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William Lambers' op-ed column about South Sudan, parallels to the War of 1812, and transitioning to lasting peace

 George Clooney protests the conflict in South Sudan.
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Date published: 4/29/2012


--At a Senate hearing in March actor and Sudan activist George Clooney was asked about how to keep Americans, especially youth, 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 their 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 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron talked about 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, which during the war was the scene of naval battles and fierce bombardments on coastal towns. A naval arms race was averted. This allowed the U.S. border with the British colony of Canada to develop in peace rather than diverting resources into costly warships that might 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 of the 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 its neighbor Sudan. The two sides fought a civil war that ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But this agreement has a long way to go before becoming a genuine peace.

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William Lambers is the author of "Ending World Hunger and the Road to Peace."