘peace’ in military contexts

    A rainbow tie-dyed stuffed bear wears a purple and white shirt with an image of the Pentagon on it. It has a tag in its ear with the words Peace Pals.
    A Pentagon ‘Peace Pal’

    This stuffed bear came from the Pentagon gift shop, Fort America. It is sold alongside plaques, challenge coins, clothing and a variety of other souvenirs. The brand of stuffed toy is called ‘Peace Pals.’ The name is not intended to be ironic; Peace Pals make other stuffed toys with similar customizable shirts for other clients. A lot of American military facilities have gift shops; in this respect, the Pentagon is no different than other bases or agencies. The gift shop itself is not simply a place for tourists to pick up souvenirs, but also a place where one might purchase gifts for a retiring officer or civil servant, or in recognition of a great accomplishment. These locations are seen as sites of historical importance, a part of the American civil religion. At the same time, these locations are also where hundreds have died, where choices around the invasions that killed hundreds of thousands were made, and where the heart of American militarism beats comfortably.

    Militarism and peace are often linked in discourse, in quotations both attributable and apocryphal and the mottos and nicknames of various military armaments and groups:

    Si ves pacem, para bellum (If you seek peace, prepare for war)

    They sleep peacefully at night because rough men stand ready to do rough deeds on their behalf (attributed simultaneously to Orwell, Churchill, and Mark Twain, and likely said by none of them)

    Peace is our profession. (The motto of Strategic Air Command, the MAJCOM in charge of two branches of the U.S. nuclear strike force)

    The ‘Colt Peacemaker’ revolver

    Does this stuffed toy fit into that category? It seems unlikely to be intentional; the Peace Pals brand works with any number of organisations to provide customisable souvenirs. However, we can reflect on the absurdity – and the subtle impact – of this bear sitting in a shop alongside souvenir statues of fighter jets made from bullets. Children and adults can ‘cuddle up to peace’ while browsing militarised – and militarising – merchandise. This toy for children is sold in the same building that represents the military power responsible for the overthrow of multiple governments and the ensuing humanitarian disasters, not to mention internal issues of violence and assault within the military itself against its own personnel. The juxtaposition brings peace and conflict into each other’s orbit as complementary bedfellows, equal partners in a shared vision. The Peace Pal’s rainbow colours and cheerful smile sanitise the atmosphere with a bright reminder of what everyone is ‘fighting for’. It may go unnoticed by many, but for the children who pick it up and the adults who glimpse it in their peripheral vision, this simple teddy bear contributes to a wider ways of visualising war as a pathway to peace.

    The image of the armed forces focused on peace persists in many different contexts and many parts of the world. There is a recurring insistence on peace as the goal of many military endeavours, even if the preparations are for anything but peaceful. We see this in the rhetoric of oppressive governments, intent on justifying military action against their own civilians or other countries. The notion of the citizen-soldier who carries a weapon solely because they must also speaks to us in more peaceful contexts. Even in countries where militaries are no longer made up of young conscripts from small towns and city streets but rather professionalised volunteers, where many civilians do not know members of the Armed Forces, and where servicemembers themselves make up a smaller and smaller percentage of the population. Is this a story that the military tells itself, or one that it tells the civilians who barely know what it does? Whatever the answer, this narrative has a profound impact on how we (whose taxes fund defence spending, whose votes determine our country’s political direction) visualise both war and peace. The friendly, fun-looking teddy bear in the picture above is relatively innocuous on its own; but the fact that we can pick a Peace Pal off the shelf in the Pentagon gift shop raises broader questions about how we entwine military power and peace.

    What Do You Think?

    • Why is ‘peace our profession’ for certain military commands? What does that say about – and do to – ideology and identity?
    • What roles have militaries around the world played in relation to peace? Is it always the same? What makes some wars and military actions different from others in this respect?
    • What about your circumstances leads you to have that understanding of events? Think about your personal context, the things you have witnessed, the stories you have heard from friends and family, and the history you learned in school or elsewhere. What images or narratives have shaped your understanding of the relationship between war and peace?

    If you enjoyed this item in our museum…

    You might also enjoy ‘The Magnus Archives‘, ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad‘, ‘Dad’s Army: Pockets of Peace and Humour?‘, ‘How to make a fruit basket for the Aliens‘, ‘Peace is Fun!‘ and items with the tag ‘Belligerent Peace-Making‘.

    Jenny Oberholtzer, May 2022

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *